Tips to make the most of your virtual communication experience
By Nicole Lowenbraun
As the global workforce transforms amidst our new virtual reality, Duarte is working hard to help our clients prepare for the future of online work, learning, and communication. While many business professionals have been communicating virtually for years, our teachers, medical workers, and other professionals may find themselves in brand-new territory.
We’ve coached thousands of clients, and we know communicating virtually can still be impactful if you follow some basic principles. Even if you’re one of the many people working from home under less-than-ideal circumstances, (children on your lap or pets in the house) it’s still possible to conduct successful virtual meetings.
Remember that empathy and understanding will go a long way in our virtual world. In hard times, care and understanding will help everyone feel valued and keep the ship moving forward.
With that caveat, there are three areas to consider when preparing to communicate virtually: You must prepare your physical space, your virtual space, and yourself. Preparation will help you stay focused so you can engage and connect with your audience.
Prepare Your Physical Space for Optimal Virtual Communication
Find a physical space in your home that limits distractions and meets your work needs and personal comfort. The space you choose should be a spot where you can work for extended periods of time. Even a walk-in closet can work.
Setup Close to Technology
A successful virtual workspace requires adequate power outlets and, of course, a solid internet connection. Proximity to your router will impact the quality of your video and audio. Get as close it as you can for optimal speed. If your home gets spotty Wi-Fi, invest in an old-school ethernet cable and adaptor.
Consider Your Lighting
A window that provides natural lighting is ideal. Natural light feels warmer and more comforting, not only for you, but for your audience. Try to avoid having a light source behind you as that can cast a shadow on your face, and your audience might have difficulty seeing you.
Consider the Objects Around You
Surround yourself with comforting objects such as plants, books, and art that energize you. Working from home can feel isolating. Spruce up your space in a way that makes you want to work there. Make sure that it’s not too cluttered, as that can be a distraction for your virtual audience. Like many of our tips, striking a balance is key.
Can’t possibly declutter your space? We know how that feels! Luckily, some online platforms offer virtual backgrounds as an alternative.
Consider the type of desk and chair you’re using. Many of us aren’t used to sitting all day. And even if we are, sitting at work usually involves a more comfortable and ergonomically appropriate space.
If it doesn’t make sense for you to invest in new home office furniture, you can use pillows to increase your comfort. Sometimes raising your laptop height using books can offer a more comfortable typing position. Little adjustments can go a long way in making you feel better-positioned to work from home.
Prepare Your Virtual Space for Optimal Virtual Communication
Now that your physical space is well prepared, you need to make sure you’re virtually ready.
Prioritize Your Video Set-up
At Duarte, we are huge camera-on advocates. Seeing your audience will give you comfort and help you all feel more connected. Most computers are now equipped with built-in cameras. If yours is not, or if yours feels subpar, there are fairly inexpensive external cameras that can clip onto the top of a laptop or desktop.
A proper camera angle can make or break your meeting. Your eyes should have a direct line of sight to your camera. If it’s angled even slightly, your audience will see your ceiling, up your nostrils, or will get a zoomed-in view of your face. Ideally you want to be straight on and allow the audience to see your body and face from your mid-torso up.
Optimize Your Audio Set-up
A good headset and a solid microphone are the two components required for virtual audio success.
Usually, computer audio without a headset results in unnecessary background noise. Headsets with built-in microphones ensure better sound quality and eliminate extraneous sound.
Before you start to speak, make sure your mic is on. Yes, we know this is an obvious piece of advice, but we are all guilty of that sometimes.
If you’re not going to be speaking on the call, make sure you are muted. Seriously, write it on a sticky note if you need to.
Test Your Equipment
Did you know you that all the major video software platforms allow you to test your video and audio ahead of time? Find and use this amazing feature!
It’s also important that your software is up-to-date. There’s nothing worse than automatic updates in the middle of a virtual presentation.
Eliminate Online Distractions
Whether you’re running the meeting or simply participating, the biggest competition to virtual communication success is your inbox. Silence or turn off notifications for email and chat on your computer and consider doing the same thing on your phone.
Notifications will distract you from fully participating and connecting with others. Before you start, commit to avoiding social media and other online distractions.
Prepare Yourself for Optimal Virtual Communication
Now that you have your physical and virtual space ready, are you ready?
Evaluate Your Nonverbal Appearance
Consider what you’re wearing and whether it’s distracting to your audience. Avoid busy patterns, large eccentric jewelry, scarves, and other accessories that may detract from your message.
We know it’s tempting to dress casually and comfortably while working from home, but we suggest that you dress as you normally would in your work setting. This will not only make you feel like your typical professional self, it will help your audience feel more business-as-usual.
Do a Mental/Emotional Self-Check
We know that a work–setting change can throw you off mentally. And that speaking in front of a camera can be daunting and nerve-wracking, especially if you’re not used to it.
Before you begin, consider clearing your mind and practice some deep breathing. Research shows that mindful meditation can slow down your heart rate and clear your head. We’ve created a short, guided meditation you can use before you present.
Do a Physical Self-Check
Sitting for long periods of time is challenging for anyone. The human body requires blood flow and activity to function optimally. To avoid fidgeting on your virtual call, and to release stress or tension in your muscles, consider stretching or doing a physical warm-up before sitting down.
Do a Vocal Warm-Up
The biggest tool we use as virtual communicators is our voice. And voices fatigue easily! Consider practicing a few vocal warm-ups to get your vocal cords ready for a day of verbal communication.
Keep yourself hydrated throughout the day, not only for your general health, but for your vocal health. Research shows that hydration is the key to keeping your voice sharp.
We know how hard it is to be suddenly thrown into a new remote work environment. You have important messages to communicate, and that feels difficult when you’re not in the room with your audience. But use these simple steps to prepare for a day of virtual communication, and we are confident you’ll still be able to successfully deliver your message. Stay strong. Stay connected. Stay empathetic.
Illustrated by Jonathan Valiente
Communication, Virtual communication