Back to back virtual meetings can be draining, so it makes sense to allow colleagues to keep their cameras off during certain events. Plus, everyone has a lot going on right now and it helps to give people the option of participating without worrying about kids running around in the background or WiFi bandwidth issues.
However, as a speaker it can be very difficult to bring the same energy and enthusiasm to a presentation when you don’t have anyone to talk to or interact with. It’s disconcerting to “check-in” with your audience and only see black boxes staring back at you.
Thankfully, there is one situation we are all comfortable with where you never see the person you are talking to, but it doesn’t throw you off — a phone call.
When you call someone, in order to visualize that person effectively, it's good to ask where that person is so you can picture them in that location and then deliver your story. Even though you never see their face, you can still feel energized because you can imagine their reactions in your head.
That’s why I recommend deciding two things if you're the only one on camera during a presentation:
Then, pretend you’re on a phone call during your presentation. Imagine the person reacting to your story and notice how your presentation changes. This way, you can keep the energy of your original talk without needing to see people looking back at you.
One of the biggest anxieties presenters have is how to handle the Q & A session after a talk. With so many variables at play, it’s completely understandable that people worry about preparing for every scenario. That’s why I’ve put together these tips to help you feel confident before your next presentation.
Scenario 1: You’ve never thought about that idea before.
Part of what makes presentations so wonderful is that it’s an opportunity for others to hear your ideas and share theirs. You’re not expected to have thought of every single possibility beforehand. That’s why you go to an event, to hear ideas from people with different backgrounds.
If someone brings up something new you could say:
“That isn’t something I’ve thought about before, but I’ll be sure to give it some consideration now that you’ve brought it to my attention.”
People appreciate when you take the time to listen to their ideas, even if you don’t have an immediate answer.
Scenario 2: You have no clue what the answer is.
If you don’t know what the answer is, instead of worrying — just tell them the truth.
You could say, “That’s a great question but not my area of expertise, so I don’t feel I can answer that right now.”
It’s important to remember that you’re human and you aren’t expected to have all the answers. As long as you don’t collapse and react negatively, the audience member will appreciate that you listened to their comment.
Scenario 3: You should know the answer, but can’t think of it.
If someone asks a basic question, and you freeze, let the audience know.
For example you could say, “That’s something I should know the answer to, but to be honest, at this moment it isn’t coming to me. I’m sure I’ll think of it right after this is over.”
People understand the stress that comes with presenting. Everyone has had a moment where they blank out. Just let people know what’s happening, and then you can move on to the next question.
Remember not to self-destruct when answering questions. You are human and you’re not expected to prepare for every possibility. Respond like you would if a friend asked you this question. If something surprises you, remember to breathe, state the facts, and then focus on continuing the conversation. That way, if you don’t know the answer to a question, it won’t matter. You can move on and still make a great impression.
There’s a lot going on in today’s world. Sometimes anxiety and stress can be difficult to shake off. It’s even tougher when you’re feeling overwhelmed and then have to get up in front of a group and give a presentation. That’s why I find it helpful to have “reset” routines at the ready.
Here are three that have helped me in the past:
1. Watch something that makes you laugh
If you’re feeling stressed or burned out, laughter is an excellent way to reset. Laughing releases chemicals in your body to help you relax and recalibrate. I personally love watching funny interviews on the Graham Norton Show or bloopers from the tv show Parks and Rec. If there’s a show or video that makes you smile and lighten up, watch it before your next presentation. That way, you can start your next speech from a positive place.
2. Do something physical
When you’re stressed out, it can be challenging to stop your thoughts from going into a negative spiral. That’s why I recommend doing something physical so you shift your focus from your mind to your body. You can exercise, dance to fun music, sing your favorite song, or even just take a walk and feel the ground beneath your feet. If you bring your attention to your body, it gives you something else to focus on and think about.
3. Help someone else
When life feels overwhelming, I focus on helping someone else. Helping others shifts my attention from my worries into doing something productive. As a presenter, you’re sharing information that is important for others to hear. It may make someone else’s life easier or they might learn something new. If you realize your talk could be valuable for someone else, it can help you reset and refocus.
Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed, laugh, do something physical, or think about how your presentation could be helping someone else. Having things that shift your focus and reset can be incredibly powerful.
And then, to be honest, there will be days that are just hard. On those days, all you need to do is realize that you’re doing your best. We are all doing our best. And as long as you’re doing that — it is enough.
When people attend a virtual meeting, people log on at different moments. During that time, it can be awkward for people to sit in silence and wait for everyone to arrive. If you are facilitating a meeting where you want people to participate and speak up, this type of atmosphere is difficult to overcome. Thankfully, there are a few things you can do to make the virtual environment more engaging and dynamic.
1. Have music playing when people log on.
When people log on to one of my workshops, I often having music playing for everyone to hear. This accomplishes a few things. First, it gives people something to talk about and connect over when they first enter the meeting. Second, if people’s cameras are off, the meeting still feels like it has energy and momentum. Finally, if you’re playing fun music, I’ve seen people start to move to the beat or sing along, which instantly adds in a bit of fun at the start of a meeting. If people are enjoying themselves and in a good headspace before a meeting, it’s much easier to collaborate and work together.
