Activate your Virtual Conversations Through Human Sensuality

Public Speaking (00:03):
Welcome to Leadership Speaking Radio. This is episode number 25. Our topic today is – activate your virtual conversations through human sensuality. I’m your host, Dr. Laura Penn professional speaker coach, industry disruptor and Founder of The Leadership Speaking School. We’re based in Switzerland and we train global leaders and change-makers, how to speak in public. To find out more about the work we do transforming leaders from the inside-out, go ahead and visit our website at Now let’s get straight into our topic.

Public Speaking (01:05):
I made a giant pivot along with the rest of humanity back in March when our world was totally disrupted, changed and forever altered by this pandemic that we are still living through. The pivot for me was to put a lot of my classes online. And this is working. This is great. I do one-hour training sessions. I do a four and a half hour master class, and I do one-to-one VIP intensive coaching. These are wonderful products that I am happy that I can still offer the world. And recently, in a lot of my one hour training sessions… I call these activations by the way… I’ve been doing a lot of talking about inertia, and I want to start this episode out by talking about inertia and defining it. In fact, according to the Oxford Online Languages, Dictionary, inertia is defined as a noun and it means “a tendency to do nothing or to remain unchanged”. For those of you who are physics aficionados, you’ll also know that inertia has another meaning in this science here. It means “a property of matter by which it continues in its existing state of rest or uniform motion in a straight line, unless that state is changed by an external force”.

Public Speaking (02:33):
Why is this definition important? Because we need to get our feet on the ground about what this concept is. This concept that is sweeping through our virtual world just about every day. For those of us who are spending time working online. To counter the definition of inertia, let’s talk about what’s on the other side of the spectrum, activation. The same online dictionary defines this word as a noun, stating that it is “the action or process of making something active or operative”. A lot of my virtual training sessions for people around the world representing different organizations, academic institutions, and companies are for people who are currently stuck in a state of inertia.

Public Speaking (03:26):
When it comes to our online conversations, we are stuck there, like feet in the mud. We can’t move and we’re almost asphyxiated by this lack of movement. And you know you feel this way when you’re dreading doing your next virtual call. You know that you personally are stuck in inertia when you are listening to your own internal voices, which say, “I don’t want to stand out”, “I don’t want to rock the boat”, “it’s not my job to change how this looks”. Those are the voices of inertia. And these are the voices that are holding people back from conveying messages that stay in the virtual room, as it were. In other words, messages that don’t leak through the doorways and cracks in the wall and open windows out of that room. Messages that should stay in the hearts and minds of the people that you’re talking to, but probably because of inertia, don’t.

Public Speaking (04:30):
What does inertia look like? Just take a look around your next virtual conversation and you will see it’s those head-shots where you see your colleagues from their neck up. It’s the bad lighting. The gloomy look on everyone’s face, the hunched over shoulders – if you’re lucky enough to see them in the shot – the messy backgrounds that give visual dis-equilibrium and make you feel stressed and uncomfortable. It’s the bad sound quality. The apologies for, “Oh, well, I’m not very good at tech” or “it isn’t my thing”, and “sorry, we were just disconnected”. It’s messy folks and it’s all the same. And as I look around in these virtual conversations, one thing stands out loud and clear. We’ve got this picture all wrong. It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that the way we’ve set ourselves up to have these virtual conversations is totally flipped upside down.

Public Speaking (05:37):
We have effectively, on a global level, edited out the humanity from our virtual conversations. That’s right. We’ve taken the human out of the equation. And that’s what I want to get into knee-deep today on this podcast, how to bring the humanity, aka the human, back into the fold so that we can elevate these virtual conversations and have these messages not only stay in the room, but feel good about delivering them and receiving them. We spend too much time in this context, not to have a good time, not to feel good, so let’s fix it. And I want to begin by telling you that human beings are sensual creatures. We are built for pleasure and connection with each other.

Public Speaking (06:41):
Think for a moment about your amazing five senses. Think about your sight, your ability to hear, your sense of smell, taste, and touch. These senses keep us alive, prevent us from danger. Keep us out of situations that can harm us or the people that we’re close to. They keep us alert and enable us to enjoy life. When it comes to speaking online, we have to edit out the majority of our senses. We remove smell. We remove taste and we remove touch, but sight and sound are still there. And they are the key senses that we are activating when we are participating in online conversations, whether we’re watching them, or talking, or a combination of the two. And as such, we need to be thinking about how we can bring these two senses back into strength, back into operation in our virtual conversations, because what we’re doing to them now is numbing them.

Public Speaking (08:00):
Back to that description that I gave at the top of this podcast, about what virtual conversations look like, the head-shot, the bad lighting, all of those things. These are elements that are dampening our sense of sight. We need to up-level, toggle-up, elevate what things look like, not depress them. We need to be making choices in our virtual conversations, where we highlight the visual. And what does that look like? Well, for starters, it means putting more of your body into the picture, literally. So you are changing the angle of your camera, not just to show your head, not just to show your head and shoulders, if you go that bold, but to show you at least from the head to your belly button, this is the most basic thing that you can do to elevate this visual element of this virtual conversation. Because human eyes are designed to look at things, to evaluate depth, space, light, texture, and color. We are sensory creatures who want to be stimulated. We want our senses to operate and for them to devour what we are experiencing.

