Expert advice

Tutor Abi Eniola and Client Director Rachel Griffiths

Virtual meetings such as video calls on platforms like Zoom, Skype, or Microsoft Teams, and telephone conferencing are currently invaluable to many businesses. They are a necessity in these uncertain times, and for global organisations that work with clients all over the world. Virtual meetings offer an obvious alternative to face-to-face meetings, or to avoid unnecessary travel.

So how can leaders give an exceptional performance in a virtual meeting when they are unable to see their audience, respond to body language and facial expressions, or read the energy in the room? Or be talking to someone who speaks another language, or through an interpreter?

Leaders still need to achieve exceptional communication to engage their audience and move them into action, to align them around a standard, or to inspire them towards change.

The principles of exceptional communication remain the same; it is grounded in our use of our body, breath and voice. We can learn how to be more conscious and skilful in our use of them when we communicate over virtual meeting channels.

‘When one of our senses is taken away, our other senses need to heightened,’ says Abi Eniola, a tutor at RADA Business who works with many global leaders on virtual delivery. She has 17 years’ experience in radio drama and some invaluable techniques in how to give an authentic performance in virtual meetings.

Helpful techniques for virtual meetings

Tune in. Whether you are chairing a meeting or participating, the aim is to be at the optimum state to communicate well and listen effectively throughout. This takes some work. Give yourself five minutes before any meeting to clear your mind and focus on the present. We often forget to give ourselves space when we have back-to-back meetings and are rushing around.

Get physical. Everything we do with our body affects our breath and ultimately our voice. Just try physically slouching in your chair and saying ‘I feel confident and energised’. Your body is not experiencing that state physically, and this will be reflected in the lack of energy in your voice. Congruence between body, breath and voice is vital. The physical element of performance in meetings is often neglected and yet this has the greatest impact on our communication. Literally shake off your previous meeting or task before you begin. During the meeting, regularly check that you have not physically withdrawn. Sit upright and towards the front of your chair, or stand up. Plant both feet firmly on the floor, which will give you a solid base to operate from.

Rejuvenate your voice. Warming up your voice before a virtual meeting will improve your vocal presence. Take a few low and slow breaths. Do some humming to wake up your resonance, bringing richness to your voice. Focus the vibrations in your chest as you hum, then focus the vibrations in your mouth and onto your lips. Improve your articulation by saying a few tongue twisters. Whisper the words a few times and then say them out loud, very slowly, several times.

Use your introduction and invite everyone in. Introductions are a great way to get your voice in the room and to own your place in the virtual meeting. Use your introduction to tell people what you will speak about or what you hope to achieve. If you are chairing, imagine that you are the host, taking care of people’s needs. Ask people to introduce themselves before they speak, and make a note of all those attending the call so you can ensure all voices are invited in.

Shape and land your thoughts. Resist the temptation to get lost in facts and details, and avoid the use of acronyms or jargon. Deliver one thought with one breath and stick to your message. Help to land your thoughts with your audience. When speaking, use pauses to let your audience take in a point that you have just made and fully absorb it.

Paint your picture. Radio plays paint a powerful, visible picture. The actors in a radio play use their body, breath and voice to connect with their audience. In a virtual meeting, this is all we have too. Use descriptive language to create visual imagery. Painting a visual picture is a powerful way to inspire your audience. Use analogies and metaphors to support your story.

Interrupt without feeling anxious. When the meeting is flowing, getting your voice heard and your point made without wanting to interrupt anyone can often cause anxiety. Manage any anxiety with low and slow breathing. This will help you to relax you, so that you can start speaking with greater ease. Listen to the other speakers and use the pauses at the ends of their messages, to help you to pick your moment wisely. Get in quickly with a strong voice.

Take care of the silence. Long silences in virtual meetings can also cause anxiety. When chairing, set out at the start of the meeting how you would like people to engage. Use the agenda to move things on. Take care of the audience’s silence by noticing it and checking in with them, perhaps with a few questions: ‘I wonder if anyone has anything to add?’ ‘Are we ready to move on?'

Know your audience is responding. Those attending the meeting are in a contract to communicate with each other, even though nothing has been officiated. This is similar to the way an actor has an unspoken contract with their audience to move them in some way. The audience in your meeting will be responding throughout. You won’t always be able to see this, but be aware of it. It will help you to connect.

Lastly, fine-tune yourself into the energy of the meeting, with the precision of a digital radio. Whether you are chairing or attending, you can positively influence the meeting dynamics. Think of your energy at level 8 on a scale from 1 up to 10. Physical and vocal energy will help you to engage and hold your audience’s attention, conveying confident communication.