Communicating Effectively Through the Screen
Something that has obviously been a huge learning curve for many of us over the past year, has been getting used to spending much of our time communicating through a screen. There are so many things that we do naturally in person that suddenly become impossible (or a real challenge) when faced with multiple faces in boxes on your computer screen. Here, I have grouped together a few headline points that have helped me over the last 6-12 months and hopefully they will be of use to you too!
1. Screen Position
One of the simplest and yet hugely impactful things I did early on in lockdown was increase the height of my screen and camera. I invested in a fairly cheap laptop stand but simply placing your monitor/laptop on a stack of books would do the job too (as long as the books are fairly sturdy and stable!). It sounds so simple but by raising the height of your camera so that it is roughly around your eye-line it means that:
a) you can maintain a level head position which reduces neck and shoulder tension
b) you can sit back in your chair and maintain a more relaxed posture
c) the people you’re talking to don’t have to look up your nose.
2. Insert Feedback Opportunities at Intervals
One of the hardest things about delivering lectures, seminars or presentations over Zoom is the lack of immediate feedback from your audience. When you are speaking to a physical room of people, you are instinctively picking up on all the tiny hints and clues that your audience give you as to whether they are following your message and ideas. On Zoom, this is essentially impossible – at best you’ll see nodding heads, at worst you’ve got an audience with cameras and microphones off providing literally zero feedback. My solution to this is to include semi-regular pauses for structured feedback and engagement. Where normally, you might leave questions until the end. Now, I’d recommended including question breaks at the end of each section of your talk (ideally every 15-20 mins). This breaks up your lecture or talk into manageable chunks, provides opportunities for your audience to actively engage with you, and gives you the chance to underline points made in the previous section and check your message is being communicated.
3. Just Talk To One Person
Now that you’ve created specific opportunities for feedback, you can actually largely forget that your audience is there! You don’t have to worry about whether they’re following you or not because you’re going to pause in 15 minutes to check that. Rather than delivering a lecture or talk to a group of people in a room, think of yourself as presenting a mini-TV show to the camera in front of you. Rather than multiple people watching you, you’re talking to one person – that camera in front of you. The best TV presenters make you feel like they are sharing their thoughts and insights with you personally. They aren’t presenting to thousands of people; they are just presenting to you sat at your desk or on your sofa. So, when you’re delivering your lecture or talk, imagine you are talking to just one person who is sat across the table from you. Make it personable and conversational. Make a virtue of the fact that you are in your home and they are in their home.
4. Facilitate Discussion Actively
When you’re in the flow presenting your lecture or talk, you’re talking to one person but what happens when you need to facilitate a group discussion? Well, as anyone who has simply asked the question ‘how are you?’ at the beginning of a meeting knows – this isn’t easy! [Generally, either no one says anything, or everyone speaks at once!]. Instead of opening discussion up as a free-for-all, explain that you are going to go round the group and get everyone’s thoughts individually. Depending on the context, you can give people a couple of minutes to get their thoughts together or written down, you can also make it clear that people don’t have to say anything if they don’t want to, but by giving everyone the chance to speak you avoid those awkward silences and you avoid just the most confident people hogging all the attention.
5. Breathe into Your Chair
Controlling your voice and breathing can be very difficult when you’re speaking from a seated position for long periods of time. It’s hard enough when you’re standing, but when you’re seated there’s a greater tendency to neglect your diaphragm, creating more shallow breathing, reducing vocal strength and increasing the chance of vocal strain (sore throats and neck aches). The best way I’ve found to counter this is to think of breathing into the chair beneath me. If I’m sitting in an upright position with my head level (because I’ve got my screen position right), then by sending my breath down to the chair I’ll immediately waken up the diaphragm, giving my voice more power and clarity. It also the added benefit of reducing stress and anxiety, as you generally slow and deepen your breath.
So, there’s a just five things I’ve found helpful over the past few months, while adapting to working on screen. I hope they can help you too! And if you have any thoughts or other tips from your own experience, I’d love to hear from you. Equally, if you have any particular problems or worries you’d like to ask about, please do get in touch.