Techonomy and Worth recently hosted a private workshop for members with renowned journalist and coach Jane Hanson. Hanson is an Emmy-award-winning journalist who for over 30 years has worked with leaders to enhance their public presence and ensure they resonate with audiences. The workshop, called “How to Be the Best Communicator in the Room…and on the Screen” gave members feedback on their biggest challenges in presenting, speaking, and running meetings virtually. These days public speaking is almost all on Zoom or equivalents, so that’s what we focused on. Hanson addressed what you say, how you say it, and how your body language keeps it all in sync.
Here are key questions and recommendations from Hanson:
Dress for the moment. One basic recommendation, whether on zoom, television or in person, is to wear color. Avoid black. “It’s too somber,” said Hanson, “and we have enough somberness in this world today.” As a rule, avoid small patterns because they can cause screens to pixelate.
Give yourself a break. Beyond practicalities of dress and background, on Zoom it’s easy to be distracted by your own appearance. Many of us become self-conscious and preoccupied with how we look. One member even recounted a dermatologist telling her demand for botox, fillers and other cosmetic procedures has boomed in the pandemic. Hanson added that the same is true for Invisalign teeth straighteners. Many said they find Zoom’s digital enhancement feature helpful. “We’re just really self-critical,” said Hanson “And we’re not used to seeing ourselves like that. You’ve got to give yourself a break.”
Remember gender dynamics are at play. “I don’t like looking at myself,” said one member. She’s found that she’s more effective if her camera is off entirely. “I’m in the biotech business, with a lot of men, and I tend to get sidetracked with how I am presenting myself on camera. I feel much better when I turn the camera off.” Hanson was encouraging. “Women do tend to be a little bit more reticent about interrupting and talking,” she said, “but you need to own your space and say what you want to say and get it out there. Because, trust me, that’s what [the men] are doing.”
Maintain eye contact. Several members agreed that the transition to virtual conversations and presentations feels unnatural and that they notice their eyes floating all over the screen. “I find that I don’t look forward. I’m looking up and over and around and down,” said one member. “I don’t have anyone to look at.”
“Good eye contact is really essential,” said Hanson. “Look directly into the camera when speaking. I put a Post-it right above the camera with a little smiley face on it. It reminds me to look at the camera because it’s really hard to do.” Keep the camera at eye level. Even an Amazon box does the trick in a pinch.
Notes are okay. If you need notes for a presentation, put cheat sheets on top of your keyboard or around the screen. “I just glance down a little bit and I can see a bullet point that will remind me of where I’m going,” explained Hanson. “Nobody can see what’s really in front of you. So you can load up all kinds of things around your screen. Just don’t stare at them too often.”
Elevate your energy. Several members said they find themselves speaking in a monotone voice on Zoom. Hanson said that’s common. In her opinion, she said, the camera drains about 30% of your energy. “This means you really need to amplify it. And that is something people don’t seem to understand. It’s about having that energy because it keeps things going.”
Tell a story. When presenting, it’s important to have an anecdote ready to illustrate your point. “Stories are really crucial. Data might be retained, but stories will be retold,” said Hanson. In telling your story, be sure to keep it simple. “Set the scene, pinpoint the problem, sell the solution.” Obviously this applies equally in offline presentations.
Ditch the script if you can. “My problem with scripts,” notes Hanson, “is that you frequently sound like you’re talking by rote.” To avoid sounding boring, use bullet points instead. If you’re prepared and familiar with the material, bullet points will keep you on track and allow for the flexibility and authenticity you’re after.
If you can’t ditch the script, mark it up. “If there’s a place where you should be smiling, put a little smiley face. If there’s a place where you should convey an emotion that’s sad or very deep, put that kind of a face on there.” This strategy will ensure you’ll have cues to project the correct interpretation in the moment.
Scan for reactions. It’s challenging to gauge reactions over Zoom. And with the constant distractions, we’re all faced with, it’s difficult to hold people’s attention and ensure everyone is participating. Hanson suggests scanning for confused or glazed facial expressions and asking them direct questions. “I love being able to call on people around the room if I see somebody that might look disinterested, or if they have a questioning look on their face.”
Pause. Many members said rambling is a concern for them, and several expressed discomfort with silence on Zoom. “It takes bravery to actually take a pause and allow there to be some dead air,” said Hanson. “But…a pause is the most underutilized tool we have in our arsenal of communication tools. It makes people sit up and pay attention. It makes people absorb what you’ve just said. And it really emphasizes what you’re saying.”
Breathe. “If you’re anxious, do a little breathing exercise before starting the Zoom. Breathe in for three counts, hold it for three counts, breathe out for three counts, and do it three times.” Hanson says this will take the breath to your diaphragm and make your voice deeper and more credible.
Time management is crucial. When conducting a meeting with clients, be as brief and to the point as possible, and provide enough time for the person on the other end to really share. Hanson also suggests having a timetable in mind and starting the meeting with a quick agenda.
Listen carefully. Our own founder David Kirkpatrick commented on the unique challenges a virtual environment poses to moderating panel discussions. “It’s really about listening,” Hanson said. “Listening is one of the biggest things we can all do a little bit better. When you’re really listening it’s easier to find a great place where you can interject and keep things lively.”
How you say something is as important as what you say. Make sure your facial expressions and gestures are in sync with what you’re saying. Don’t overuse your hands. But small, intentional gestures, says Hanson, improve engagement, help you think better, and make you more likable and credible.
The right gestures and tone of voice make your content seem more authoritative and compelling. “We had no spoken language until 160,000 years ago,” said Hanson. “Before that, everything we did was through what we did with our bodies. And we still do, it’s innate. We just don’t realize it.”
Learn more about Jane Hanson at janehanson.com
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