At the close of 2020, there are many lessons learned from a year on Zoom. And, what started as a short-term way of getting work done in our pajamas while children, roommates and pets frolicked behind us, has now become the workplace for the foreseeable future for many of us.
As many companies continue the switch to telework, my role as a virtual speaking coach has become more necessary. Dozens of workshops and hundreds of participants later, my Zoom mastery programs reveal the tough lessons in virtual communication most of us have learned during the pandemic.
You cannot translate the physical world to the virtual world, but you can make virtual more human. Sometimes…you can even make it better.
Here are the top 9 lessons from a year on Zoom:
1. How to Zoom successfully is the number one leadership skill business leaders need to master in 2021.
Most of my clients are still struggling to stand out on Zoom, hold the attention of participants, keep agendas flowing, inspire productive collaborations, and master the technical side of video conferencing software. But they recognize that their success hinges on up-leveling their communication skills online.
2. Video conferencing requires a virtual mindset.
You cannot run an online meeting with the same structure and flow as a meeting IRL (in real life). Video requires shorter agendas, more frequent breaks, dynamic use of quality audio visuals, and more teamwork to engage participants for the duration of a meeting. So, think out-of-the-box and create for virtual differently than you would for physical meetings.
3. Video calls are immersive and invasive.
Most face-to-face video is presented in HD so that every blemish or un-plucked eyebrow can be seen by everyone on the call. So, it is not surprising, then, that the cosmetic surgery industry has boomed during the pandemic. In addition, interactions on the screen require more sustained eye contact, which would be considered inappropriate in physical settings. Yes, video gets more intimate.
4. Every detail in your video matters.
Everything in your video shot says something about you. The next best thing to person-to-person is at the very least seeing someone’s face well-lit and framed. The real prize comes from seeing other people’s environment: books, framed pictures, artwork, trophies, musical instruments, plants, and a variety of artifacts that reveal something about them, what they do and what they stand for. You should do the same.
5. Bad video manners can make or break your career, your business, and your reputation.
How you dress, speak, and behave on the small screen speaks volumes about you. Do you have an energetic presence? Do you speak with authority? Do you use body language and gestures to bolster your message? Do you respect others by not interrupting and hogging the conversation? Do you test your equipment before a call to ensure you are ready to start on time? Use good video manners wherever you “show up.”
6. The mute/unmute microphone issue is chronic.
Regardless of the platform, there are chronic experiences across them all. The most pervasive is the mute/unmute microphone problem. Even professional speakers may talk for 15 seconds or more before they remember to turn on their mics and are forced to repeat what they said. One recent study found that 5 to 8 minutes of a one-hour meeting are wasted on technical snafus.
7. Meetings with cameras turned on are more productive.
Because video calls rely on the innumerable benefits of visual communication, showing up matters. Among recurring Zoom meeting trends is the tendency of more women than men to participate in meetings using audio only because they do not like the way they look at that moment. I recommend treating every meeting as important, so you are not caught unprepared. Groom yourself—hair, makeup, and outfits as appropriate for your type of work.
8. Virtual backgrounds have been overused and misused.
Virtual backgrounds should complement your message, personality, image, and profession. Much like a theatrical set, the image should be coherent and technically well displayed. Vendors like Virtual Office provide HD professional backgrounds with your logo. Or you can create your own using original or stock photography. Most importantly, make sure your computer meets the system requirements for using virtual backgrounds or you will need a physical green screen for a clean and neat image when combined with proper lighting.
9. Video meeting mastery requires continuous learning.
New technologies, more robust video platforms and hybrid workstyles will demand more of business leaders to up-level their video conferencing skills. From artificial intelligence apps, to eye tracking technology that makes video calls look more natural, to multi-camera switches, fast-moving enhancements will require us to step up our technical knowledge to stay current and competitive.
Looking ahead to 2021:
This is the time to check your video conferencing IQ by taking my ZoomScore™ Quiz. I developed this yardstick for success on the small screen based on the 10 essential elements of a professional video presence.