Public Speaking (09:24):
And when it comes to our online conversations, there are many things you can do to enliven the sense of your audience’s sight. Good lighting is a first step. Get away from these dark corners that you’re putting yourself in, where the lighting is bad or unevenly distributed. Maybe there’s too much light coming from the top. Well, FYI, when that happens, you get old age wrinkles underneath your eyes, and it’s not flattering at all. I saw a gentleman the other day on a virtual call and he was bald and he had a big light bulb right above him. And that light was illuminating his head in a way that I don’t think he intended for that virtual conversation. But it’s basic Folks. You need to change your perspective for a second and build this container for yourself, where you’re going to be speaking with the audience’s perspective in mind.

Public Speaking (10:17):
How can you enhance that visually? So lighting is one idea. Color is another. Wear colors that the eye loves to look at and these colors should look good with your skin tone. Also wear colors that don’t camouflage you in the room. On another virtual call, I saw a gentleman was wearing a very light yellow shirt against a white wall background. And I had a really hard time discerning where the person was and where the wall was. And I stopped listening to his message after a while, because this distracted me so much. You want things to contrast, not sharp contrast like a white background with a black shirt. That’s a very loud, bold contrast. No, something that’s more soothing and subtle for the eyes. Something the eyes can drink in. Think about that Folks. And then when it comes to your actual space, what does that look like?

Public Speaking (11:09):
You want visual equilibrium. You want harmony. You want things to feel balanced. Maybe add a nice green plant, somewhere, maybe a lamp in the background. Tune into your inner interior designer here and balance things out. And if you don’t have this skill-set, then bring the people into your life who do, who are excellent at visual and spatial differentiation who can look at something and say, this needs to go here, not here. Get those people into your setup to help you to develop and devise a space for yourself or what I like to call a ‘container’ where you have this visual equilibrium. So the eyes looking in can dance, can look at it and feel good , and can harmonize. And when that background and when you are visually harmonized, well that’s when people are going to start paying attention to what you’re actually saying.

Public Speaking (12:07):
So the visual sense is a big one to please in these virtual conversations. Next, let’s talk about our ears for a moment. Oh, these centers of auditory pleasure that we carry around with us on the side of our heads. Two of them to get stereo sound, two of them to listen to the world around us. And what happens in our virtual conversations? Well, not much from an auditory point of view, this sense along with our visual sense is also numbed, numbed to the point of discomfort. Especially if you have ears that really capture tonality and depth and nuance, if you’re a musician, or if you like the sound of things, then you’ll be struggling a lot listening because the average conversation is a monotone mess. It’s what I call a pancake voice. A voice that has trapped itself in the most narrow, small French crepe-width pancake.

Public Speaking (13:24):
There is no vocal variety. It is flat. It has no heartbeat. I can’t feel the speaker’s emotional connection to what they’re talking about because it’s dry, drab and grey. We, as the listeners, the sensual creatures that we are, are grasping for something that sounds like vocal variety. We’re straining to listen for some nuance, some nugget of some color in that voice. And we rarely receive the reward of that sound. What you need to do when it comes to speaking in your virtual conversations is allow yourself to play, to bring that small narrow, crepe-sized pancake voice into something bigger, fluff it up. I’m going to keep this metaphor going, fluff it up with some baking powder, a couple of tablespoons full so that it puffs itself up and takes up space. When you play with your voice, you come to life, your message becomes alive.

Public Speaking (14:39):
Your audience is listening for what you are saying, between the lines as it were. And they are sensing your emotional connection to what you are talking about. That’s what vocal variety gives you. When you play with the volume, the loudness, or the softness of your voice. When you play with speed, how fast or how slow or your tonality, the color of your voice. Or when you pause, pop, stretch, and dance with your words. When this happens, you feel more alive as a speaker and you’re into what you’re talking about. And most importantly, because it’s not about you, it’s about your audience, your audience is feeling, literally through their ears, your message Folks. The power of our senses should not be underestimated. We need to go in the opposite direction of what is happening in these virtual conversations. This numbing, this deadening, this murdering of our senses.

Public Speaking (15:48):
It’s a severe problem. And it makes us feel lackluster, disconnected from each other, from the message, from what’s going on. And it makes us dread these virtual conversations. Well, the invitation is to now think about your senses from a sensory point of view. Think about enabling a buffet of sensory experience, the visual sensory experience, the auditory central experience for your listeners. When you are speaking in these virtual conversations, the more you do that, the tastier the experience is for those people who are listening to what you have to say. And FYI, when something tastes good, you want to have some more. So that is my big message for today. Get your senses activated, take them out of the inert state that they are in from the point of view of how you are speaking in your online conversations and what your environment looks like and what you sound like, take them out of inertia and activate them into color and life and bring back the heartbeat that connects us as humans.

Public Speaking (17:07):
I hope that you have found this episode helpful and that you can apply what you’ve learned to your own virtual speaking, now go out and do this! Elevate these conversations by elevating the senses. I’ll tell you what, it’s going to be fun, and you’ll have a good time doing it because there’s almost an instant reward. When you change up this numb environment, people appreciate it. They begin to smile and nod more in the conversation. Their eyes light up differently. There’s a different energy and vibration that is created. Ride on the wave of that reward system from the people that you’re talking to and you will go far.

Public Speaking (17:45):
I look forward to bringing you another episode next time, where I will unpack more valuable golden nuggets to help you to survive and thrive in this current environment that we are living in. Folks, I want to love you up with these podcast episodes and really give you the tools that you need, so you make it through this and elevate yourself so that you feel good doing it. I look forward to the next time we connect until then stay safe, stay healthy, take care of yourself and others, and I’ll talk to you next time!