The first surprise for most people managing months of virtual interaction? It takes more energy to show up with presence on screen than it does in person. We’re isolated, burned out and bewildered. Standing out and moving your career forward will take thought, preparation and focus.
Now is not the time to blend in or be seen as complacent. As companies are making cuts or, conversely, making promotion and raise decisions, you must remain engaged and visible, even virtually, so your ideas and thoughts are heard.
The best way to stand out in a virtual meeting is to make the decision to be an active participant. As a participant, paying attention to the speaker is an active role you play, and it takes more time, attention and energy than you’d think. Take this story of a chief executive officer of a leading consulting firm who recently shared her experience of attending a virtual training: She attended all the sessions and felt, for the most part, that she was paying attention. However, when several other participants shared what they had learned, she was floored by their meaningful take-aways. She had no recollection of what these participants were talking about! Even worse, one of the takeaways was a potential game-changer to this CEO’s company, and she missed it because she wasn’t fully paying attention.
Here are 10 simple ways to not only pay full attention but to stand out in your next virtual meeting:
1. Noise Check
Is there anything more distracting than the “bing” of a new email or text notification? As soon as we hear it, we are inclined to look. This habit not only pulls your focus but can be a sign to others that you aren’t present and aren’t taking the meeting as seriously as you should.
Turn off alarms, pop-ups and your email to avoid multitasking. Better yet, take your phone out of the room so you don’t even see it. You will stay focused and achieve more, faster. As a matter of fact, if the entire team could agree to hold “no distraction meetings,” those video calls will go twice as fast as usual.
2. Clean off Your Desk, and Clean up Your Background
Don’t wait for “Clean off Your Desk Day” in January to tidy up. The goal here is threefold: limit distractions, have plenty of space to work and appear more professional. On video calls, most people don’t see the surface of your desk; they see whatever is behind you. Take a critical eye to the room you’ve chosen for your meeting. Every item behind you will create distraction and subconsciously pull the viewers’ thoughts away from your message.
Take the example of two small business owners recently pitching virtually. They both had compelling sales pitches; the difference was the customer’s perception. One sat in a messy office, with files stacked haphazardly everywhere. The other pitched from a chair with a simple still life on the wall and good lighting. You can probably guess who won.
3. Warm up
Your voice and body and are two of the most powerful instruments you have to communicate your message. They communicate your tone, intention and expertise. Warm up your voice and body so your energy comes through. Ten jumping jacks, a few neck rolls and a bit of humming should get you going.
4. Do a Tech Check
Prior to the meeting, check that the links are working and that your video camera and audio are set. Be sure that everything is charged and working well and that you have a good internet connection. Then, have a backup plan! If your Wi-Fi goes out, can you access the meeting on your phone’s data network?
5. Come Prepared
Understand the reason for the meeting. For example, are you sharing a report; is it to receive information; or will you and your team be asked for input, resulting in decisions or project assignments? Your preparation will likely be different for each purpose. Review any materials that were sent beforehand. If you have something to share, have it pulled up on your computer so you can quickly and easily share your screen during the meeting.
To stand out and have your ideas heard, you must engage. When you have an idea or input, raise your hand so the leader can see you have something to say. If you’d rather type your input in the chat, that’s fine — but hearing your voice and interacting verbally is more powerful.
7. Stand out in Advance
It’s one thing to prepare; it’s another to prepare for other members of your team. If you have an agenda or materials in advance, how can you support the meeting organizer? Can you offer to present one of the points and take the pressure off of him or her? Another option would be to provide a few questions you’ll ask in advance so that the organizer knows what to expect as well.
8. Dress Intentionally
The joke, of course, is that when you’re on a virtual call, you can dress in “business mullet” fashion: professional on top, party on the bottom. Do what you like with this trend, but do give some thought to your appearance. Solid colors are always a good bet for video. If you wear jewelry, avoid things like stacked bracelets that create distracting noise.
9. Get Ready for Your Close up
Center yourself in your camera, and test your lighting so you can be seen properly. If you’re in front of a window, use the light for your face. If your back is to the window, you’ll have a terrible silhouette effect. You don’t need to purchase a light kit unless you’re in a dark room; just be sure you can be seen.
If you’re directly under an overhead light, either shut off the lights or move out from under the light. Doing so will help you avoid “raccoon eyes.” Sit up straight — and, by all means, do not eat during the meeting unless it’s a working lunch.
10. Be the Early Bird
Show up a few minutes early so you can greet others and engage in some casual conversation before the meeting begins. Doing so will help you create a positive impression and maintain relationships, and it could even expand your network.
Virtual business meetings require you to think a bit differently about how to show up, how to prepare and how to pay full attention. As you work on these skills, be mindful of what you are learning. When your team meets in person again, these skills will translate back to the office, and you will know how to continue setting yourself apart from the pack as a high-performing professional.