Speaking Tips For Virtual Meetings

FIRTWhen you’re asked to make a big pitch via conference call or a web meeting, it can be hard to tell if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. On the one hand, you may be relieved that you can now be productive during what would otherwise have been travel time. On the other hand, how in the world can you be dynamic and persuasive in a web meeting?

An article by Stanford Graduate School of Business lecturer Matt Abrahams, in the school’s Insights newsletter, gives some clues. Abrahams talks to the founders of Cogito, a company that makes software to help people perform better in virtual settings. Their advice led me to believe that in some important ways, you should be thinking of web conferences as a variation on public speaking, not as a tech-enabled version of an intimate, in-person meeting.

If you’re making a pitch virtually, for instance, you’re probably rightly focused on the content of that pitch. You’re probably not thinking too much about the delivery. In person, this might not be a huge problem. Your natural warmth, combined with some before-meeting small talk, can overcome an unexciting speaking style. And in person, it doesn’t take too much to elicit a little back-and-forth from the other meeting participants.

Online, it’s a different ball game. You need to think about delivery, just the way you would if you were speaking onstage in front of an audience. Because as convenient as virtual meetings can be, they also come with big handicaps. Someone who’s interesting in person can seem to be droning on online. Worse, if you make a joke or a comment to brighten the mood a bit, it is guaranteed to flop online. That’s because even if everyone is chuckling, it’ll seem like dead silence–everyone’s on mute.

So how do you overcome this?

Slow down

One of the keys to seeming authoritative, either onstage or virtually, is to speak at a reasonable, even somewhat measured pace, and to choose your words carefully. You don’t control a meeting by cutting people off or hogging the floor. Instead, you want to give the impression that you’re in charge, and there’s plenty of time to get through the agenda or pitch; everyone needs to just calm down, focus, and settle in. To do this, you need to slow down.

To understand what a difference the speed of your speech can make, listen for a few minutes to almost any riled-up cable-news commentator. Most of them speak so quickly it’s amazing they don’t trip over their words. And a good half of them, regardless of what they’re actually saying, sound like lunatics. In television, this is referred to as “energy,” and it’s seen as a good thing. This is not what you want.

Then listen to NPR or PBS for a few minutes. In general, things are going to slow down quite a bit. This leads to the popular joke about public radio and television, “If your audience is so smart, why are you speaking so slowly?” Because that slower pace lends an air of gravitas.

It can also bore you to tears, which brings us to our next point…

If you’re excited, show it

This is hard. If it’s the 75th time you’ve done a particular pitch, it’s hard to sound excited about it. You might also sound bored because you’re so concerned with getting the content right that you forget about delivery. Abrahams points out this is one reason that Wall Street earnings calls are so consistently dull, even when some of them, by rights, should be pretty exciting.

Read more at?INC.