As more and more of us are cooped up indoors, educators and businesspeople are striving to translate the magic of personal interaction from the live classroom and conferences and translate it to communication online.
People think that speaking online is the same as speaking to a live audience. Not at all. In fact, we all need to learn how to adapt interpersonal communications and public speaking skills for the camera lens and for remote audiences.
In my 30 years as a media and communications consultant, I have seen many people who are amazing in person but lack personality on camera. I have seen true fear in the eyes of university lecturers when instructing them on how to adapt their content and realign their body language for online courses. “What do you mean I can’t move around the room? It’s more relaxing that way!” Or, “I’ll just write out exactly what to say, the camera makes me nervous.” Even worse, “I’ll just read out the bullet points.”
Their energy fizzles out because they’re missing the dynamic of interaction with live people.
I understand. Remote speakers don’t receive the same cues they would normally get from active listeners. Even if you can see your audience nodding or smiling in a Zoom meeting, the energy is not the same. We have come a long way since the early days of video conferencing when there was a horrible delay and we could never really see or hear others well. However, facing a camera and addressing a remote audience sometimes requires changes in content, not just style.
As everyone scrambles to adjust, here are a few principles to follow:
- What are you looking at? Get a neck! Make sure the camera is at eye level.
I once had a client conduct an entire media interview by Skype with the lens looking up at his nostril hairs. Not a pretty sight. In videoconferences, people tend to look down a lot at the screen to see themselves and others. Look up at the camera. See how you appear in the frame — adjust the screen so that you are the center – and don’t cut yourself off in the middle of your chin. Also, we don’t need to see the ceiling and lots of wall above your head or the embarrassing photos you like to post on your refrigerator.
I participated in a webinar with an expert from Zoom instructing us on how to use the various features of the platform. He was standing and looking down at his screen. He also moved constantly. That constant movement (sitting, standing, and moving around) also tires out your audience and detracts from the message. You should stay in the center of the frame.
- Is there a point to all of this? Be succinct!
Make sure content is short and to the point with a WOW opening. Beware: it’s much easier to turn off a videoconference than to walk out of a lecture-hall. How long will people watch you talking if you don’t engage? They can just mute themselves or turn off their camera and get a snack while you drone on and on. Keep the content conversational. If you are doing an online course, don’t write out the text word for word. People want to hear you talk; they can read a written report afterwards.
- Are you awake? Keep up the energy!
Even though you may not see everyone, your on-camera energy must be the same as if you were talking to real people. Sit up straight to support your voice and not look like a shlump. Use your hands and smile — it actually frees your voice.
- Who are those little munchkins in the background?
People coming in and out during your call/lecture are distracting. And these days with children at home, you have to be extra vigilant. Try to sit in a place with no extra movement behind you. And look to see what the camera sees — do we really need your dirty socks there?
- Are you the elephant man, or just in a shadow?
Please check the lighting — do not sit in front of a window. It is not good to have the light coming in from behind you; you will be wrapped in a cloud not bathed in light.
- Is she wearing pajamas?
Of course, you should dress as if you are facing a real classroom or in a true business meeting. Comb your hair. I even put on mascara. If you are wearing pj bottoms, don’t stand up — keep them out of the frame. The truth is that dressing as if you can leave the house and go to an important business meeting will make you feel more professional.
- You talking to me? You talking to me?
For better quality sound, it may be worth getting a lavalier clip-on microphone. Even if you don’t, make sure you are in a room without a lot of surrounding noise and with furniture and carpets that won’t make it sound like you are in a large empty hall.
- So, what’s the point?
Introduction — centered on a key idea or takeaway. Filler. Conclusion – restating or reframing the main point. That’s the structure of any effective presentation. People remember the beginning and end of any presentation/lecture/discussion. The message must be at the beginning and at the end.
Now that we’ve talked about being the host/lecturer of the meeting, it’s worth reminding the audience that there is certain etiquette for all of us to follow as well. For example, if your microphone and video are on, don’t talk to others at home, put your phone on silent, mute yourself while others are talking and turn off the camera if you leave the room.
All of us thrive through making personal connections. We need a sense of community. While these technologies cannot substitute for that human touch, for now, we can use these tools to avoid being isolated. But, if we’re using them – let’s use them well, to make others feel less isolated too. We need to learn how to use them in order to get a message across effectively and still make a connection.