When I speak, I want that people listen to me! Otherwise, what’s the point of speaking?
But in some cases, people are distracted and cannot stay focused while I speak. And the problem is that often I am the one who distracts people from listening to me. Sounds absurd, but this is precisely what most of us do during video calls.
In my last post, I discussed the technical aspects of the distraction and how to fix them. Today I will talk about how we distract our listeners with our communication manner and what we all can do better.
Now, what do people see when we communicate offline? Our full-body, including our facial expressions, head-, shoulders-, arms-, hands- and legs movements – full-body gestures. These, together with our voice and words, form our offline communication.
What do people see when we communicate online? Our face, and in the best case, our upper body with limited visibility of hand gestures. But we still convey our message. Although this time, far less communication “channels” are combined with our voice and words to form our online communication.
This also means that the importance of these “channels” becomes higher than during offline communication.
Let us have a closer look at each of them.
“A Man Without A Smiling Face Must Not Open A Shop!” - Chinese Proverb
What irritates me the most is that no one is looking into my eyes while I speak during the video call :D Even though I understand that this is just how the technology works.
In offline life, when you speak and people look away, check their phones or move around, you think they are not interested in listening to you. But that happens during video calls all the time. And even if people keep looking directly into your eyes on their screens, you still have the feeling they look away and are not interested. In this case, the chances are high that you will lose your initial motivation and excitement too. Which usually leads to an unemotional presentation. This is one of the reasons why many of the online meetings, discussions, and presentations seem to be longer and less dynamic than they would be offline.
There are a few things that you could do to keep yourself and your audience interested.
Since your face is in focus:
Take care of your facial expressions. People will copy your mood and emotions from your face.
Look into the camera and not on the screen with participants. It gives people feeling you are looking into their eyes. This helps them to stay focused.
Make sure you don't lose your own motivation. This is not easy since you don’t have direct feedback from your audience. I achieve this by finding a single participant of a call, who seems to be genuinely interested in what I am saying, and talking for this person. If there is no such person in the audience, do what you want, no one is interested anyway :D
"The Volume of Your Voice Does Not Increase the Validity of Your Argument." - Steve Maraboli
Another aspect which is directly affected by our mood is the way we speak. Our voice basically mirrors our emotional state. If we are excited, bored, annoyed, all this is clear from the voice.
Primarily if we work with slides during the video call and people don’t see our face anymore, the attention to the voice reaches its maximum. Remember the audiobook you wanted to listen to, but the narrator’s speaking manner was so unpleasant you could not concentrate on the content. Now think how long are people going to stay focused during your presentation if you speak the same way :D
So, paying attention to vocal aspects becomes crucial to keep listeners’ attention.
Here is what I recommend you to do:
Record yourself and evaluate your own voice after the call.
Pay attention to your voice volume, rate, and excitement level as well as pauses you used.
Make sure you avoid repetition of fill words like so, and, like, etc.
Prepare your report/presentation/pitch in advance. This seems obvious, but most people start thinking about their content during the actual call. This leads to long pauses, complicated wording, and loss of listeners’ interest.
"I Speak Two Languages, Body and English." - Mae West
I belong to people who “talk” with their hands. I gesture when I speak with someone face-to-face, have a video call, or even talk on the phone. And although an animated speaking manner seems to be quite natural for many of us, it can have an absolutely distracting effect when communicating online.
Here are a few issues which occur during the video call when gesturing as usual:
Your hands get too close to the camera and become disproportionally big for the audience. In this case, people feel like the speaker is waving his/her hands right in front of their face. “Big Hands” effect is one of the most common distracting factors I observed so far. If, at the same time, looking at the audience from above, e.g., having the device on the lap (described in the previous post), this might even look kind of aggressive.
Your gestures get out of the vision of the audience very quickly. As a result, people see your shaking shoulders but not your arms and hands.
Quick movements are often blurred for the virtual audience. In case of a slower internet connection, some of your gestures can even be missed entirely.
A solution for these issues would be:
Increase the distance to the camera,
Looking at your own video, make sure your gestures stay visible for the audience during the call.
Avoid quick and sudden movements
Don’t move your hands at all! if you can ;)
One more aspect worth mentioning is our sitting posture during the video call. Especially when sitting at the desk, we often lean on it and sit in a head forward posture, with hunched back and rounded raised shoulders. This does not necessarily distract the audience, but it is arguably not the most attractive posture of ours. Try to avoid it.
So far, I received the best feedback for my online presentations when
presenting while standing,
having the camera on my eye level,
keeping enough distance to the camera so that people see my head and my body above the waist.
In this case, I have the best possible posture and a lot of room for arm and hand gestures.
To conclude, I want to mention that a large number of companies, including Twitter, Slack, and Square, already announced working from home policy at least until the end of 2020. Some already offer permanent remote work possibilities. Additionally, there is a growing number of remote services like remote doctors, lawyers, classes, webinars, and conferences—all kinds of remote activities that have one thing in common: they are all based on online communication.
Therefore, we better sooner than later stop distracting our listeners and adapt our communication manner to this new format to get the best out of it.
P.S. Read the technical aspects of the distraction here.