2. Have people use a themed virtual background.
If you want to add in some creativity to a meeting, ask people to download a virtual background with a specific theme. Especially if your team is working from home, this adds some appreciated visual variety to people’s screens. You could have people put up a background of
— Ideal travel backgrounds
Japan, Barcelona, Disneyland, etc
— Favorite tv show backgrounds
Simpsons couch, the Friend’s coffeehouse, Parks and Rec office, etc
— Picture of people’s favorite hobby
Yoga studio, garden, kitchen, etc
Not only is it fun for people to think about what background they could use before the meeting, it also allows your team to bond and share a bit about themselves in an easy and engaging way.
3. Have people share an “uninteresting fact” about themselves.
Many people dread ice-breakers because they have to think of something interesting to say. That’s why one of my favorite ice-breakers is to ask people to introduce themselves and reveal an “uninteresting fact” about themselves. It can be anything from “My front door has red trim” to “My cat is sitting next to me” to “I had cereal this morning for breakfast.” By saying an uninteresting fact, people instantly start to open up without the added pressure of having to come up with something profound to share.
The point of an ice-breaker is to help people open up around each other. So whether you’re playing music, having people show up with fun backgrounds, or sharing a bit of easy information about themselves, think about ways to help your group relax and connect.
Meetings are a great place to present your ideas and get feedback from others. However, as people share their thoughts, it’s easy for the discussion to get sidetracked. Before you know it, people are actively talking about an unrelated topic and you are faced with the task of figuring out how to get the meeting back on track. This is often hard for people to do since you don’t want to “stop” people from talking, but you also have a finite amount of time to share your ideas and get through your agenda.
As people are faced with this situation, it’s common to respond by saying:
We have a lot of other things to discuss so…
Since we don’t have a lot of time, we also need to talk about…
Let’s get back on track here…
People often use these phrases, but they aren’t necessarily the best to rely on. For example, if you’re in a senior position talking to someone junior, it could sound like you’re cutting someone off, thereby discouraging them from sharing in the future. Or if you’re in a junior position, it might be difficult to tell your boss that you need to “get back on topic”. Therefore, you want to say something that connects to the discussion while also redirecting people’s attention to your original agenda.
That’s why I suggest using theses phrases instead:
And along that line of thinking…
As you said that, it occurred to me…
And following up on that…
By using these alternative expressions, you maintain the momentum of the conversation since you aren’t cutting anyone off or telling them they need to do something different. Instead, you are relating to the current conversation and actively pivoting back to your primary plan. It’s a simple yet effective way of keeping the conversation flowing as you smoothly get your meeting back on track.
Your voice is an incredibly powerful tool. It’s especially important since most people are conducting their meetings virtually where they can’t rely as heavily on using body language to communicate. That’s why having a clear and strong voice is critical. However, when you’re in back to back meetings it’s easy for your voice to get tired. Therefore, here are three ways to help you avoid vocal fatigue:
1. Warm up your voice beforehand
People know how important it is to warm up their body before doing a physical activity, but they don’t often think about warming up their voice before speaking. That’s why I spend at least a few minutes before I teach my workshops warming up my voice. I like to blow through my lips, spend some time humming in different pitches, and I move around a bit so I am breathing deeply and fully. That way I know my voice will be ready to use when I speak up in a meeting.
2. Sit up tall
If you’re attending multiple meetings, it’s easy for your body to melt into a “schlump” where your shoulders are crouched over and your head is tilted back. This collapsed position is very hard on your voice because you’re collapsing your voice box and inhibiting your breathing. Therefore, I recommend either coming to the edge of your seat and sitting up tall, or standing as you present, if you are going to be talking for a while. That way your physical stance will keep you supported.
3. Avoid clearing your throat
Many people “clear” their throats before speaking. However, that actually makes things worse. It can aggravate your throat and, overtime, cause more vocal issues down the road. Instead, I recommend humming and then swallowing. This process still clears away any mucus you have built up, but it doesn’t aggravate your throat when you do it.
By warming up, keeping a tall and supported stance, and avoiding clearing your throat, you can help avoid vocal fatigue.
If you listen to a lot of presentations, you’ll notice speakers often use similar phrases during their talks. Then other people hear those expressions and repeat them in their own talks. While some of these phrases are useful, here are a few phrases I’d suggest phasing out of your future presentations:
1. "To give you a little bit of background…"
When people use this phrase, it subtly sends out the message, “This might not be exciting but I have to cover this information.” However, background information is often incredibly important and you want people to actively listen to it. Instead, I’d begin by jumping straight into the information.
2. "For those of you who don’t know…"
This phrase can often sound patronizing and creates distance between the speaker and the audience. If you’re worried that some people in the audience don’t know this information, I’d use the phrase, “In our field it’s important to….” That way if someone does know this information they will think, “Yes, that’s true” and if they don’t know it they will think, “Oh, that’s useful.” This way you keep everyone engaged the whole time.
