From a technological perspective, the switch to digital meetings has been pretty seamless.  Zoom, Teams and Google Meet have become the conference rooms of 2020. So why the need for training?

We have successfully made the physical transition to working from home.  But observing meetings and conferences since lockdown in many different countries and cultures, I sense that our communication skills have made a far less effective conversion.

We have spent years developing communication skills that work best in the flesh

This isn’t a surprise.  By the time we reach working age, we have spent many thousands of hours in the company of others.  We may not consider this as training, but it provides us with well-honed social antennae.  We learn to judge the mood in a room, read body language and interpret unspoken relationships and hierarchies.  Whether we are pitching, presenting or giving  a more formal speech, we react to these instincts and adapt accordingly.

We might make a joke to lighten the mood.  Instantly we know if it has had the desired effect and how to adjust our tone.  We will sense if a specific point has hit home. Notice if members of our audience are nodding in agreement, smiling in affirmation or sending more hostile, cynical signals.

Being in a room enables us to create meaningful eye-contact and to encourage interaction through the raising of hands or spotting immediately when someone is trying to jump-in.

We may take many of these skills for granted, but they are absolutely crucial in ensuring that we are relevant to each member of the audience, and responsive to their needs.  There are some crucial differences, but these are behaviours we have developed and finessed over many years, from the playground to the pub and from family meals to football matches.

Speaking to groups on screen requires a very different skill set

And then, in the space of days, all that experience, expertise and training became semi-redundant.  We lost the use of the handshake and the ability to make eye contact.  Video conferencing allowed us to be seen and heard, but the larger the audience, the greater the leap from our previous norm.

A video meeting between two people is hard enough, but is still riddled with challenges. Where to look? How still to sit? How to light the room? What’s the best way to interrupt?  Add another dozen attendees and the problems multiply.  How can you gauge the mood in all those room?  Can you make each member of your audience feel that you are speaking to them personally?  How can you encourage feedback and questions?

We were public speakers; we are now broadcasters

There is no magic answer because, unknowingly, we have taken on a new role in our professional lives.  We have become broadcasters.  We are speaking into a camera.  Our words are met with silence.  In this environment it is harder to have the confidence to pause, harder to communicate with energy, harder to understand the impact we are making.

In this setting, the ‘speech’ becomes a ‘show’; the conference a broadcast.  I spoke on Times Radio recently and was asked about Martin Luther King’s ‘Dream’ speech.  This wasn’t scripted.  In fact, Dr King had intended to give a different speech altogether. But he sensed the moment and, encouraged by his entourage “gave them the dream”.  That wouldn’t have been possible on a Zoom call!

Training is urgently required

This is not intended as a criticism of digital communication which has enabled many of us to stay in business (and sane!) during the crisis. But it does highlight the need for people speaking to groups via a camera to receive support and training that allows them to maximise their impact.

We will all have sat on the end of group calls this year listening to speakers sounding a little listless, lacking in energy and, as importantly, empathy.  The best broadcasters are able to close the empathy gap between speaking in the flesh and through a screen.

At Great Speech Writing we are helping our clients make that transition – and to speak with greater clarity, empathy and relevance online.  The pandemic will pass, but digital conferencing is here to stay.  Training your people to become better broadcasters is an investment that will create huge returns in the weeks and months to come.

Please call Lawrence directly on 07970 046 230 to discuss how we can help you write and deliver with more impact on and off screen.

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