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Zoom-In: The Importance Of Comms Skills In 2021

by Mark Ellwood

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We’ve all been working from home, off and on, for some time now and one of the major impacts of this has been on the ways in which we communicate.  As we look towards the post-pandemic period, it is easy to see that many of the changes that have happened due to Covid19 are here to stay.  While it’s true that there had already been a move to video conferencing and online meetings, the pandemic forced us to get used to this way of working very suddenly. 

So, in today’s post, we take a look at some of the opportunities and challenges ahead to identify what the key communications skills in 2021 and beyond will be.

 

Challenges

Let’s start with the challenges that many of us know all too well.

  • Zoom Fatigue.  Recent studies have identified so-called ‘zoom fatigue’ as a genuine issue.  According to Dr. Jena Lee, Assistant Professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at University of California, zoom fatigue stems from a combination of factors. Firstly, there’s the increased brain effort required to interpret the social situation without the normal facial clues you get in person-to-person meetings. Secondly, online meetings lack the pauses for thought and natural breathing spaces one gets face-to-face. Thirdly, there is the constant awareness of oneself and how one appears during a meeting on camera. This often results in people simply turning off their cameras to reduce the stress. Also, where meetings are not varied and engaging (for example, simply a long slide deck presentation), engagement can be very low

  • Technology hiccups. Another contributor to zoom fatigue is the fact that unreliable technology and internet connections can interrupt the flow of the meetings. According to Gianpiero Petriglieri, an Associate Professor at INSEAD focused on workplace L&D, “Silence creates a natural rhythm in a real-life conversation. However, when it happens in a video call, you became anxious about the technology.” In fact, the discomfort created by delays in conference and video calls has been shown, in studies dating back to 2014, to shape our views of people negatively. A delay of just 1.2 seconds can make people perceive the other person on the line as less focused or even less friendly!

  • Participation issues.  In large multi-person meetings, it is easy for some people to hide away behind their screens, and even go through an entire meeting without making a contribution. This issue is hard to overcome as you can’t force people to appear on camera. It’s also hard to, for example, catch a client’s eye, or have a spin-off meeting to discuss something that wasn’t brought up earlier or something that needs going over in more detail

  • Professionalism of new graduates. Some consultancies have started to include online meeting training packages for new recruits from universities. Many recent students have been used to wearing casual clothes, being around their pets, not putting themselves on mute and having their washing hanging in the background. Without the exposure to corporate life that comes with starting a new job in the office, some recent graduates have carried these habits through to employment, so some basic virtual meeting protocols have to be established

 

Opportunities

Certainly, there are challenges to the new status quo of online and virtual communications, but there are also many advantages and opportunities:

  • Functionality. With the global adoption of online and virtual tools, their evolution has really accelerated and many of programs available offer impressive functionality. The ability to pulse-check your audience and conduct an ad-hoc poll was not something you could effectively do with an offline meeting

  • Interactivity and depth. The functionality also allows the meeting to draw on a  wealth of data, from live Google searches to video to PowerPoint presentations and live speech-to-camera, making the meeting content rich and immersive (when it is done well)

  • Meeting democratization. No longer are meetings dominated by the person controlling the presentation laptop.  Others can take control of the presentations, or jump in and share their screens at a moment’s notice

  • Productivity potential. With journey times between meetings eliminated, there are no more barriers. It is possible to attend more meetings, and link up directly with more people, in a given day. While this can have its own fatigue effects, it is possible to be significantly more productive and to network more effectively if this is handled well

 

Skills

So, as we can see, there are both rewards and pitfalls to navigate on this new communications journey ahead. What are the key skills that will help people thrive in this landscape?

  • Personal presentation. As with offline meetings, personal presentation is important. But with online meetings, being on camera makes it even more so as, often, the focus is around the top half or our bodies. Making sure you look the part before going live is especially important – consider lighting, camera angle and backdrop, as well as sound and connectivity quality. For more tips on this, see our previous blog post. The truth is we all have to think like YouTube stars now

  • Acting skills. Also, as for YouTube presenters, acting skills can prove very useful in this context. As we have mentioned, it can be harder to pick up on personal cues such as body language online, so the ability to exaggerate these without going over-the-top is useful. Consider body language and facial expressions as well as speaking clearly and projecting confidence and a particular tone of voice

  • Participation and engagement. A key requirement for comms in 2021 is the ability to keep your audience engaged. This can be achieved through providing frequent opportunities for your audience participate and variety in what is on-screen. For example, turn off the slides now and then and go back to just talking t camera. Keep the tone conversational and reduce the factors that lead to fatigue

  • Stay versatile. According to Allison Shapira, writing on globalpublicspeaking.com, It is very possible that you’ll be planning an offline presentation when it suddenly gets cancelled and is taken online instead. So, you’ll need to be able to switch between formats quickly. When you plan your meetings, think how this could be run in both ways

  • Brevity. The ability to keep messages brief and concise will keep your audience engaged and also show you have respect for their time constraints. It also makes information easier to digest

  • Listening. The ability to listen well is very important in the age on online communications. It can be very easy to simply control a meeting and not allow participation. Listening is also extremely important during a virtual feedback or work review session with a small group of an individual

 

So, there we have our guide to the comms skills for 2021. Many of these are now being taken up in training packages by business across the world, but there’s no need to wait. You can start at home and get ahead of the game with online learning, coaching, or even YouTube tutorials and start putting these skills into practice now.