Many people around the world are working from home lately. This means many of us are in meetings online using tools like Zoom, WebEx, Teams, Slack, Google Hangouts, or a number of others. They’re all pretty easy to use, but there are some tips that can help make your virtual collaborations even better.
Use a headset
Remember way back in the olden days of yore when telephones had cords? Those handsets had an earpiece and a separate microphone. This allowed for what’s called full-duplex audio – meaning you can talk and listen at the same time. They accomplished this by separating the wires used for the microphone and speaker (or earpiece), and taking that a step further by physically distancing the microphone and earpiece. Ever try to interrupt someone while you’re on a speakerphone? It’s difficult because you’re experiencing half-duplex audio. Without full-duplex audio, you’d never be able to interrupt your parents when they call to tell you about their neighbor’s kid making too much noise at 8 pm when you’re trying to get off the phone because you’re trying to get back to binge-watching Grey’s Anatomy… but I digress.
The problem with using your computer speakers and internal microphone for online meetings is that you inevitably turn the volume up enough to hear those on the other end of the call. But once you do that, the audio is loud enough to be heard on the microphone. So one of two things happen: either the others on the call start to hear an echo, or the software you’re using for the call automatically adjusts the input and output levels basically switching you to half-duplex audio.
To avoid this and enable yourself, and the others in your meetings, to be able to speak normally (and without echos) it is always best to use a headset. This once again distances the microphone and speaker making your calls easier to hear and be heard. However, if you don’t have a headset available, just remember to mute your microphone when you pause from speaking so that those with questions or responses can do so easily.
Share your video
When I was an instructor in the U.S. Army, distance learning was just coming of age. It was basically accomplished by the instructor sharing their screen, while the students all dialed into a phone bridge so they could hear the presenter. After several hours of staring at slides and listening to the same voice drone on, students would get drowsy and unfocused. This led to certain phrases being coined such as “talking slide” and “death by PowerPoint”. They were painful, and I can promise they were even difficult for the instructor – it’s hard to present to a group of people without seeing the non-verbal reactions that tell us that a person is engaged and understanding what’s being presented.
Now that we have tools that are capable of sharing our screen and webcam at the same time, we can leverage those to add a level of non-verbal interactivity. As the presenter, you’ll get the benefit of seeing whether or not participants are engaged. Are they taking notes? Do they look confused or aggravated? By being able to see your audience, you’ll be better equipped to communicate your message effectively.
Another good reason for showing yourself on video is that you can give the semblance of eye contact. Not only does research show that eye contact makes a person feel engaged and heard, but it also helps with one’s retention of the presented material. In 1980, James P. Otteson and Carol Rodning published a study found that students whose instructors made eye contact during lectures had improved recall of verbal material after the class (https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ223946).
But there’s a trick to presenting yourself on camera so that this illusion of eye contact is achieved. Position your notes, slides, or whatever you’re looking at directly below your camera, then back away from the camera at least 36″. By using this technique (the same one used by every television news anchor), you’ll give the appearance direct eye contact with those on the other end of the call.
Simple steps like these can help you to communicate and collaborate more effectively and will definitely come off as more professional when trying to impress your clients.
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