This story was first published on Entrepreneur.com.
By LaQuita Cleare — Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor — CEO of Clear Communication Academy
These days everyone is drowning in video calls. While virtual conference calls have allowed teams to connect during this global pandemic, they certainly leave much to be desired when it comes to authentic engagement. As more teams begin working remotely, it’s time for business leaders to develop their virtual communication skills.
The Challenges of This New Normal
With in-person meetings, there are many moments of true engagement that happen before, during and after that help people remain invested. From the smile or laugh shared during the meeting, the pat on the back after a job well done…to the small talk that happens when you are sitting around the table waiting for the meeting to start, all of these moments help your team members stay connected and present.
But when was the last time you conducted a video call with your team and you had 100% participation and attention from everyone? Typically, multitasking is the death of virtual encounters and meetings. And once your virtual meeting is off the proverbial rails, it’s hard to get the train back on track.
To “win” virtually, it is essential to move from a delivery of information mindset to engaging and inspiring your team to action. With this in mind, here are five ways you can keep your team engaged during your next virtual meeting:
1. Watch Your Body Language
Body language is crucial to communication. It is said that your body language says what your words will not.
For millions of years, our early ancestors navigated this dangerous planet and did so by communicating effectively with one another using nonverbal communication. Through gestures, facial reactions, and even grunts, they could thrive and evolve in a complex environment. According to research (Knapp & Hall, 1997, 400-437), the importance of nonverbal communication remains hardwired in our brains, and we continue to rely on it far more than we do verbal communication.
Your gestures, posture, and facial expressions give valuable feedback to your team that helps them connect. The absence of these expressions makes it difficult to engage your listener. Nothing says “awkward” more than a business leader sitting in front of the camera, afraid to move naturally.
If you tend to freeze while speaking in front of a camera, it’s important to try and gesture as you normally would. Also, make sure to look into the camera to create a sense of eye contact for your team. Avoid leaning too far back, crossing your arms, and closing your body off to your team. Your body language and gestures should be just as open and inviting as the words that you use.
2. Icebreakers Give Virtual Meetings Life
You may assume you don’t have time for icebreakers. You have a jam-packed agenda to cover, and frankly, you want to get the meeting over with. But how do you expect your team to invest fully in you if you don’t make time to invest in making it an engaging experience for them? Icebreakers serve many purposes, including setting the tone for your meeting, connecting with the group, engaging them right from the start, learning more about each other, and building team culture.
Icebreakers can be 30 seconds, 30 minutes, and anywhere in between, depending on how much time you have. In virtual settings, icebreakers can really start your meeting off powerfully. When teams work remotely, it’s easy for every interaction to be all work and no play. Icebreakers give your team members a much-needed mental break where they can let their hair down and be human. This can make all the difference in helping them stay engaged during the rest of the meeting. No icebreaker means they may take their much-needed mental break at another time, like when you are speaking!
3. Vary Your Vocal Delivery
There is no place for what I call “the corporate monotone voice” in a virtual setting. You must work on varying your tone, rate, volume, pauses, and pronunciation. This not only keeps people engaged and listening to what you say, but it helps them to digest your message as well.
If you want your audience to be excited at the beginning of a call, then they need to hear the excitement in your voice. Perhaps you want to create a sense of urgency with one of your agenda items, so you emphasize certain words and increase your speaking rate.
When you have had enough meetings for the day and are bored, your team can hear that in your tone. So make sure to take them on a journey vocally. Remember that passion is contagious, so if you want to inspire, your voice should inspire.
4. Create an Engagement Agenda
Just as you create an overall meeting agenda, create an engagement agenda for yourself to remind you of your ultimate communication goal. This agenda doesn’t have to be shared with the team, but it will remind you to stop being a “talking head” and start being a real human being and engaging the team.
There are several techniques that you can use to engage your team such as icebreakers, which I’ve already discussed, team brainstorming exercises, and using the polling and chat features on video call software.
Don’t forget to also keep some “re-engagement” tools in your back pocket when you feel the group's energy drop. These tools will help you get things back on track.
5. Involve Your Team
One surefire way to keep people engaged is to involve them.
- Ask team members to help with exercises: Maybe one of the more dynamic team members can lead the icebreaker one week.
- Ask questions: Pull people into the conversation. This is a win/win as you keep people engaged and accomplish items on your agenda.
- Tap certain team members before the meeting and ask them to find and share some data that will help support your overall speaking points.
We are all facing challenges right now adapting to this “new normal.” And it seems like we will remain working remotely for the unforeseeable future, which means virtual meetings are here to stay.
The most important thing that leaders can do right now is to focus on authentic connection and engagement with their team members. If you want to connect with people in a virtual setting, you must put the time, effort, and attention into doing it. These five strategies will help you to engage your team members and ensure productivity continues.
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.