In case you’ve lost count, you may be one of the many of us who are in month eight of working from home. Based on the plans of companies like Microsoft, Google, Salesforce, Aetna, Mastercard and others, it looks like a lot of people are going to continue working from home well into 2021 and, in some cases, forever.
That means this is a good time to take a look at where you can up your game as an online leader and communicator. Strong communication skills have always been an important factor in leadership effectiveness. That’s still true during the work from home era that has taken root this year. It’s just that some of the skill sets are different now.
For me, a simple and tangible way to think about it is are you an energizing online leader or are you a de-energizer? It’s tangible because you and everyone else you’re online with can feel the difference between the two. Energizers leave people feeling engaged, motivated and connected. De-energizers leave folks feeling bored, depleted and disconnected.
Clearly, you want to be an energizing online leader. Here, then, are nine ways to help you be the leader that energizes others in your online meetings. I’ve organized them in three categories – Gear, Physical and Emotional – with three ideas for each category. You can use them as a kind of checklist for determining where you’re nailing it and where you have room to up your game. Here’s the list:
Lighting – You can’t energize people if they can’t see you. Get a ring light if you haven’t already so you’re well-lit from the front. Make sure you’re not backlit from windows or other light sources so much that your face is obscured. And, make sure there is enough ambient light in your home office that it doesn’t look like you’re broadcasting from a cave.
Camera angle – No one, not even Brad Pitt, looks good when shot from below. Take some time to determine how high your computer needs to be so the webcam is directly at your eye level. Get a non-favorite stack of books that you’re going to leave on your desk or invest in an adjustable stand for your laptop. I use this one.
Crisp picture and solid framing – The built-in cameras on laptops often broadcast really fuzzy images. Grainy images are distracting and de-energizing. If you haven’t already, invest in a 1080p HD webcam like the Logitech c920. Once you’ve got your high-def camera plugged in, play around with the framing so your standard shot of yourself is head and shoulders filling up your window on Zoom or whatever platform your company uses. That will make a world of difference in your ability to connect with and energize people.
Posture – Be mindful about sitting up straight in your chair or not slouching if you’re using a standing desk. Practicing good posture will increase your own energy and, in turn, make it easier to project that energy to others. From a visual cue standpoint, good posture sends the signal that you’re excited and engaged. If you’re leading in that way, others are more likely to respond in kind.
Tone of voice – The surest way to drain the energy out of a room – physical or virtual – is to speak in a flat monotone. (Bueller? Bueller?) Before you log in to the meeting, stop for a few moments to consider what you’re trying to do in the conversation and how you need to show up to make that happen. What do you want people to know, think, do, feel or believe as a result of the meeting? What kind of vocal energy do you need to bring to make that outcome likely? Guaranteed, the answer is not speaking in a monotone.
Eye contact – As humans, we tend to get uncomfortable when we’re in conversation with people who don’t look us in the eye. That’s even more the case in a virtual venue because we rely on the eye contact to make up for some of the other intangible nuances of communications that are lost when we’re virtual versus in the room. You can make sure you’re providing good eye contact by positioning the Zoom windows of the people you’re talking to towards the top of your screen just below your camera. That way you can come pretty darn close to looking at them and looking at your camera at the same time. When you look at the camera, pretend there’s a person on the other side of it and look at it as if you were looking at that person. It sounds weird, but it works.
Believe – Energizers believe in what they’re talking about. Before you get on the meeting, take a few moments to get in tune with why what you’re about to talk about matters. Then keep that bigger purpose in mind as you lead your meeting. Your commitment and belief will come through to others.
Take time to connect – A coaching friend of mine recently told me about a client who shared her devastation that her company wasn’t going back to the office anytime soon. She misses the connection and the give and take of being together that much. If you want to be the energizing online leader, be intentional about taking the time to connect on a personal level at the beginning and end of meetings. People both want it and need it.
Keep people engaged – Energy isn’t just a one-way street of you sharing your brilliance. Energizing online leaders keep the flow going in both directions by keeping everyone engaged in the conversation through open ended questions like, “What do you think about this?” or “How does this land with you?” People get energized when they’re active. Keep them active by engaging their brains.
So, how are you doing on the energizing online leader checklist? What would you add to the list? Let me know by leaving a comment if you’re reading this on LinkedIn or by sending me an email to firstname.lastname@example.org if you’re reading this directly from my blog.
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