Do you come across with influence in videoconferences? Here's how to be a stronger presence in online meetings.
It's a remote world now. The coronavirus pandemic has had all of us hunkered down for months, with only a digital lifeline connecting us to the rest of the world to conduct business.
Or so it seems.
It won't last, of course. And even now amid the fear, the tragic loss of loved ones, and widespread economic destruction, we're surviving, learning, and even innovating. And fortunately, talking to colleagues, customers, and clients is easy via our present technology.
There's even more hope than that. Would you believe that all of those Zoom, Webex, and Teams meetings may be helping you to develop a stronger presence when you speak?
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Let's look at this striking paradox that's literally staring us in the face these days: remote communication is helping us to be more intimate with those we're trying to influence.
Face-to-Face Communication . . . Still the Best Way!
It's actually part of another paradox that applies to public speaking along with the other world I inhabit: the theatrical stage. It's this: to have a relationship with groups of people, you need to sound like you're talking with everyone individually.
Watch an old newsreel of an orator from the late nineteenth or early twentieth century and you'll see exactly what I mean. We've gone from a bombastic style of speaking in public to one that is, well, to use the world I mentioned earlier, intimate.
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In other words, it's all about face-to-face communication. To connect with hundreds or even thousands of strangers, it's necessary to cultivate an outward ease and confidence, in the sense of just chatting with an individual. That's often hard for business speakers to grasp—and even harder for them to implement.
This is where Zoom and the other videoconferencing platforms come into their own. When you sit in front of your computer screen, it's literally face-to-face communication. Because of the online connection and the magic of your web cam, you appear to be only 18-24" inches away (I just measured it in my office setup).
So you don't have to pull off the trick of very-public-yet-close-up-speaking you do on a stage. You are close. Provided you open up enough emotionally, we at the other screens will experience you up-close and personal. That automatically lends you a stronger presence.
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To Speak with Influence, Be Conversational
Online meetings, then, are giving you a powerful if often unrecognized tool. It's the capability— the insistence really—that you be conversational.
Every successful presentation sounds like the speaker is just talking to us. It's not speechifying in the old sense of oratory with one finger in the air. Instead, it has the quality of a person-to-person conversation. One of the biggest challenges in live talks, in fact, is something actors spend their whole professional lives learning how to do well: externalizing emotions. As a poet once said, "An actor can break your heart at 50 feet."
Yet it's not easy for a business person to make that happen on a public speaking stage. That's not surprising, since they haven't had training in theatrical performance. But your computer and web cam are making it much easier for you. Now it's not 50 feet—it's only the two feet I mentioned earlier. Your presence—your part of the conversation—can be natural and unforced, because we're virtually sitting right here in front of you to experience it.
You may in fact have a better chance of sharing an emotional connection with us than if you were speaking to us from a big stage. It's precisely that human touch that helps give you a stronger presence in online meetings.
So let those emotions show, and don't hold back from being intimate. The more you can make it feel like a close and friendly chat with us, the more present you'll be.
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Gary Genard is an actor, author, and expert in theater-based public speaking training. His company, Boston-based The Genard Method offers in-person and online training to help executives and teams become extraordinary communicators. In 2020 for the seventh consecutive year, Gary has been ranked by Global Gurus as One of The World's Top 30 Communication Professionals. He is the author of How to Give a Speech. His second book, Fearless Speaking, was recently named as "One of the 100 Best Confidence Books of All Time." Contact Gary here.