12 ways to get the most out of your meetings
With the rise of the hybrid workforce and the need for global collaboration, virtual interactions are here to stay. Work is now everywhere: at home, in the office, in airports, in cafes, etc. To stay in touch with colleagues and customers, wherever they are, you need to master the art of digital connection.
Our Building Forward webinar featured renowned body language and virtual communication expert Mark Bowden – both in 2021 and 2022 – who provided advice on how you can get the most out of your hybrid meetings. Inspirational, energetic, engaging and entertaining, Bowden leads memorable conferences and training programs designed not only to educate, but to help people and organizations grow in all industries and sectors.
Here are Bowden’s 12 tips and tricks for standing out, gaining trust, and gaining credibility in meetings.
1. Create small content
Meeting attendees have a world of distractions at their fingertips, so it can be difficult to stay focused for even the most seasoned presenter.
As Bowden said, “After 15-20 minutes, engagement goes down. It’s not because they’re bored or don’t like you, it’s because their brain is still looking for something new. And if you don’t give them that difference, that texture in the meeting or the presentation or the conversation you’re having, they’ll look for it elsewhere.”
You need to create short moments, chunks of content that hold your audience’s interest. This is precisely why Bowden strategically divides its content into bite-sized principles.
2. Encourage active participation
It’s one thing to get people to attend your meeting – getting them to stay engaged and present is a whole other challenge. Create a welcoming environment and enrich your content with engaging visuals and persistent engagement opportunities. This will pull people out of their passivity and inspire them to actively participate in the meeting. As Bowden says, “the brain just needs a significant shift” to want to engage in ongoing experience.
3. Keep it conversational
“A new voice, a new attitude, a new face and a new journey – if only for a few moments – help make something new and different happen.”
Hybrid meetings can complicate the social element that accompanies traditional face-to-face interaction. By turning a presentation into a conversation, you regain that social element without losing the convenience of a hybrid setting. Try to find a partner you can interact with during the meeting, opening up a dialogue that helps make the experience informal and comfortable.
If you can’t find another person to interact with, Bowden says, “change the key a little, change the pitch a little, refer to something physical that you can highlight in your environment” to create a sense of dialogue or a refreshing new piece in conversation.
4. Create an eye contact connection
Eye contact is essential for any connection, whether physical or virtual.
“If I get strong eye contact and get closer to you, and you’re in a safe place like your house, your brain produces a neurochemical called dopamine. It’s the neurochemical of positive expectation and lust. ‘optimism,’ Bowden said. To help that feel, he recommends moving the camera to eye level, leaning forward, and bringing your gestures into frame.
During the Q&A session, an audience member asked Bowden an important question: How do you maintain eye contact if you’re taking or reading notes? His advice: open two separate screens on your desk, placing them side by side so that your eyes stay in one general direction.
5. Let your past speak for who you are
Many of us will continue to work from home to some degree post-pandemic – see this as an opportunity to bond around similar interests, even if it’s in a virtual sense. “The idea is to let them see more: cues, icons, things that help them understand what you value and think is important,” Bowden said.
Whether you use a virtual background or an actual background, personalize your environment to reflect your passions and interests, displaying personal photos or favorite things. For example, Bowden placed a photo of her children in the foreground of her video to show her audience a bit of her personal life.
With these visuals, you allow participants to see a little more of who you are without having to communicate it verbally.
6. Establish clear and reliable sound
You don’t need professional lighting or cameras to make a meeting engaging, but you do need great sound. With jerky sound, a meeting immediately becomes uninteresting for the audience. “People will immediately check if the sound is bad.”
A laptop mic isn’t always adequate and reliable, so test how comfortable you can be heard, and if your sound is lacking, get an external mic and earphone, plus a a stable internet connection to protect sound quality. Also, it’s a great idea to test your microphone before making a call.
To support your audio, you should also consider adding relevant hand gestures. As Bowden illustrated, “I add to the sound with what we call stick gestures—the gestures that drive the meaning of what I say to the rhythm of my speech.”
7. Be comfortable with silence
Knowing when to speak in a hybrid meeting can be difficult because we miss many of the subtle cues that exist in face-to-face interactions. It means that we have to be comfortable with silence. By embracing silence, you create a safe space for others to comment or ask questions, fostering a more engaging dialogue overall.
“Don’t be afraid of silence. It takes time for people to calculate and come back with an answer.” Bowden reminds the audience. By taking the time to let your audience respond, “you can find out in real time what’s really going on with people across the planet – it’s a modern miracle.”
8. Use your resources wisely
With hybrid working, it’s important to “manage risk versus resources,” Bowden said. One of our greatest resources is body language, which can be instinctively biased towards someone. If you’re in person, be careful not to index your resources too much to desktop participants so you don’t risk isolating those who are remote. Simply set up an environment that respects and involves the virtual environment more – start by putting up signs and physical reminders to watch the camera more.
9. Adjust manners and tone accordingly
Adapt your mannerisms and tone to ensure that no attendee is left behind. You can liven up your actions to better engage remote participants, while calming your tone when speaking in person. An easy way to make either party feel more involved? Say their name, as Bowden says, “Use a name if you can, because it credits that person and literally engages their brains.”
10. Keep checking in
You can help regulate meetings by keeping an eye out for gestures that suggest a feeling, as they help participants express their needs and give them space to intervene. You can also use technology to your advantage to keep checking in with your attendees. Bowden’s advice: Just ask people to voice their ideas and questions in the chat.
11. Develop the visual
The right visual is a key ingredient for a successful hybrid meeting. When a meeting has visuals via quality video, “it’ll go a lot faster and we’ll all understand each other so much better,” Bowden said. While you can’t force anyone to turn on their camera, you can remind them that the environment is more engaging and inclusive with the additional visual. Another tip from Bowden: “Run as big a screen as possible.”
12. Be an advocate
In-person meeting participants have a new role in a hybrid environment: advocate. With more barriers in front of remote attendees, in-person attendees will need to serve as advocates in the room. “Dealing with these people on purpose,” Bowden notes. Whether you are establishing a designated moderator or setting a precedent for all participants, be intentional in involving participants remotely and advocate on their behalf during the call so that they feel empowered to speak up.
Maximize the potential of your meetings
A hybrid meeting is not a limitation, it is an opportunity. By applying Bowden’s simple tactics to your next call, you’ll create an environment that fosters open communication and collaboration. With this engaging approach, you can maximize the potential of your meetings to get more done, creating real connections, wherever you are.
Keep up to date with the latest trends in hybrid workforce thought leadership – check out upcoming events in our Building Forward webinar series.
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