Rotating your zoom | Journal of Indian Enterprise Law
Were your colleagues’ eyes glazed over at your last Zoom meeting? Does the webinar audience nod off before you finish a sentence? Communications expert John Miers shares tips on how to engage your virtual audience and add some pizzazz to your zoom
W.ee endured nearly 18 months of webinars and Zoom calls now, and what did we learn? My answer is: in general, nothing. Technology has improved, but most accomplishments are as boring as ever. Webinars presented by law firms can be worse as inherently dry and technical topics exacerbate other shortcomings so that audiences experience nothing less than numbing.
Let’s look at some of the challenges presenters face when presenting to a computer screen rather than a live audience. Some of these are obvious, but few people have tried to cure these problems.
(When it’s a webinar, you look at yourself in the mirror most of the time, so it’s very difficult to get involved.
If it’s a zoom call because your “camera” is either above or below your screen, viewers will see that you are either looking over their head or at their elbows. This is especially true when you see the person you are talking to. You want to look at them to see their expressions, so look at the center of the screen. They see you looking at their elbows or over their head. Try to speak face-to-face with a friend and look at their elbows all the time – never at their eyes.
As high as the resolution of the plasma screen, you only see the front of the person’s face at a time. In live situations, you often turn away, and strange as it may seem, this three-dimensional image you get makes it a lot easier to gauge the character of the person you’re talking to.
Lawyers are taught how to make written material legally secure, and unfortunately they often repeat this behavior while speaking. The result is a performance that is unrelated to an engaging and interesting conversation.
These are the challenges. Now we should see what we can do to conquer them. The first goal I think is to think about why we are doing the webinar or the Zoom call.
Every time you speak, do this so that the audience will remember your message. They also want them to remember you positively. This is not an “ego” thing. We want them to look forward to hearing from you again – to remind yourself that you are real and honest, know your “stuff” and are easy to understand. It is precisely this memory that leads to business development. The opposite is fatal. If you bore or fail to engage your audience, they will look for another “expert” in your field that they can easily understand and trust.
The key to engagement is acting like you are in the conversation. When presenting at a webinar, imagine that you are actually speaking to someone behind your screen. Some people may ask a coworker to sit behind the screen to make this easier.
When you are on a Zoom call with someone else, look at your camera, not their picture on your screen. It’s difficult, but you will feel more comfortable with practice. In addition, you don’t have to look at the camera / person all the time. Total eye contact in real life is very uncomfortable, almost threatening. The moments when you need to look at your audience are when you make a point and pause for a second or two and look at the camera / person. Your audience will see you as if you were checking that they understood your last point. It looks like you’re talking to them.
Here at Black Isle, we often point out to our customers that the only time they need to look at your audience is when they are not speaking. This contradicts traditional advice that insists that you keep your eyes on the audience as you speak. Amazingly, considering that it is something you do all the time talking to friends, it takes a lot of practice to observe your audience when you are not speaking. It is a technique that we help our customers work on.
So your behavior must be as if you are in a conversation where you and your audience share the time. Your part is the silence. The only thing you’ll be able to think about is when you stop broadcasting, so stop trying to speak in lengthy, perfect sentences. Speak in short bursts. Ideas instead of sentences. Hesitation after the idea, in the middle of speaking, and give a few seconds of silence to each new idea so the audience can ponder what you just said – better yet, make them wonder what you’re about to say.
Audiences remember what they think about, not what you say. And they can only think really silent. If you watch a presentation by a recognized great speaker like Barack Obama, you will find that 50% of his
Presentation is silence. Put simply, this allows you to get your style right – broken and incomplete grammar, ideas instead of sentences, and lots of silence.
So now they are listening. Next we need to make the content of the lecture palatable. As Einstein said, “If you can’t explain your message in plain English, you don’t know your topic.” In other words, whatever you say must immediately spark thoughts or images in the minds of your audience. So avoid technical jargon, catchphrases and abstract words. They don’t create images – just spaces.
If you have time to think about it, you can spot a phrase like “bilateral litigation”. But unless this creates an instant image in your audience’s minds, it will sweep it aside.
“Hong Kong has great amenities” doesn’t leave an instant image, but when you say, “Hong Kong has great sports fields, waterfront parks, and theaters,” it will immediately bring images to the minds of your audience. Jargon is generally shorthand. It’s laziness – two or three simple sentences that are easy to digest, squeezed into two or three abstract words.
In addition, you are not in an oral exam and will not receive grades for all of the information that you can submit. The most engaging speakers give the audience just enough general information to keep them interested, but not cluttered. You should do what I call “getting loose”. By that I mean that they deliver so much that they want more and want to ask questions.
Rather, I refer to lectures that don’t ask questions at the end as lectures that, due to the amount of information, left the audience so far behind that they stopped listening or could no longer record.
Remember, your job is to get them to think so that they will remember your message, not to prove that you know a lot.
Try not to speak for more than six to eight minutes without a break or some form of contact with your audience. In live meetings, do you talk non-stop for 30 minutes?
In summary, whatever the format, zoom call, or webinar, you treat it as a two-way conversation with your audience. Keep your words simple and thought provoking, like you’re talking to a very bright but ignorant art student. And above all, have fun. When things aren’t smooth and polished, the audience enjoys it a lot more.
John Miers is the founder and chairman of the corporate training and coaching company Black Isle Global
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