We live in a Babylonian state of the world. Communication had already proved problematic before the boom of video conferencing. Many people talk more than they listen, or they only listen to confirm what they already know and switch off when it gets too deep.
How many meetings and discussions have you joined that turned out to be pointless? And for many of us, video conferencing is even worse. Because now, in addition to a lack of communication skills, we also have to deal with technical problems.
Often the first few minutes are wasted sorting out frozen screens, checking that all invitees are online, whether you can be seen and heard, and whether the presentation you want to share is running. This can drain everyone’s energy at the start and distract from what you really want to say.
Communication used to be a two-way process between two parties: a sender and a receiver exchanging messages. To get immediate feedback on what we say as the sender, we measure the reaction of the receiver. This usually happens unconsciously and we adapt intuitively. In digital communication these instinctive abilities seem to deteriorate.
Subtle hints – verbal and non-verbal – are there to immediately correct our way of communicating and to appear to others as determined, convincing or clear. We also need the skill to know when a person has finished speaking and when it is our turn. All this is much more difficult in online meetings than in a real conversation situation.
Unfortunately, the screen gives us only a limited scope of action and few opportunities to use our non-verbal skills. Wild gestures and hand movements are rather disturbing. In addition, many are intimidated when they speak to a screen full of waiting faces staring back.
So if you feel awkward, misunderstood and drained after a Zoom meeting, you are not alone. Especially if you’re female.
What if everyone wants to be heard
Many senders, not so many receivers. The skill to listen actively is held in high regard by employers but rare to find. It can only be acquired and developed with practice.
Especially in larger meetings it can be very difficult to be heard at all. It is like a flock of birds gathering. Each of them wants to be heard, so they all chat louder and more expressively to outdo others and get their message across.
Often, the moment when one should alternate listening and speaking is missed. When should I talk, when should I listen? Plus, some cultures are not very good at dealing with sudden silence. Others need pauses to process a thought. In a global setting it is advisable to be familiar with intercultural communication styles. ICTAC offers intercultural training skills if you are interested.
Some studies have even shown that transmission delays and silence made people perceive the responder as less focused, friendly or attentive , or maybe even as if we do not know what to say. If technical issues cause delays in communication a speaker is perceived in a negative light, even if it is not his fault.
With the missing non-verbal cues online conferencing can become a real challenge.
The screen: A small window to a big world
As social beings we have to connect or we’ll go crazy. Since Covid-19 disrupted our lives, the computer screen has become the most important window to the world for many.
It has been used so heavily and for so many different purposes that reality and fiction threaten to merge. We watch soccer games, check our bank account, chat with our mothers and browse eBay and job offers, staring at the same computer screen.
It is a great act of will to take the screen more seriously for professional purposes after using it for our own entertainment – especially when working from home and after mentally challening times like a quarantine.
Hating the medium does not help
It helps to rethink what a computer can do and can’t. There are a few things we cannot change in video conferences, such as the quality of streaming on the receiving end or the way other participants conduct their conversations. But there are things we can control.
This means that we need to focus on how we come across. It is not so much about the things we say, but how we say them.
Make sure that you sort out the basics for video calls. Invest in a well-lit workspace, good audio and stable video streaming quality. Train your voice to speak clearly, with more depth and at a slower pace.
Avoid low angles and keep your eyes at camera level. You don’t want to look down on others or be placed too low. If you are using a laptop, place it on books and avoid vibrations on the table so that the video runs smooth.
Dress professionally and check your face for an even skin tone before important meetings. A camera can make bad habits look ten times worse. There are filters on Zoom that you can use to balance your skin tone if you don’t want to mess around with makeup.
Tips for better online conversations
Respect silence! Use the Unmute/Mute option and avoid overlapping chatter.
Interrupt the speaker
Speak too long and too complicated
Avoid eye contact
Ignore language style
Ignore the introverts and women (it is true and sad)
Invite too many participants
Allow the speaker to finish
Speak precise and clear
Remain eye contact with camera
Respect language style
Include everyone and allow equal speaking time
Keep the group small if you want to find solutions
It is more important than ever to make a plan about what you want to say and achieve at a meeting, before you attend it, and moreover when you are the host!
What is your first impression? Let’s do a test
Make a trial run and get feedback from real people. Meet with us and conduct an online interview to test your appearance, tone and non-verbal communication on a screen. We’ll check your looks, listen to your conversational style and help solve technical problems with your equipment.
We give you detailed, friendly but honest feedback and provide tips on how to improve and prepare for important online events such as interviews or presentations.
Contact us if a test run sounds interesting. If not, just stay positive and self practice speaking via video with supportive friends and colleagues.
If you are not a native speaker and need to brush up your language skills, enroll in one of our Business English and job interview workshops.