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Tips and video conference-friendly tactics to help you learn how to network online like a pro
Let’s face it. Online networking is here to stay. It’s been around for a while, but the pandemic of #Covid19 turned face to face meetings into online realities, whether we liked it or not. There are a lot of considerations to moving from a face to face context to an online reality. Not everyone is comfortable with this, but I suspect that the online and virtual reality is here for the foreseeable future and it’s important to spend a bit of time getting comfortable with the technology and the virtual meeting etiquette. Here are a few tips and video conference-friendly tactics to help you along the journey of becoming an online networking pro!
1. First Impressions Last
Think about what you are going to wear. While the online setting is typically a lot more relaxed, than sitting around a boardroom table, you still need to be professional. Don’t forget that you are your brand. You are representing yourself and your company. In a virtual setting, colour matters. White can get lost and navy/black can make you look very pale. Patterns can be distracting. So what’s left? Well muted tones work best, so think along the lines of pastels.
2. Be Aware of Your Surroundings and Setting
Set up your surroundings to help avoid distractions for both you and your online audience, be they your coworkers or networkers. Don’t have a window behind you, as the light shines too brightly and will make you seem in shadow. It’s hard to engage with people when this happens, due to the glare. The same applies to lights on. Take a moment to note the lights, lighting and the shadows they place across your face when you are online. Also, if there is anything distracting in view, maybe think about reducing the amount of stuff/clutter/distractions that are behind you.
3. Body Language – Put Your Best Face Forward
When we are online, we can often only see a person’s face and may be their neck and some of their shoulders. We miss out on a lot of body language that we would normally take for granted, be it feet tapping, arms folded, so it’s harder to gauge reactions and engagement when we are meeting or networking online. Furthermore, be aware that proximity plays a big part on how you will be perceived by your audience. If you sit far away, you will appear to be less engaged and disinterested. Try to make sure that your full face, neck and shoulders are visible as it’ll help build trust with your screen counterparts. If you can see your full torso, in your frame, then you are too far away. If you can’t see your full face and shoulders, the you are too close. When you want to make a point count or when it’s your turn to do a 60 second pitch, leaning in can help build rapport and build trust.
4. A Strong Voice
A strong voice conveys authority, credibility and confidence. This speaks to trust worthiness and authenticity. Project your voice. Avoid mumbling or using low tones. When you project your voice, you will tend to speak more slowly and it will decrease the speed also. This will make it easier for your audience to absorb what you are saying, so it’s all good!
Be aware of where the camera is on your PC or laptop. It feels a little weird at first, but as with everything, practice makes perfect. When you speak into the camera, this is eye-catching and drives engagment with your audience, which in turns helps with the impact of your points. When you are looking at the picture icons of yourself, your team mates and fellow networkers, it’s obvious that you are not looking at the camera. This in turn becomes distracting, so when you are speaking, remember the camera! The more you do this, the more comfortable you’ll become.
And remember, that the camera is nearly always on (broadband depending), so be mindful if you are eating, drinking coffee or doing other distracting things. If you are distracted, you will distract others, because Murphy’s Law will have it, that people’s attention will gravitate to the person who is not paying attention rather than the person speaking. I find that people don’t mind others having their cup of tea or coffee, but they do mind the chewing into the camera. It’s a bit off putting, so consider turning your camera off. If a video conference call is scheduled for a mealtime, consider eating before or after so that you can avoid eating during the video conference call.
6. Learn the Technology
For many people, #Covid19 meant they had to move meetings online for the first time. It was a shock to the system and many technological difficulties ensued. What I tend to suggest to people is to start the foray into the online world on a 1-2-1 basis. If you meet one person that is a business bestie or trusted source, you can trial and test the system in a safe environment. You can press all the buttons, find out what happens with each one, ask what your counterpart sees and doesn’t see when you press the buttons. All of this will help you become more confident when navigating the online conference platforms such as GoToMeeting, Zoom, Skype with ease. Be aware, that although all the platforms, essentially do the same thing, the buttons and ‘how to’ are nuanced between the platforms. If you become confortable with one platform and are being introduced to another, you’ll probably be fine, but if you are in doubt, why not see if you can get a five minute demo on the platform in advance? Or go a step further, why not organise a 1-2-1 with your host or someone else you know will be on the call? Each time you log on, you’ll get more familiar with the technology and how to manage it to be effect.
It’s important to be familiar with muting/unmuting yourself, screen sharing (starting and stopping), using the chat box, and turning your camera on and off. I always recommend to people to log on ten minutes in advance of a call. You can test your camera, your audio and you can wander off to get that cup of coffee with peace of mind and confidence, so that you are ready to go when the video conference call kicks off. If you arrive late, and the sound doesn’t work, you can’t get the camera to turn on, it will just lead you to be flustered and not in the right mindset to put your best face forward.
7. Be In The Moment
It’s so tempting to multi task when you are on a video conference call. The conversation isn’t necessarily directed at you, you’re on mute, so you think – sure why not send that quick email? No-one will notice…until you’re asked a question, you have to toggle between Outlook and your video conference platform and you can’t find the unmute button quickly enough! Honestly, I’d have to say, if you are too busy to dedicate your hour or hour and a half to the call and to your fellow participants, then don’t log on. If you’re going to be there, give the respect that you’d like to receive. You want people to listen intently to your message, what you are offering, what your ask is, so why not pay the same respect back and spend the time listening intently?
8. You’re On Mute
It’s good etiquette to keep yourself on mute during online meetings, particularly where others are talking. Generally there are a couple of points where you can mute and unmute yourself, so get familiar with how and where to do this, as it’s pretty critical. When you are called to speak, you can quickly unmute yourself and get speaking about your comment or point. We’ve all been in that situation where we’ve pressed the button a couple of times and it’s quickly unmuted and remuted us, so we think ‘we’re in the green’ (green microphone icon shows your audio is live), but in fact ‘we are in the red’ (red microphone shows you are muted) and get the chorus of ‘You’re on mute’. Keeping yourself on mute helps avoid the back ground noises and interruptions from family members, the postman, pets and typing from interfering in the quality of the call.
Personally, I like to encourage people to use the chat function on the video conferencing platforms. It’s a great way for people to share their name, email, company details with others on the calls. The information can be copied and pasted out onto Word or Outlook for further connections and follow up to be made after the call. Likewise, people might mention an article, a great website, so all the details can be shared on the chat section. You can have a general commentary out to ‘Everyone’ or you can choose to have a 1-2-1 conversation with someone else on the call by choosing to have a private chat. Just be aware that if you have a general comment to make later on, then you need to return the setting to ‘Everyone’.
As with everything in life, practice makes perfect. You’ll make mistakes, drop the ball, keep yourself on mute, write messages to everyone that were meant for one person…and you’ll survive and you’ll remember not to do that the next time, so don’t be too hard on yourself! Video conferencing and online networking is here for the long-haul, so if you haven’t dived in yet, make a go of it and get some practice in. Just remember that you need to adapt how you would meet in person and adjust your habits, tactics and perspective to help you thrive and drive that engagement in your new online and virtual networking world.