3. "I won’t go through all of this but…"
This phrase is normally used when people have too much information on a slide. It instantly tells the audience to stop looking at the details on the slide because they might get overwhelmed. Instead I’d say, “I’d like to point out how…” That way instead of highlighting how complex the slide is, you’re helping something important stand out.
By avoiding these phrases, you can easily elevate your presentations and effectively share your message with others.
In your current role, you probably have a lot on your plate. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and take on too much responsibility. Instead of burdening others, it’s tempting to add more items to your ever-expanding to-do list. That’s why knowing when and how to delegate is an incredibly important skill.
Unfortunately, there are few tutorials that effectively teach delegation. This skill is more involved than simply assigning a job to someone else. It also goes beyond identifying who on a team is the most qualified and best suited for a project. Instead, effective leaders evaluate the assignment and ask, “Who would see this project as not just a task, but as an opportunity?” This requires more than knowing the project — it pushes leaders to know their team.
Each person is different, with a different background, education, work history, etc., and we look at things in different ways. For some, a particular assignment may be no more than another item on a to-do list, while for others, that same assignment could be something that excites and ignites their passion. For example, I look at hosting a symposium or conference as an energizing event, while many others see that job as a daunting if not overwhelming chore. The job still needs to be done, but it’s far more effective to give that responsibility to someone who would be invigorated by it.
So next time you start noticing your to-do list filling up, ask yourself if there’s someone on your team who would benefit from this experience, enjoy the challenge, or think of this as a valuable activity that will help advance their career. Then, take it off your plate and give this opportunity to them. Now, not only will you be able to check something off your list, you’ll be empowering a team member at the same time.
It happens to the best of us. You start to answer a question and then find yourself going on too many tangents and aren’t sure how to recover — you’re rambling. The issue with rambling is that it’s hard for your audience to follow your train of thought and figure out what your core message is. It takes effort for listeners to stay alert to the twists and turns in your story.
Therefore, if you are rambling in an interview or in a meeting, when you find yourself thinking, Where am I going with this? it’s important to know how to wrap up your thoughts and come to a clear conclusion. It’s that core message, or the phrase that you want people to recall, that you need to be direct about. Thankfully, that’s all you have to practice — ending with that take-home sentence that you want people to remember.
Unfortunately, instead of ending with a direct message, most people get embarrassed and end their answer with a trail-off phrase such as, “So ya…”. Or, they just end with a small detail about a story that has nothing to do with the question. Instead, practice ending with the sentence you want people to recall.
Let’s pretend you’re asked in an interview, “What is your greatest strength?” If you find yourself giving a long-winded answer, instead of trailing off, I’d bring it back to the original question and say something along the lines of, “And that’s why I think collaboration is one of my greatest strengths.” That way, if your answer was slightly disjointed, you still ended with the message that you want the interviewer to remember — that you are a great collaborator.
It takes some practice, but this technique can be used in all types of settings. If you’re in a meeting, talking about a project update, and you find yourself describing insignificant details, instead of ending with, “I know that was a lot of information,” I’d end with, “That’s why I believe we are on track with the latest design.” That way, even if the team got confused by some of the information you provided, there won’t be any questions on the current state of the project.
If you find yourself rambling, just take a breath, think about your core message and end your answer with that sentence. It’s a simple yet effective tool to help you and your audience communicate.
As the leader of your group or organization, people look up to you. You set an example with everything you do. Not only with the large projects you are in charge of, but in smaller, more subtle ways as well. It may not be obvious, but if you are leading a team, it’s important to be aware of situations where your actions set up patterns that others will follow.
When a new team is meeting, it can be hard for people to feel comfortable enough to open up. Often a leader will start a meeting by asking someone to introduce themself to the group. Whatever information that first person gives (name, title, etc) is normally the same information everyone else will share. If you’d prefer people to share a story or more interesting background information, instead of relying on the first person you call on to rise to the occasion, just do it yourself. Start by sharing the information you’d like to know about your team. Then hand it over to someone else. That way, the team has an example to follow on what you’d like to hear.
2. Checking In
During a meeting, especially when people aren’t very comfortable with each other, the first person who talks usually sets the pattern for the rest of the group. For example, if you ask everyone how their weekend went, and the first person responds with, “It was ok,” chances are that everyone else will also give a one sentence response. However, if you begin a meeting by describing a short story about how your weekend went and then open it up to the group, there is a higher probability that everyone else will also share a short story.
Every relationship requires a different level of professionalism. When you are communicating via email, it’s important to realize that your team is looking to you to set the tone. If you expect formal emails with long explanations on how people arrived at certain decisions, you should be writing formal detailed emails as well. If you prefer quick, short and concise emails, those are the ones you should be sending. People will look to you to model the preferred communication style, so you want to be proactive on how it's established.
We like patterns, and the first person to speak usually sets the tone. When you are leading, it’s important to realize where those key opportunities are.
Bri McWhorter is the Founder and CEO of Activate to Captivate.