Before some of you start screaming plagiarism, yes, I took the title of this article from the book by David Sedaris. So there, I have properly given credit where credit is due.
Back in March, like it was ages ago, when we all set up shop in the makeshift offices of our homes, many of us were introduced to the new and beguiling world of Zoom and other video meeting platforms. However, Zoom was not so new after all, and there were those who, for some time now, were already fully integrated in the world of distributive meetings, smirked at the rest of us, saying, “It is about time you showed up.”
Upon discovering this new means of meeting via LED screen, we all had a moment where we felt this could be the panacea to the problem of the dreaded work meeting. Zoom is cheap, relatively simple to use. It has cool gimmicks like replacing the dreary backgrounds of our boring beige walls with scenes of relaxing on a tropical beach or orbiting planet Earth from a spacecraft, and we could get down to business wearing shorts and flip-flops. For sure, this was going to be the answer for pulling us out of the dreary business meeting quagmire we had all become accustomed to and begrudgingly tolerated.
Oh, how quickly our hopes were dashed. As it turned out, while meeting by video is readily accessible and only requires a click of the button and a couple passes of the comb through the hair, execution is awkward and quite difficult to master when seeking the effective outcomes that come from meeting in person. There are reasons for this, and some of these reasons were explained in simple terms by one of our recent topic speakers, Erin Urban with UPP Solutions. She stated, we as humans release chemicals in our body when we have personal contact with others. This gives us our fight-or-flight instincts. It helps us make involuntary judgements about friend or foe. It heightens our senses so that we are more attuned to body language and cues, but when we meet on a computer screen all that chemical reaction is greatly diminished and our senses are dulled. Second, we are each confined to a small rectangle, without any ability to read a room and the reactions and behaviors of others all at once. Third, we develop a false sense of casualness, because we forget that even though we are in comfort of our home, we really are at work, and we catch ourselves doing things we would not otherwise be doing if we were in the office. This has led to some embarrassing moments for the absentminded and those having to witness these faux pas’ in self-awareness. These challenges to properly engage in an effective Zoom meeting became evident as with greater frequency, people were turning off their cameras or replacing their screen with a professionally doctored resume photo of their likeness. I wish I could do that during an office meeting. Just pull a screen down in front of me, and all people see is the correct spelling of my name in bold print. That certainly would not go over well with the others in the room. So, think about that the next time you feel the urge to hide from others. Unless, of course you need to deal with a screaming kid or get the dog to stop barking. Then by all means, excuse yourself for a minute.
Here is the thing though. Zoom is here to stay. Even after we go back to the office on a full-time basis, (whenever that happens) electronic meetings are going to be part of our regular work repertoire. So, if we are going to turn this terrible pandemic into something of a positive, we should all be hyper-focused on the opportunity before us to turn meetings into something meaningful, productive, and dare I say, enjoyable.
It is important to remember the meeting you are attending hopefully has a purpose. If so, there is a good chance you might be trying to make a first impression, close a sale, or get an important point across to the attendees, and you are doing this all within the parameters of a thumbnail size picture box. So, I will leave you with these few simple pointers Erin provided that will improve your virtual-self and the meeting experience:
– Personal appearance: Dress professionally and be presentable. Do not show up in your PJs or a ratty Coachella t-shirt from 2003.
– Background. Pay attention to the details in your background. If your office is in the library, double check the titles on the shelf are books you would want someone else to see. Do not get too gawdy with decorations that might be distracting to others, but do try to place a few items of interest behind you. Of course, a virtual screen is always an option.
– Lighting: Check the angle of your lighting to see that your face is well lit, and that there is no glare, deep shadows or a silhouette that makes you like someone from the witness protection program being interviewed on 60 minutes.
– Camera: Elevate your camera/laptop so that it is at eye level and you are not looking down on it.
– Emote: This is probably the most important tip to consider. As stated earlier, when talking through the computer screen, our senses and visual cues are diminished. Therefore, when speaking compensate by emoting 30% more than if you were in the room personally. Practice facial expressions in the mirror, get comfortable using your hands, and change the inflexions in your voice. It is Toastmasters 101, only delivery is now different.