While the latest buzzwords trend – #coronavirus, #Covid19, #lockdownsa and #flattenthecurve – not everyone is logged into the most appropriate of meeting decorum. Here, personal brand builder Liezel van der Westhuizen shares her Top Five Tips to Tackle those Virtual Gatherings like the pro that you are.
The standard interpersonal and behavioural guidelines for digital meetings are actually the same as those we would normally employ for an in-person meeting. A pro to these engagements, though, would foremost advise that slight adjustments (in attitude, behaviour and decorum) have become necessary to accommodate the fact that we’re all mostly working from home these days.
Yes, around a third of people worldwide are currently under some form of lockdown, reports Business Insider.
One thing to commend and celebrate these days, is the speed at which many people have come to grips with new online communication methods – and most especially the online meeting platforms. However, not everyone considers the ideal points of etiquette until it is too late.
So here are some failsafe tips to help you bypass those embarrassing online moments in front of your boss and/or the new client you were hoping to secure.
Learn the finer points of the platform
If a colleague is making an important presentation, learn how to mute your microphone (it’s pretty easy: just click on the mic button so a red line appears through it). The muting of your mic ensures that your background noise doesn’t distract the presenter, or any others who are listening in.
Once the presentation is over and other opinions are called for, you can unmute your mic once again. The same applies to the visuals – learn how to turn off the video briefly to grab a drink, or mute to tell the kids to stop juggling their last brain cells in combat.
It’s about doing your preparation ahead of time, too – just like orals at school, which I hope you prepped a little for. Preparing to present (from content, to the platform) eases you towards a more confident delivery – no matter what may transpire.
Need motivation? Remember the most recent viral video of the woman leaving the video and sound on for her bathroom break… You have been warned.
Dress the part
How would you dress to meet and greet with a new client, or a board meeting in the office? Yes, that’s how to scrub up before a digital work meeting. Get up, shower, dress in a smart-casual fashion, and make sure your hair is neat and that you’ve brushed your teeth.
For the ladies: applying make-up and putting on a funky pair of earrings is a good idea. And, if there are guys who need advice: a smart shirt is always welcome – even if you’re wearing gorilla slippers to keep your feet warm under the table.
A note from American fashion designer Tom Ford is to, “put the computer up on a stack of books so the camera is slightly higher than your head… Then point it down into your eyes. [Next], take a tall lamp and set it next to the computer on the side of your face you feel is best. The lamp should be in line with and slightly behind the computer so the light falls nicely on your face.” He goes on to explain how a white tablecloth will give you “a bit of fill and bounce”.
Choose an appropriate setting
Sitting down at your usual desk and chair is just fine, as long as the lighting is not too harsh in the area around you. If a fluorescent light or desk lamp is shining back at you from your screen, be sure to switch this off – or move to a spot where they are not directly above, or behind, you.
You could spend the entire meeting blinding a colleague with bad lighting, which they may be too polite to mention. And, on this note, have a look around you – avoid setting up in front of a huge amount of clutter, the laundry rack or the unwashed dinner dishes.
Relationship expert, TedX speaker and author Paula Quinsee advises that “untidy cupboards or bookshelves, bright backlighting or windows” can prove highly distracting to others. Lazing on your bed during a meeting, is also a big no-no, although some folk may choose to sit against their headboard with their laptop on their lap, if that allows them the most undisturbed framing in the house.
Welcome each person by name
If you were hosting a meeting in a company boardroom, you would greet each person as they came in, as well as introducing him or her to others whom they may not know. The same polite principles apply online. There’s nothing worse than logging onto a meeting where your host spends the entire time with their back to you, and appears unaware, thereafter, that you in fact attended.
“Human beings are wired for connection,” says Quinsee. “If networks are stable enough, encourage everyone to keep their cameras on to reinforce the human connection. This approach will also allow the host to pick up on non-verbal cues (such as if someone raises a hand to add something) and facial expressions (approval/disapproval of a point; interest/lack thereof). Disagreement should, ideally, be taken offline, and brief pauses allowed for thinking time and/or network delays,” – advice that I wholeheartedly support.
The host should also constantly remain aware of who is online (by using the Gallery View setting, if meeting on Zoom), and who has to leave (by checking the chat menu on the right hand side of this platform).
“When employees feel included, fully engaged and encouraged to contribute, their best efforts and ideas are most likely to emerge,” says Quinsee. “With the current stressful times we are experiencing, it is important to check in with employees on how they are doing; how they are coping with work/home integration; managing household and family responsibilities; as well as work deliverables – and most importantly what kind of support they need,” she adds
Empathy remains pivotal in my own brand’s inner workings, so I agree with this tip from Quinsee: “Empathetic leadership is critical right now, as well as communication on all levels – individual, team and business, and how the decisions being made are going to impact on employees in the long run (e.g. in the form of unavoidable salary cuts, possible job casualties, and so on). Never underestimate the importance and value of human connection, even in these increasingly digital times.”
Set an agenda
In a jam-packed day, it can be trying to: attend an online meeting that meanders around, has no defined bullet points, and where everyone talks over each other instead of being called on to give their opinion at an appropriate moment. “As the facilitator,” adds Quinsee, “you should call people out by name so they know you are addressing them; and should remain cognisant of the different profile types in the room (introverts versus extroverts). This will allow all the voices to be heard and not let the stronger personalities dominate.”
Also remember the different time zones of the folks who will be joining in on meetings. Choose a time that stands a chance of being suitable for everyone – from 8am until latest 4pm, in case the meeting runs over.
On that note too, Quinsee cautions that “digital fatigue is a factor – so keep meetings as short as possible. Research shows that 45 minutes is the ideal time period.” Hosts should aim to email the agenda to all parties ahead of time, and make it known what time they plan to be done – which gives them reason to hurry along anyone who speaks at length. Many of the online meeting platforms allow you to record the virtual session, which could help after the meeting with minute-taking and actionable points for clients, colleagues, and their admin assistants.
“For me,” says Nadia Singh, events and digital manager at the Cape Chamber of Commerce and Industry, “the most important online event netiquette (etiquette, but on the net) is to be on time. Always login at least 10 minutes ahead of a meeting to ensure you have connectivity, and that your audio and video are working well. Those 10 minutes give you time to fix anything you may need to, as well as a cup of coffee. An hour on an online event goes by like a flash, so you wouldn’t want to miss out on anything by arriving late, or to take time away from your event host,” she recommends.
Once everyone has logged on, and before you get down to business, you may like to invite everyone to say how they have been doing. Let’s be real: lockdown has taken its toll on us all. Chat briefly about which pets, kids, or family members are around, and even allow colleagues and clients to introduce their cohabitation partners for a light-hearted touch. The idea is to make everyone feel at home so that once the meeting starts, they can all contribute in a healthy and constructive way – perhaps more effectively than they would have done in an ultra-grand boardroom that landed them out of their comfort zone.
Now, more than ever, we need to grasp the work opportunities that come our way and apply our best efforts toward them. Ironically, this is more likely to happen when we’re seated in our own comfy home-office spaces, than ever would have occurred in a formal location.
Liezel van der Westhuizen, who has a Masters in Business Communication, owns The Giraffe Brand Academy. Here, her mission as a personal brand builder is to assist clients to stick their necks out and cultivate their power to stand tall and be unique. This, she believes, is the key to marketplace success.
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