3 Ways to Make Digital Meetings Work for You (Find Your Shoes, Flow and Pause)

Stewart Bewley

Last week my client had to pitch for investment via Skype. Gone was his chance for the face to face events, to get a feel in the room and to connect in the same space. But he still had to pitch. I have been coaching people digitally for the past couple of years, but always with the safety net of knowing at some point I would see them and we could get more done face to face.

Google, Microsoft, SAP — they are all closing their doors and asking people to work from home and the “we can get more done face to face” is no longer an option. Whether you are pitching for investment or influence, it is all about his pitch online.

Here are three practises we can all work on in the next few months that will be immensely valuable to our audiences.

1) When you meet in any digital space you must own it as a room you have to to turn up to, not an extension of your bedroom that you slob around in.

When my clients go to pitch I always ask them “Where is the pitch”? Is it a large/small office? is it stand-up pitch or sit down meeting” If we can visualise then we can then turn up to that room prepared. A prepared brain is a happy brain. An unprepared brain goes into fight/flight mode. It says to itself “I don’t know what is going on here”, gets defensive and shuts down. If all we do is turn on our computers, hide the camera and stay in our pyjamas we are not prepared. We would never turn unto a meeting like that. If you have a meeting jacket, put it on. If you have a favourite pair of shoes put them on. No one will ever see my brown shoes, but I will wear them for every Zoom/Teams I do over the next few months! If you are ready mentally for the meeting, your brain will work with you, not against you and you will get into your flow, your presence, a lot easier.

2) Recognise we all have a “flow” and try and achieve it.

Up until Covid19, most people expected a digital meeting to be boring, a necessary evil where the decisions don’t really get made. No one would say that but most people behave like it. In the follow up, at some point, the important conversation would actually happen and the decision would get made. Now everything is different, time is even more pressured and what goes on in the meeting really needs to land in the meeting, not in the three phone calls and two face-to-face grabbed conversations afterwards. So finding our “Flow” in those meetings really matters.

What is “Flow”? I define it as being and feeling fully present, being able to listen to what is being said behind the words and being ready to speak into that. How do you do that when emails come flying in and self-isolating children/parents are chatting away next door? Steve Covey in “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” has given us everything we need to know. Habit 5 is “Seek first to understand, not to be understood”. Everyone should read it (here is a PDF someone put on the internet. I recommend buying the book of course) but here are my highlights:

Steve Covey says that most people listen to interrupt and share their own point. They have decided what they are going to say and are waiting for the person to finish their sentence. This is shocking listening. We all do it. It is still shocking. The truth about other people is that they lie! They don’t mean to, but they do — no one every really says everything they want to say in their first few sentences, even in their entire presentation. They are trying to work out the truth but it is hard to do it on your own. They need to be drawn out and given psychological air. Just as we all need to survive physically we also need to survive Psychologically. How do we do that to others? By giving speakers air. By not only not interrupting but by playing back with empathy what we have just heard. What does that mean? That means if the person (whether you agree with them or not) is, for example, sounding super stressed about a decision that was made behind their back last week, you play back “John I am hearing that the decision on Friday, made without you, frustrated you and you felt left out of the conversation”. John is then able to say “Yes, because….” and then you hear his real gripe. We always need to hear the real gripe, the real problem, the real challenge, otherwise we are just posturing, not getting to the heart of the matter, putting make up on a bruised face rather than giving the skin a chance to heal and grow.

On Teams/Zoom (Zoom is my digital office of choice) listening and playback is really crucial. You can’t really see people’s reactions, people may mute their computer due to barking dogs/loud coffee machines, and often you feel you are speaking into a black hole. What if you were to take on the role of black hole eliminator, what if you were to show the person you have really listened? This is will increase collaboration massively and deal with the very real concern of isolation.

3) Pausing and re-starting are muscles we must start to use.

During our online coaching session my client forgot his words halfway through the pitch and paused. I didn’t even realise I wasn’t looking at his face, but the pause was very powerful and it drew me back in to focus on him. Not for one moment was I thinking “Oh no, he has lost it”. Infact, it re-awoke me and reminded me how easy it is to lose focus. Our attention spans are now at 8 seconds (a goldfish used to be 9) — the goldfish is winning. So we will lose attention regularly in digital. Whether you pause deliberately or forget your thread, in digital meetings this is a powerful tool for you to re-engage people. Use the pause to bring your listeners back, force yourself to start again if you think you are sinking into a blackhole of jargon. How do you get rid of the blackhole of jargon? By using interesting facts and telling stories. Delivering facts that matter are a great start to a presentation and a story is 22 times more memorable than a fact. So don’t start with abstract three letter acronyms. Start with insightful facts, or a story, or wrap facts into a story, but whatever you do make sure you grab us for those 8 seconds.

A presentation is made of lots of 8 seconds and every time the clock gets to 8 it is like having to start again. This requires work, discipline and a focus we have never had to have before. But if we get this, it will transform our meetings and make us invaluable. And let’s face it, we would all love to be invaluable instead of forgettable!

I am delivering a Zoom on “Pitch like a pro in digital meetings” this Thursday, 19th March, from 15:30–16:30. There are a hundred places and it will last for 45 minutes. I will present for 30 minutes and then there will be 15 minutes of questions. So download the Zoom app if you don’t have it, click here to sign up, https://lnkd.in/eN7w3tm Meeting ID: 595 705 4039, turn up early, get your spot in the room, put on your shoes, come with questions and let’s learn how to thrive in, not just survive Covid19!