Make the Most of Meetings: A Recap of Our Discussion with Mark Bowden on Creating Connections Virtually
With the rise of the hybrid workforce and need for global collaboration, virtual interactions are here to stay. Work will soon be anywhere: home, the office, airports, coffee shops — you name it. To stay connected with colleagues and customers, regardless of location, you need to master the art of connecting digitally.
This month’s “Building Forward” webinar featured renowned body language and virtual communication expert Mark Bowden, who led the session “Building Presence & Connection via Zoom.” Inspiring, energetic, engaging, and entertaining, Bowden leads memorable talks and training programs designed to not only educate but also help people and organizations grow across all industries and sectors.
Here are Bowden’s seven tips and tricks for standing out, winning trust, and gaining credibility on video meetings.
Watch the full webinar for even more insights.
1. Build bite-sized content
Holding an audience’s attention can be much harder virtually versus physically. Meeting attendees have a world of distractions right at their fingertips, so keeping their focus can be difficult for even the most seasoned presenter.
As Bowden stated, “After 15 to 20 minutes, engagement drops off. It’s not because they’re bored or don’t like you, it’s because their brain is always seeking something new. And if you’re not giving them that difference, that texture to the meeting, presentation, or conversation you’re having, they will go and seek it elsewhere. “
You need to create short moments, chunks of content that hold your audience’s interest. That’s precisely why Bowden strategically breaks his content up into seven bite-sized principles.
2. Encourage active participation
It’s one thing to get people to attend your video conference — getting them to stay engaged and present is a whole different challenge. Create a welcoming environment and enrich your content with stimulating visuals and persistent engagement opportunities. Doing so will shake people out of passivity and inspire them to be active meeting participants. As Bowden says, “the brain just needs significant change” to want to engage in an ongoing experience.
3. Keep it conversational
“A new voice, a new attitude, a new face and background — if only for a few moments — helps make something new and different happen.”
Digital meetings can lack the social element that comes with face-to-face interaction. By turning the presentation into more of a conversation, you regain the social element of meetings without losing the convenience of a virtual setting. Try to find a partner with whom you can interact with during the meeting, opening up a dialogue that helps make the experience feel informal and comfortable.
If you can’t find another person to interact with, Bowden says, “change tonality slightly, change pitch slightly, refer to something physical that you can highlight in your environment” to create a sense of dialogue or a refreshing new piece in the conversation.
4. Create connection through eye contact
Eye contact is essential for any connection, whether it’s made physically or virtually.
“If I get strong eye contact and get close proximity with you, and you’re in a safe place such as your home, your brain produces a neurochemical called dopamine. It’s the neurochemical of positive expectation and optimism,” said Bowden. To facilitate that feeling, he recommends you move the camera up to eye level, lean forward, and bring your gestures into the frame.
During the Q&A session, an audience member asked Bowden an important question — how do you maintain eye contact if you’re taking or reading off notes? His advice: open up two separate screens on your desktop, placing them side by side so your eyes remain in one general direction.
5. Let your background speak to who you are
Many of us will continue to work from home in some capacity post-pandemic — treat it as an opportunity to build bonds over similar interests, even if in a virtual sense. “The principle is let them see more: Signals, icons, elements that help them understand what you value and think are important,” stated Bowden.
Whether you’re using a virtual background or real background, tailor your environment to reflect your passions and interests, showing personal photos or favorite objects. For example, Bowden placed a photo of his children in the foreground of his video to show his audience a little about his personal life.
With these visuals, you let participants see a little more of who you are without having to verbally communicate it.
6. Establish clear, reliable audio
You don’t need professional lighting or cameras to make a meeting engaging, but you do need quality audio. With choppy sound, a meeting immediately becomes uninteresting to the audience. “People will check out immediately if the sound is bad.”
A laptop mic isn’t always adequate and reliable, so test how comfortably you can be heard, and if your sound is lacking, equip yourself with an external mic and earpiece, as well as a stable internet connection to protect the sound quality. In addition, it’s a great idea to test your microphone before you hop on a call.
To support your audio, you should also consider adding in relevant hand gestures. As Bowden illustrated, “I’m adding to the sound with what we call baton gestures — the gestures that conduct the sense of what I’m saying along to the rhythm of my speech.”
7. Be comfortable with silence
It can be hard to know when to talk in a virtual meeting, as we miss many subtle cues that exist in face-to-face interactions. That means we need to be comfortable with silence. By remaining silent, you create a safe space for others to provide comments or questions, fostering a more engaging dialogue overall.
“Don’t fear the silence. It takes time for people to compute and come back with an answer.” Bowden reminds the audience. By taking the time to let your audience respond, “You can find out what’s really going on with people across the planet in real-time — it’s a modern miracle.”
Maximize the potential of your meetings
An online meeting isn’t a limitation, it’s an opportunity. By bringing Bowden’s simple tactics to your next call, you’ll create an environment that fosters open communication and collaboration. With this engaging approach, you can maximize the potential of your meetings to ultimately get more done — building real connections, no matter where you are.
If you want to learn more about how you can build a presence on virtual meetings, take a look at Bowden’s workbook, 7 Tactics for Building Presence and Connection via Zoom.
Stay up to date on the latest thought leadership on the hybrid workforce — check out upcoming events in our Building Forward webinar series and read the recap of our interview with business leader Charlene Li.