Since many salespeople and business professionals are still conducting remote video sales calls and running virtual meetings, here are some important tools and techniques to give those interactions greater impact, and be more persuasive with both internal and external participants.
As an Executive Communication Coach at The Speech Improvement Company, I see professionals struggling to show leadership as virtual facilitators and presenters. If you are moderating or facilitating a VIRTUAL sales call, team check-in, meeting with senior leaders, or aiming to PERSUADE the listener, you need a more intuitive approach to engage participants.
A skilled moderator or facilitator helps the group understand the common objectives and reaches them in a short amount of time. The facilitator or moderators’ goal in a virtual setting, such as Zoom, Teams, or Google Meet, is to encourage participants’ involvement and control the conversation’s flow.
Facilitating and moderating virtually creates challenges. During the event, participants can multi-task, walk away, or disconnect entirely, any time they choose. How many of you reading this do more than one thing if your camera is off during a virtual meeting? (Even if our camera on we can be sneaky about paying “fake” attention) During a virtual video call, have you ever checked an email, sent an email, wrote and responded to a text, turned off your camera to go make a coffee, or anything else that seemed more interesting and appealing?
Don’t let this happen to you. Remember, successful facilitating means creating opportunities for interaction, engagement, and a synthesis of the information throughout your meeting. It’s critical for the success of your video meeting to know how to support these engagement opportunities.
As an experienced corporate coach for over 20 years, and a chronic Zoom user, I repeatedly see the same fatal errors. But there are plenty of ways to succeed in virtual meetings. Here are five of my top tips for virtual facilitators and moderators:
- Engagement starts with eye contact.Use direct eye contact with the camera lens when you are talking and when listening. Most people are looking at the gallery view of participants or their own image when they speak on video. My company has helped thousands of people get their eyeline set up correctly since the pandemic kicked off video meetings. If you aren’t sure about your eyeline, but suspect you are doing it poorly, email me, and I can talk you through it.
As a moderator, you’ll also be checking the platform dashboard to monitor chat, participant questions, and feedback about technical issues. Still, when you are talking and listening, you need to be looking at the camera lens. This takes practice and feels counterintuitive, but trust me, it looks great, and adds a level of polish and connection.
- Review the attendee list.First, who is attending this virtual meeting? What do they already know? What do they want to know? What type of content or information would be valuable for them? Ensure you are providing what they want. Why do they care about the agenda topics and what is the benefit of listening?
When you know your participants’ demographics, you can then provide them with tools they feel comfortable using to interact with you, the other speakers, and each other. Will you use a formal agenda, a variety of speakers, chat feature, camera’s on or off, demos, polls, Q and A, pre-reads, pictures, screen share? How will you use these features in real-time? Take the time to understand who is listening and how they prefer to participate.
- Make time for a technical run-through in advance and be purposeful about the sound and video settings.Practice interacting on the chosen platform based on your plan above. Almost every virtual meeting will have some small (or large) technical issues, (a few of the ones I see over and over are some people did not get the Zoom link, someone comes in with no audio, someone is calling from the car while driving, someone has a hard stop in 20 minutes, screen share won’t work, the person who has to record is not the Host, the video sound won’t work, the PDF disappeared, you can’t find the latest version of the deck, there is someone installing a new roof and people can hear the banging, the dog is barking, your WIFI goes out). For important sales calls, meetings, or alignment discussions, always be ready for a Plan B when it comes to technology.
If appropriate, make sure everyone has a chance to participate. Leave longer than comfortable pauses to allow space for people to speak, (it takes longer to decide to unmute or not and people will often chime in at the exact same time) and call on people to make sure everyone has an opportunity to weigh in.
‘Tis no lonelier an experience than a presenter who makes a hilarious comment virtually but is greeted with silence since everyone is on mute. Think about having some portions of the meeting where everyone’s microphones are ON (but if someone has a screaming child or barking dog in the background they’ll still need to mute as needed). The benefit of all mics on is that it feels more like a real, spontaneous conversations and adds human connection so Mike can make a crafty joke and hear everyone crack up, and then you can say things like, “Mike, that story about the new hire TAM on the field ride was hilarious!” and we know this is true because we heard everyone laugh.
- Follow the “one person at a time” approach. Facilitators ned to have “rules of the virtual road.” Use the raise handfeature in some platforms to call on people, state the rule of one speaker at a time, and don’t be afraid to say, “Tracy, let’s hear from you, and then it’s David’s turn.” Master various inclusion techniques that an excellent facilitator relies on.These tools help to maximize participation by all, even the introverts, or speakers that are reluctant to make the effort to unmute unless they are absolute sure they are saying something new and helpful to the conversation. Or, perhaps you want it to be a free-for-all, where anyone can chime in at any time. Whatever you choose, be purposeful and clear about expectations.
- Reserve ten minutes at the end of the meeting to recap and review. Find bridges between information shared and synthesize what it all means. “This has been a terrific alignment call. In an effort to stay on time, let’s start to summarize our final thoughts and action items. I want to be sure we end on time or maybe even a little early.” If you can end a virtual meeting ten minutes early, you will be the unsung hero that our bladders and mental health deserve. At a minimum, ALWAYS end one minute early. We need to survive continued long days of back-to-back zoom meetings for the next 30 years or until something better comes along like asynchronous virtual-reality meetings in the French Polynesia. “Hey team, check the coconut tree by the daiquiri shack for your tree mail, and be sure to sit by the ocean for 20 minutes before you log off!”
These tips are an effective way to improve your virtual communication skills, from selling to celebrating. Even if we can’t be in the same physical room, we can still be connected, productive, and aligned.