How to refine your conference call skills

The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked an increase in the number of people using video platforms for conference calls, with the shift to remote working a key contributor in the daily users on video chat platform Zoom quadrupling.

The coronavirus has encouraged people working from home to embrace the benefits of virtual communication, with users keen to improve their skills and etiquette when presenting virtually.

Here are the quintessential tips to bear in mind when liaising with clients and colleagues during lockdown and post-COVID-19.

Maintain ‘Camera Contact’

When presenting, maintaining eye contact is a simple, yet vital way to reinforce key points for your audience. 

It may feel more natural and therefore tempting to focus on the thumbnails of your attendees, however, it’s important to look into the video camera. 

As humans, we’re conditioned to look into the eyes of the people we’re talking to. Nonetheless, research has indicated that adults only make eye contact 30 to 60 per cent of the time when speaking to individuals or groups, when they should be making eye contact 60 to 70 per cent of the time to create an emotional connection.

It may feel difficult to focus on your camera for an entire presentation yet focusing on the lens can help you to emphasise key points. This may be difficult initially, yet professionals including newsreaders, entertainers and politicians have proven that focusing attention on a camera is a skill that can be learnt, over time.

To reduce the temptation to scan your screen, it’s advised to reposition the attendees’ images just below your camera on your screen; this gives the impression that you’re looking directly down the lens, even if you’re not.

Top Tip: The more you focus on the lens, the more accustomed you’ll become and this will eventually come naturally. Therefore, look into your camera during other virtual meetings when you speak, even if this is for a brief time. 

Project, Don’t Shout

As our physical impact is limited by being seated and stationary, our voice becomes an even more important presentation tool. 

When presenting in person, it’s considered good practice to audibly project our voices to present ourselves as authoritative, credible and confident figures. This gives the messages that we’re communicating credence.

Similarly, this concept is also relevant in virtual presentations; maintain a strong, clear voice as if you’re in a physical conference room.

Projecting a louder voice will help you avoid mumbling and from becoming too pacey. This is due to the increased breath you’ll need to speak comfortably at this volume.

Top Tip: Prepare your space effectively and ensure that you have plenty of soft furnishings in the room; this will enhance the acoustics and reduce echoes and so forth.

The Visual You

Proximity plays a big part in how audiences perceive you as a presenter; the smaller or more obscured you appear, the less engaging you will be. 

In a virtual presentation, your screen should be filled by your head and shoulders. If your head is cut off at the top or bottom, you’re too close. On the other hand, if your entire torso is in view, you’re too far away. If only half of your head is in sight, adjust the camera. 

Also, be mindful of your background and what’s in the shot behind you. Cluttered rooms provide an increased cognitive load and distract your audience from you and your message, while this subliminally implies you may be disorganised. Don’t find yourself in a battle with your office paraphernalia for your audience’s attention. 

Instead, arrange the background in a simple, organised manner; this reduces distractions for the audience and presents you more professionally. Virtual backgrounds can be used on platforms such as Zoom, with company logos acting as a simple, yet effective way to market your company during the meeting.

Moreover, while eating is sometimes deemed to be acceptable during a video meeting, it’s highly advised to refrain from eating and/or chewing during a call. However, drinking is acceptable.

Top Tip: Although you’re based at home, this doesn’t alter the fact that you’re still working; this should be demonstrated in your demeanour.

Structure Your Meeting

Hosting a disjointed meeting with no structure is a mistake commonly made when presenting virtually. While a less structured system may work on a one-to-one basis when multiple people are participating, the call can become fragmented and attendees often interrupt each other. Furthermore, there are often guests who are more vocal than others, preventing some from contributing. 

To combat this issue, introduce structure to how you start, end and run your meeting. For instance, open by asking each person to say two words summarising how they feel and invite them in one-by-one by name – this will introduce a human aspect to the call. 

Additionally, it’s useful to explain the meeting agenda as this allows participants to identify when they will be invited to contribute. As you advance through a topic, inform them you will be inviting them in personally to comment, and if they have something to say, otherwise please raise their hand. If somebody indicates that they wish to comment, acknowledge that you’ve spotted this and that you’ll come to them next. 

At the end of a topic, summarise key points to ensure that there’s a mutually shared understanding and verbally restate the actions that have been agreed and by whom, before moving on. Introducing this structure will help people feel reassured that they’ll be given the chance to contribute, in turn, giving you the chance to keep the air-time fair between participants, therefore, increasing productivity. 

At the end of the meeting, have a check-out and invite everyone in one by one to say two words about how they feel now.

Top Tip: If you have multiple people on the call it’s helpful to ask people to mute themselves and then unmute when they want to speak to reduce background noise that can interrupt a meeting, particularly for those with pets and children.

Use the Chat Window as Your Ally

Often viewed as a tool for audience questions, the chat tool can be used innovatively to enhance the quality of the meeting. For example, this feature can be used to share resources such as supporting articles, proof of concept, or other relevant documents. 

When you refer to an important article or shared document, link to this in the chat. You might even place your presentation’s agenda in the chat to set the scene before you begin. 

Rather than a potential distraction, consider the chat window as an opportunity to increase your presence and bring an extra dimension to your presentations. It can also prevent interruptions by offering an orderly way to deal with questions.

Top Tip: For longer or more complex presentations, consider using a co-host to manage what goes into the chat. This may be a more efficient way for them to collate any questions or thoughts throughout your presentation and prevent you from getting distracted.

Virtual presenting is a skill we’ll all be using more and more post-COVID19. Irrespective of whether you’re a seasoned face-to-face presenter, virtual presentations aren’t the same and practice is essential. Experimenting with new techniques will enhance your virtual skill sets and in time, you’ll become more accustomed and implement these tools to communicate effectively with your virtual audience.

Are you seeking support with virtual presenting skills? Call Co-Creation on +44 7876 024555 to speak with a member of our specialist team, or email us for further guidance on how to communicate online effectively.