I came across Franklin D Roosevelt’s advice on public speaking the other day:
“Be sincere, be brief, be seated”.
Well said, Mr President, and especially well said in these corona months when most of us are working remotely, and when we need to finesse our communication style, to hold people’s attention.
Just as tennis players adapt their game for each surface, so we need to adjust our usual face to face communication for the virtual world. It requires a particular set of techniques and a unique tone of voice. Normal rules don’t apply.
Essentially, the fundamental pillars of good communication are amplified because we have fewer tools at our disposal and because the physical environment is more challenging. We are more exposed! The tools we do have must therefore work harder.
Two words to guarantee success: RESPECT and CONNECT
Respect your audience. As part of your preparation and ‘in the moment’ consider:
- Their emotional ‘state’ and how you can resonate with them
- Everyone has reduced concentration and focus at the moment, plus there are multiple distractions fighting for our attention
- Screen time is more tiring than the real world so we need to be more disciplined on timing and breaks
- Is your content worth their time?
- Simplify your content, give them less than in the real world “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, Leonardo da Vinci
- Create a clear structure, and use variety (of material, style of delivery, visuals, activities, interaction, digital tools), to hold their attention
- Ask short questions and give short answers. There is even less tolerance for rambling and repetition in the online world
- Be generous with time – give others space to speak. Avoid interrupting and overlapping. If you’re leading a meeting, control the flow of conversation and empower the introverts to contribute.
Connect with your audience:
- Energy is the vital ingredient in holding your audience’s attention but it’s a special sort of intensity, generated not from physical movement but from the inside. Like switching a light on. It’s the technique TV presenters or actors learn, speaking into a camera. Eyes may be wider, faces may be more animated, posture may be more upright, there may be more smiling. Newsreaders are a great example. If your energy is low, your audience is mentally making banana bread
- Eye contact is a great challenge but crucial. We must learn to speak into the camera rather than into the eyes of our audience on screen. Strange and slightly awkward but worth the practice
- The setting for online communication is by definition more intimate and personal than in the office. Our tone needs to reflect that. There’s no room for pomposity or verbosity. Even if there are many people on the call/webinar, it’s helpful to imagine that you are speaking to just one person (this is what I was taught on my first day as a continuity announcer for the BBC, broadcasting to millions)
- Your voice is now a much more valuable asset than in the real world. Use it to its best advantage. Strive for contrast and variety of pace and volume.
And now it’s time for me to be seated!