America’s first reality TV show was a popular and long-running hit for over three decades. Its name and famous tag line — “you’re on Candid Camera” — was known nationwide.
Suddenly, with the coronavirus pandemic quarantining businesses worldwide, videoconference platforms like Zoom are replacing meetings and phone calls: We are all on candid camera.
This requires rethinking how we communicate, both in the short-term period of quarantining and the long-term — because Zoom is here to stay. Here are four things you must do to communicate clearly and connect with others over Zoom:
1. Stabilize your camera angle and have a clean background
Make sure your camera is on direct eye level so that you’re making virtual eye contact with your audience. As I learned the hard way, on an iPad with an external keyboard, the camera is tilted on a very high angle, giving the viewer a bottom-up (and unpleasant) view.
Also, be conscious of your background and the message you want it to convey. Zoom has a variety of virtual backgrounds, but many of them can be distracting to your audience. Choose a background that is clean and professional (or at least not juvenile).
If you’re not utilizing the virtual background, pay attention to what’s behind you. Try not to sit in front of a bright window or anything that is distracting. A nice piece of art or bookcase are great background choices, because they convey a subtle yet unmistakable professionalism. If you’re unsure of the impression you’re conveying, ask a trusted friend or colleague.
2. Watch for visual cues that people are listening
Reading people is more difficult in a Zoom call and takes a greater effort than when in person. While you are speaking, look at the screen, watch people’s reactions, and take note if they are looking at you and/or giving you any non-verbal cues indicating attentiveness. If you see they’re losing interest, stop. Ask a question about the the topic to see if there is some skepticism or disagreement. If not, then it’s your delivery that is losing them. Better to stop and take a break than continue while people tune you out.
If you’re speaking to one person, make “eye contact” by looking at the listener. Pay careful attention to their facial reactions, as it may not be possible to read their entire body language.
If you are speaking to a group of people who are muted, don’t mistake their silence for interest and ramble longer than you should. If it’s a larger group, take the opportunity to call on people by name to solicit feedback. This will hopefully keep everyone be more engaged with the anticipation of being called on.
You can also move closer to the camera to emphasize a point. In person, this might make people uncomfortable. Like any great performer, use the spatial freedom by mixing up your camera distance.
3. Vary your pitch, pace, and volume to keep listeners alert
When you inflect with your voice, you infect the listener with your enthusiasm, which helps you connect — and that is crucial when you’re communicating over video. You have three verbal tools to do this: pitch, pace, and volume.
In a virtual setting, this takes a greater level of importance. We all know people who bore us with their flat, emotionless delivery — even with the benefit of physical closeness. On Zoom, keep them interested by varying your loudness and timing. Perhaps mix in a soft whisper or change your pace by pausing more frequently. If you vary your volume and your level of excitement, your pitch should naturally follow suit, but be mindful to not let your pitch get too high for too long when you’re excited.
Check out free voice tips online. Speak in shorter, declarative sentences. The longer you speak without pausing, the more likely you’ll lose the listener’s focus.
4. Encourage participation with questions and feedback
Get people involved by posing questions, doing exercises, and soliciting collective feedback with a thumbs up or down to a question or comment. This boosts engagement and creates a group dynamic. By stopping and asking for questions and feedback, at the very least, you don’t give them the chance to tune out.
In my upcoming book, I introduce the concept of AWE — authority, warmth, and energy — as the three communication strategies that are vital to one’s success. This is especially true on Zoom; it’s hard to establish authority in a virtual setting. By speaking forcefully with a strong voice and eliminating filler words — “ums,” “likes,” “you knows” — you can overcome the obstacles. By inflecting, speaking with energy, engaging your colleagues, you’ll be able to replace the missing energy usually found in person — and keep everyone immersed in the conversation.
Communicating in person will always be the best way to get your message across, but video is our best alternative right now. To create a sense of connection, be mindful that what worked for you in the “real” world likely won’t in this new world. By using these tips and creating a little more self awareness, you can still Zoom your way to the top.
Originally publish in Business Insider on April 15, 2020. Link here. Image Credit: Shutterstock