22 Apr BY Graham Burnard Communicating Effectively (despite the challenges)
We are currently dealing with the twin challenges of creating messages for clients and staff in an environment of huge uncertainty and then delivering these messages remotely, with all of the challenges this can bring.
Engaging with people remotely does not mean that meetings and discussions need to be any less effective than face to face meetings. In fact if you follow the below key points, you will find that virtual meetings can deliver great results and many clients may even prefer to meet this way into the future.
Framing the message
Be honest and clear about what you do know and be prepared to admit what you don’t. Don’t fall into the trap of making predictions which then need to be unwound in coming weeks as this is can damage your credibility whereas being honest about what you don’t know can build trust and confidence.
However, this does not mean you need to be overly pessimistic. While acknowledging today’s challenges good leaders still project a confidence and belief about the future. What your clients and staff are looking for from you is calm reassurance that you will be able to work through the challenges together.
Engaging with people remotely does not need to be less effective than meeting people face to face. Some people are experiencing the convenience of engaging via video conference which means this could continue well after the removal of social distancing restrictions. However, there are some key elements to making virtual meetings as effective as they can be.
1. Structural Clarity
- Plan what you want to cover. While this is always important having clarity about what you want to cover and the messages you want to convey is critical.
- Plan the structure of the meeting. The easiest way to do this is to create an agenda. Conveying this doesn’t need to create overt formality, you are simply creating a roadmap for the meeting by highlighting the key elements to be addressed.
- Pre determine the key messages you want people to take away. These are your “mini conclusions” that bookend each of the topics you are covering.
These can still play a role but make sure you don’t have too many, they are your support act and should be used to reinforce your key messages where necessary rather than being the dominant focus of the conversation.
Keep them interesting. Pictures, graphs, diagrams etc are preferable to bullet points on a slide.
When you show graphics go to full screen so they are clear but be sure to explicitly describe what people are seeing and how this relates to the message you are delivering.
You don’t need to try and recreate an office environment at home. Working from home can help build rapport and create intimacy as people get to see a side of you they might not have seen before. Something personal in the background can be a positive and help create engagement rather than being seen as unprofessional.
Similarly, you may look more natural if you are in sync with your environment, so a smart casual look may be more appropriate than traditional business attire.
There are some key things to consider that will ensure your audience remain engaged with you through the course of your meeting.
- Content. Mix it up! Use stories and anecdotes rather than just facts and figures.
- Delivery. Check in more often and when people ask questions acknowledge and use their names and reference back to these points where possible (others may not know who asked the question). Also, ask the participants questions to ensure they are engaged.
- Check in start. The challenges of social isolation should encourage a more personal touch and checking in at the start of the meeting to see how people are coping with these personal challenges can be very powerful.
- Bring your personality. Even in serious conversations you can lighten things up where possible. Be yourself and don’t be afraid to inject some humour so you can lighten the conversation (without being flippant).
- Avoid distractions. Remove phones and other sources of distraction and start and finish on time.
Just as in a face to face meeting it is important you convey energy and enthusiasm. To do this give yourself some space. Don’t sit too close to the camera so you are able to move and become animated when necessary.
Keep on track
Nothing becomes more distracting than a meeting that just drifts along.
- You have highlighted the agenda to people so ensure you check in along the way to reference where you are up to. Make it clear that you have finished one topic and are moving on the next. This can be done conversationally rather than in overly formal manner but doing so helps provide clarity and structure.
- If people go off track, recognise the point and propose parking it to be dealt with at later, suitable time.
Leadership and Authority
In these unsettling times your clients and staff are looking to you for leadership and authority. Recognise this and deliver this by:
- Being clear in your mind what you want to convey;
- Being emphatic in the delivery of your message;
- Showing energy and having presence;
- Being honest – have conviction about what you do know but be honest about what you don’t and acknowledge this.
Are your meetings working?
We are all getting used to working in new ways and engaging with people remotely is key to this. So how do you know you are being effective? The key is to ask the attendees. People know and accept this is new so asking for feedback on how effective the engagement has been will be appreciated by people and provide you with necessary feedback so you can tweak your delivery or the meeting structure process.
A simple way to do this could be a text message asking your clients or staff how they are finding the virtual meeting format and any suggestions they may have. At the very least, they will appreciate you reaching out for their feedback.
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