Real estate agents know property value is all about location, location, location. Connected leaders, savvy team members, and salespeople know professional success is all about communication, communication, communication. The recent pandemic has forced our hand to rely on technology over in-person meetings, events or conferences. To continue to connect, inform, and inspire others, everyone must up their virtual meeting game. Pandemic or no pandemic, video conferencing platforms with layouts resembling old television shows like Hollywood Squares or The Brady Bunch will remain long after we return back to the new future. This is why it is paramount to employ the seven virtual meeting communication strategies below:
1. Show up prepared. Whether leading or attending the meeting, clear, consistent, and concise communication gets heard and acted upon. Meetings that lack focus only lead to more meetings, ramblings, and confusion. If leading, following your greeting, articulate the purpose of the meeting and why it will benefit those in attendance. This helps set the stage for why someone needs to be present and why an email would not suffice. Provide a verbal outline/agenda of the meeting’s flow to mentally prepare others to follow along. If providing updates as a participant, have talking points written out to stay on point and lessen speech crutches such as “um” and “like” which occur when you lose your footing.
2. Be the host with the most. If someone visited your office, you would inform them where they might find the restroom or grab a refreshment. Virtual attendees require the same courtesy to help avoid awkward moments. For example, acquaint others with the basic functions on your visual platform such as how to mute/unmute themselves, chat or ask a question. Provide guidance as to how the group should communicate with one another to remove the likelihood of stepping on each other’s sentences and hearing a constant stream of, “Oh, sorry, go ahead.” For example, do those on the call show support by waving both hands, or would you rather hear the cheers?
3. Visibility counts. I personally loathe a camera-ready look when working from home. Yet, staring at squares of black boxes, both as a speaker and listener, creates a disconnect that encourages multi-tasking and lack of focus. Depending on the meeting’s purpose and size of participants, set expectations in advance whether viewing offline is optional. Given the reality of Zoom fatigue, I’m going to assume the necessary transfer of information couldn’t happen via a phone call or email. Therefore, your advance meeting request might include playful language such as, “Feel free to skip a shower, but your physical presence is required. Baseball hats, beanies, and buns welcome!” Investing in a webcam gives the appearance you are looking directly at another which feels more natural and inclusive.
4. Find the balance between informative and interactive. The ability to connect and engage exists no matter the meeting size or purpose. Larger meetings can include anonymous polls for real-time feedback, pre-recorded videos, or the possibility of sending smaller groups to break-out rooms for deep-dive discussions. Stanford University research suggests the most productive meetings contain only five to eight people. More than eight tends to lower the level of intimacy and candidness amongst the group. To keep the flow and reduce dead air, communicate which team/group you want to hear from (pull names/numbers out of a hat if desired) and who is “on deck” next to minimize surprises and nerves.
5. Unpredictability creates interest. Any regular meeting, virtual or in-person, quickly becomes monotonous when the routine remains the same. For example, do you open your weekly meetings by asking others, “How are you doing?” Even if you are genuine and use an empathetic tone, the impact diminishes if asked repeatedly. A few suggestions for more engaging questions include: “What do you need to feel more supported right now?” or “What part of your pre-quarantine routine do you miss most?” or “What have you learned about yourself during the past few weeks?” Unexpected, richer questions lead to thoughtful answers and deeper conversations. You might add, “I’m happy to share my own answer,” and be transparent.
Are you stuck in a speech pattern rut? When asked a question, do you consistently respond, “That’s a good question,” or overuse the word, “Amazing”? Instead, keep a nearby list of words or phrases you can substitute for variety. Why not change up a meeting with a fast, one-word answer round-robin to a question you shared in advance? An example might be, “What do you order on your pizza when dining solo?” Meetings with themes, show and tell moments, book discussions, or Jeopardy-style games, shake up the routine and add an element of fun!
6. Stories are sticky. As a keynote speaker, I’ve experienced first-hand how stories draw listeners in more than any other communication tool. It’s as if our brains can’t help themselves and must pay attention. Are you leveraging this opportunity in every meeting without fail? Yes, powerful stories take preparation, but their impact can last forever. At a minimum, communicate with anecdotes and provide an example for every point you make. If you create a rough draft of your meeting points, use a highlighter to note how often this occurs to gain awareness of where you can add such elements. A story is also a powerful way to close a meeting with energy, gain commitments, and inspire others to action.
7. Connection begins within. If you attend my programs, you will hear me say that clear, concise communication is no longer enough to get results: connection must be part of the equation. Connection demands you listen fully, ask rich questions, show empathy and compassion for another, and not just during convenient moments. When you are mindful of your own energy and well-being, you can be fully present for others to help build their “psychological muscles” during unprecedented times. Even when everything is in the same room, be mindful of what remains on your desk and what you take home. Give yourself permission to fill up your tank and take a breath. Trust me, the results will show when you show up for others at your next virtual meeting.