UNToday Article by Laura Penn, PhD

______This article appeared in the June 2021 Issue of UN Today______

By Laura Penn, PhD

I just finished yet another virtual meeting where the experience left me feeling numb, deflated, and unfulfilled. Sound familiar?

The pandemic started more than a year ago, yet I ask myself, why haven’t more people upgraded and elevated how they speak online by now? Why are they stuck doing the same lacklustre speaking repertoire in online meeting, after online meeting?

To help you to understand my quandary more clearly, let me invite you into my recent virtual conversation…

We will call the person I was talking to, Ed. For starters, Ed was cast in a dark shadow. Besides the stale, badly lit office he was in, complete with cluttered, asymmetrical shelves in the background, the only other thing I could see was his silhouette from the chin, up – a curly-haired head, wearing over-the-ear headphones. No facial expressions were visible and there was no body language. During the call, the sound was muffled and I struggled to focus on what Ed was saying. Frankly, I don’t remember much of the conversation and I left our meeting feeling empty.

Spurred on by this negative experience and by a history of so many similar encounters in recent months, I am writing this article to tell you that virtual meetings are here to stay and that it’s time to professionalize how you show up online. So roll-up your shirt-sleeves and let’s fix this.

To elevate how you speak online, begin by noticing that something is wrong

Pay attention to how you feel before, during, and after your online meetings. Ask yourself these ‘yes’ or ‘no’ questions:

Before the meeting

• Do I feel unprepared and tense?
• Am I very, very, very nervous?

During the meeting

• Do I feel tired and like I want to give up and totally disconnect?
• Do I feel like I lack control over what my presence, my voice, and my body are doing?

After the meeting

• Do I feel unsatisfied with my speaking performance?
• Do I dread the next meeting?

If you answered ‘no’ to the majority of these questions, you are on a roll. Go for it! You are self-aware, you care about how others perceive you and you have invested in yourself to improve your online speaking repertory. Keep elevating and innovating, and rising to be the best version of yourself every time that you speak online. Aim to improve something new in every virtual conversation that you have. Never stop.

If you answered ‘yes’ to the majority of these questions, it’s time to switch-up your game and massively improve yourself. You are stuck in a rut of bad habits and low standards and you need to radically up-skill in order to rise into showing up as the best version of yourself. Stop dallying the shadows and get to work.

It’s time to professionalize how you show up online

To help you to imagine what this looks like, consider the rock stars of effective camera/online communication – newscasters, the professional ladies and gentlemen who grace our television and computer screens with updates about the state of our world. When broadcasting in their studio environments, they all have something in common, they:

• Have neutral backgrounds which look sharp and clean and don’t usurp attention from the newscaster

• Have lighting which enables viewers to clearly see facial expressions and body language

• Wear lapel microphones, ensuring excellent sound quality

• Can be seen from the torso up (unless they are standing) with their arms and hands clearly visible

• Wear makeup, especially powder to prevent “shine” and eye makeup to enhance the communication of the eyes

• Are well-groomed and wear professional-looking outfits which support their credibility

• Speak clearly and concisely with vocal variety and engaging emphasis

• Are organized and well prepared with their content

Get inspired! and borrow as much from this list as possible to help you to professionalize how you show up online.

Skin-in-the-game

The elements I have highlighted here are an excellent starting point for those of you who feel called to professionalize how you speak online. Understand that it takes effort and real skin-in-the-game to do the work I have described. It involves your full commitment of noticing that something is wrong and of taking the action steps necessary to professionalize your virtual conversations.

Also be aware that these points are only the beginning. They constitute the frame of the picture that you are painting for yourself and of the virtual brand that you are building of your online persona. The picture itself is based on your Leadership Speaking: the bold choices you make about your presence, your voice, and your body language so that you can connect with your audiences when you speak online.

But Hey! that’s the stuff of another article. For now, get to work on improving your glittering frame and have fun making it sparkle.