Is it Possible to Stand Out While Working from Home?

Team meetings? All hands gatherings? Still looking to impress your superiors? Is it even possible to stand out while working and attending these events remotely? 

You’re at home. The dog barks, the doorbell rings, there are all kinds of disruptions. The good news is: the playing field is level, everyone’s in the same boat these days.

The bad news is: your ambition hasn’t lost momentum but it feels like opportunities to be noticed have. You’re glad you still have a job, but what about that promotion? Has it evaporated with the likes of break rooms and packed elevators? 

How do you stand out and impress when you’re …  a face … in a box … on a screen?

Here are four quick-hit tips for your virtual success:

Be quiet. Yup, this is counterintuitive, but in large group calls, unless you have something super substantive to offer, keep quiet. Don’t speak up to just make your voice heard. It’s too obvious, and that works against you.

Be on point. If you do have something substantive to offer, be on point. Make sure your substance is directly relevant to the topic or purpose of the call (this is good way to check yourself before you speak!). And if you surface a problem, be sure to also have a solution!

Give time back. In smaller meetings, when you need direction or approvals from the people above you, offer to end the meeting once the mission has been satisfied. Your superiors will be grateful if you give time back to them, rather than filling the time simply because it was on the calendar. 

Look professional. Okay, here comes the old-school advice: look as you would if you were in the office … from the waist up at least. Keep yourself and your background as crisp and clean as you possibly can. Nonverbal messaging still matters.

In these strange and uncertain times, you might need to play a long game in addition to playing your cards well onscreen. Patience will help you and, of course, the quality of your work will still speak for itself. In addition to all of the above, being mindful of management’s experience too – screen fatigue for sure, managing and motivating from a distance, dealing with lots of unknowns – will be a show of empathy and maturity that also singles you out. 

Public Speaking in the Time of Corona

It’s hard to think about offering advice on communication and presentation skills right now. On the one hand, it seems so trivial and insignificant given what’s going on in the world. On the other hand, as with any aspect of professionalism, we need it in order to keep business – and thereby, the economy overall – going. Or perhaps we need it even more, as we continue to present ideas and recommendations from a distance?!

There’s so much we don’t know at this point – including when and whether we’ll be back in conference rooms again. I have had clients whose companies are slowly returning to their office buildings tell me that, in addition to the one-way hallways, shuttered break rooms, and two-person elevator limits, there’s an indefinite moratorium on gathering in conference rooms. Wow, okay, sounds reasonable … as long as it’s temporary, right?! But it may not be temporary.

The au courant buzzwords, “new normal” and “pivot,” are not trendy for the sake of being trendy. They’re not the new “we need something disruptive” or “let’s socialize this.” They’re real, and they’re necessary. We lost our normal, and we’re not sure if or when it’s coming back, so we need to prepare for a new one. Figuring out whether our businesses or business models will suit the hypothetical or real new normal is requiring companies to at least experiment with pivoting.

So, what can a communication coach offer in this time of Corona? This month, just a couple of helpful tips about communicating and presenting effectively via the camera on your laptop or phone. Later on, I hope to be able to offer more … but for now, in-the-moment baby steps, as I’m just taking it week by week.

To that end, here are three pointers to improve your effectiveness while communicating remotely, regardless of the platform (e.g. Zoom, WebEx, Teams, etc):

1. Setup. Let’s keep this simple. Make sure your background is tidy. Make sure you’re wearing appropriate clothing all the way down to your knees or below if you might have to stand up. And most important, make sure your phone or laptop are propped up so the camera is in line with, or just above, your eyes. Also, tilt it toward you so that it’s not capturing part of the ceiling in addition to you.

2. Lighting. Natural light only. Turn off the overhead lights; they will only cast shadows and/or odd coloring on your face. Depending on the time of day and the orientation of the natural light, you might need to adjust the blinds or move closer to the screen to be seen clearly, but natural light is far better than bulbs.

3. Eye contact. You are off the hook here, there’s no need to look around at all the faces in the room! When it’s your turn to talk, the only eye contact you need to make is with the little green light of the camera. Do not look at the people stacked in the Brady Bunch boxes on the screen … or, even worse, at yourself! Look at the little green light of the camera and talk to it as if it were your best friend in the whole world. 

In many respects, presenting remotely is less daunting than standing in front of a room full of people, so embrace it. And trust me, these three simple tips can make all the difference in the impression you make!

Be safe, smart, and stay well.

Conducting a Zoom Brainstorming Session

Conducting a Zoom Brainstorming Session

One of my clients said to me recently, “The world of Zoom is like the Wild West… everyone is running in that direction, but many don’t seem to have a clue what they are doing.”
 
Amen sister! Zoom is a new frontier for sure, and lots of people are seeking – and others, offering – advice on how to keep virtual meetings and events interesting and engaging.  

To that end, I thought about one type of meeting that could pose a real challenge online – the brainstorming session. How do you make and keep a virtual brainstorming session interesting, engaging, and inclusive?
 
So, at the risk of adding to the social media cacophony on effective virtual meetings and communications, here’s my one idea for Zoom brainstorming sessions (works best for teams of fewer than 10):

Time: Schedule the Zoom session for only 30 minutes.
 
Meeting invite: Scope out the central issue, question, idea or solution needed. Identify parameters and any specifics that brainstorming participants need to know.
 
Assignment: Ask participants to brainstorm on their own prior to the meeting (this works better for introverts anyway) and then to home in on their best idea and develop a 3-minute pitch around that idea.
 
Meeting agenda: Pitchfest! Make the Zoom session a Pitchfest, in which each participant takes no more than 3 minutes to pitch their idea and its rationale to the team. Meeting leader, be sure to time everyone!
 
Result: You can do an online poll afterward to rank the ideas, or you can let the ideas marinate for a while (e.g. 24 hours) and then hold a “watercooler” session via Zoom to ask questions, discuss, debate and decide. To ensure inclusivity and full engagement, make sure everyone has a chance to talk and ask questions.
 
If you try this, please let me know how it goes! I’d love to hear feedback!