STRAIGHT TALK from The Leadership Speaking School
We are experiencing a moment in time where people on a global level are using online meetings like never before. Technology allows us to see and speak to one another in a professional context, but more often than not, participants are presenting themselves in a way that lacks a level of quality and professionalism. This can affect their overall impact and performance in meetings and give a negative impression. That is why it is so important, right now, to improve and elevate yourself as a leader and a speaker.
I want to provide you with key tools (golden nuggets) from The Leadership Speaking School to help you up-skill and thrive in online meetings, on camera, so you show up as the best version of yourself every time you speak in front of virtual audiences.
Your setup refers to the immediate space you will be sitting or standing in while you are speaking. It is very important to pay attention to detail, especially in an online environment because everything on camera is amplified. When the camera zooms in on you, you see the angles of your face differently, the hairs that are out of place on your head, and even the wrinkle on your shirt sleeve. So to help you figure out what your environment should look like, I suggest you tune into the main senses that your audience is using…sight and sound. Since they will be looking at everything and listening to everything, it is your job to establish what I call ‘sensory equilibrium.’ This is where you have a neutral environment, without distractions or competing elements.
First of all, let’s talk about what not to do when it comes to backgrounds. We’ve all seen the messy, cluttered hallway with kid’s toys or family members walking around. We’ve probably seen an unmade bed or two, and the list goes on. When it comes to creating the best background, I want you to remember that less is so much more. Go neutral! A plain background will create that visual equilibrium for your viewers. The best is a plain white, grey, or cream-colored wall. No posters. No shelves. No stuff or clutter. You want to be at the center of that camera angle so that your online community can see you, not the poster of the movie Flashdance from 1983. This will only distract your audience so don’t give them that opportunity. Create that visual equilibrium with a clean, neutral, light-colored space behind you.
When it comes to lighting, you also want something that creates equilibrium. You don’t want light that is too harsh or too dark. You don’t want to be backlit where you have light coming from behind you, and you don’t want to be over-lit where you have so much light on you that you see the bags under your eyes and the wrinkles on your face… not very flattering. Again, you want the light to be neutral, comfortable, and warm so it will reflect a more natural tone and illuminate you. This should be incorporated in your setup when using your phone or laptop, or whatever you’re using that has a camera. Speaking of your camera, I also want you to make sure that the lens is capturing a clear image of you. Go ahead and use a spray for cleaning eyeglasses and screens, and make sure that your camera lens is polished so there aren’t any little grains of dust or hair getting in the way of a clean shot.
Your body and camera placement
When it comes to sitting versus standing, standing is better. This is because when you stand, fantastic things happen with your voice, your energy, and your presence. You open your airways wider and your blood flows through your body more efficiently, oxygenating your muscles and giving you energy and charisma. To create your setup for standing, build a table stand that supports your device. DIY-it by using books and other bits and pieces to elevate your stand. Make sure that it doesn’t wobble or tip over easily!
If you’re sitting down for your meeting, position your camera in a way that creates harmony with your space. An important tip is to show the area of yourself between your head and your waist, down to your belly button. If you include that much of yourself in the shot, you can communicate so much more through your body. If you only show your head or an image of the shoulders up, you lose a lot of information and it doesn’t look very professional. Therefore, you really want to be able to see the hands, move the arms, and have your body flow in a conversation.
Having quality sound is key for your online meetings. Your aim should be to create auditory equilibrium by not having any other sounds distract from your voice. No background noise or clicks from your computer, or your voice breaking up due to a bad connection. High-quality sound is everything, so if you can, invest in some great wireless earbuds – the golden standard for online speaking. They have excellent sound, great microphones, and they look nice. Another plus is that you are free to move around and speak using your hands.
Your impact: Up-skill and thrive
Remember that in order to show up as the best version of yourself, you should focus on creating visual and auditory equilibrium for your audience. Go neutral using a simple, clean, and sharp speaking environment with no distractions. When you get this right, it will truly elevate your virtual conversation. The audience will be able to better focus on you and connect with what you have to say… and at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about.
This is the first in a series of articles from The Leadership Speaking School, based on podcast episodes of Leadership Speaking Radio, delivering golden nuggets of wisdom to help you not only survive, but THRIVE in front of audiences both online and in person.
Enough…of the ‘talking-head’ camera angle, the messy background with visible clutter and the tired lighting casting shadows on your face.
Enough…of the hunched-over body language, the flat, monotone voice and the endless parade of your PowerPoint slides. Enough.
This worn-out and broken model of speaking online is demotivating your audiences, chipping away at your credibility and sucking the life out of your interaction.
With video conferencing platforms being used at record levels around the world, the right time is now to switch-up and elevate how you communicate in your virtual conversations. Breakaway from the dusty status quo and make your messages come to life with these disruptive tips:
Change your perspective
To help you to determine what you should improve about your online presence, change your perspective. Put yourself into the audience’s shoes and consider what you like as a participating audience member in an online interaction. Make a list.
To give you some ideas, here is our list of what we like:
In the setup:
· High quality video, lighting and sound
· A neutral background that is congruent with the professional presence of the host
· No technical glitches, and if there are any, a pre-rehearsed backup plan
· A camera angle that shows the body speaking, with arms and hands clearly visible, not just a talking head
· The use of wireless headphones enabling the speaker to sit, stand and move around as needed, not being held hostage to sitting near the computer
In the meeting:
· The use of alternatives to PowerPoint slides
· Active audience participation enabling everyone to feel like a valued member of the group
· Comfort/stretching/water/food/fresh-air breaks when the energy wanes
· A clear agenda and sticking to the timeline
· The option to switch-off the camera and just listen in
· The feeling of a shared purpose
In the speaking:
· A energized presence
· An engaged and animated face
· Vocal variety showing an emotional connection to the content
· Generously using pauses to help the audience absorb what is being said
· Body language that is congruent with the spirit of the message
· A variety of movement including sitting, standing and where appropriate, walking around
· More ‘open’ body language than ‘closed’ body language
What’s on your list? Once you know, get to work on incorporating more of what you like when you speak online. Disrupt the status quo of what you’re used to and toggle-up the ingenuity and the quality of your virtual conversations.
Breathe life into your message
Put your monologue and your drab PowerPoint slide-deck to the side and elevate how you deliver presentations online. Get creative and discover innovative ways to make your message come alive.
Here are some of our favorite ways to breathe life into what we have to say online:
I want to try to shift a certain assumption: the assumption that you can learn a skill like public speaking in a one to two-day training course.
This assumption is false and is not based in reality because public speaking, like any other skill to master – whether it’s learning how to speak a language or play the piano – takes total immersion to learn.
For many years, I offered half-day and day-long training sessions in public speaking for leaders in companies, organizations, and academic institutions around the world. I provided a “quick-fix” solution for a pervasive problem. Although those sessions were very well received, I now know that they were not transformative, they didn’t go deep enough and change the participants from the inside out. Instead, they worked from the outside in, acting like a band-aid solution and only activating participants into wanting to learn more. While this isn’t a bad result, it defeats the main purpose of why these leaders took this training in the first place. They signed up to become better speakers and believed that this course would help them to do that.
Sorry Summertime – that didn’t happen. It couldn’t because learning a complex skill like this in a very short time frame is a total fallacy. It is not how humans learn. We need time-space and mind-space and body-space in order to learn. We need full immersion in order to transform on a cellular level.