How do digital meeting tools impact communication?
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, many of us would never have experienced a digital meeting. Those of us who were familiar with them would never have engaged in so many! Zoom was certainly the saviour of many firms during the pandemic. It will continue to enable people from across the globe to meet when they need to. But how does meeting on Zoom differ from personal meetings? Do digital communication tools change how effectively we can communicate with others?
The importance of body language
Up to 90% of the meaning of conservations is transmitted via non-verbal cues. These emphasise, regulate and even control the messages that are being communicated. Most of us can interpret body language just as well as the words being spoken to us.
Remote meetings limit our ability to do this and that can be disconcerting. It’s difficult to make eye-contact online and small gestures such as rolled eyes or raised eyebrows can be much harder to see. Just as we struggle to interpret the true meaning of what is being said to us, we can also find it harder to get our own point across. The result is often the use of more exaggerated gestures and accentuated speech.
Limiting small talk
We have previously highlighted the importance of small talk. Unfortunately, chit-chat appears to be a casualty of virtual communication. When meeting via digital tools we are less likely to engage in chatter and simply tend to stick to the subject at hand. But in many cultures, small talk matters. Zoom meetings are scheduled and can make us feel like we should get on with the agenda. Virtual meetings don’t enable us to chat only with one individual or a small group when that would be useful.
Maximising the moment
When we can’t take someone aside to discuss something and we know that we must say what we need to say at a specified time, we feel we must maximise the time available to us. This leads to us planning the points we want to get across in advance and perhaps trying to grab too much of the limelight. We end up valuing weightier conservations at the expense of bond-building video chat and we may end up feeling deflated if we miss an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution. We are driven to talk in a way that yields quantifiable results.
Losing proximity support
When we meet face-to-face, we can pick up on subtle signals that we should stop talking or change the subject. These cues are easily missed when meeting online and so digital communications can lead to awkward moments.
It’s hard to build team camaraderie when meetings don’t take place in person. Small talk flies out the window and we can’t see those crucial non-verbal cues that convey support and approval. It’s difficult for new team members to connect with their colleagues and to build bonds when meeting via zoom and a shared screen is no substitute for whiteboards and punchy presentations.
During in-person meetings, we are almost forced to give speakers our undivided attention. After all, we can’t check our social media or start browsing the web unnoticed. But during virtual meetings things are very different. We are surrounded by distractions including the TV, our pets, our family and even the delivery man knocking at the door. It’s easy to disappear unnoticed when several people are involved in the meeting and simply turning off our camera can conceal a multitude of sins.
When meeting colleagues face-to-face, there are generally few impediments to hearing what is being said. Sadly, digital meetings can be plagued with communication issues from microphones ceasing to function to the hideous noises that occur courtesy of poor connections. It can be incredibly frustrating to hear a contributor’s comments in instalments or with every other word missing entirely. This situation can lead to us speaking too quickly to ensure that we get our message across before things go wrong. We may also feel inspired to be brief when verbose explanations are required.
Adapting to virtual video meetings
It’s clear that digital meetings present the danger of poor communication. When we can’t chit chat, shake someone’s hand or see subtle body language, it’s much harder to interpret what we are experiencing. It’s also more difficult for others to dial into what we have to say. But we can and should adapt to the virtual environment. It is possible to improve the way we are perceived and to ensure that we effectively communicate with others when meeting online.
Set the stage level
If the distance between us and our camera is too small, others will only be able to see our face. The only non-verbal cues they will experience are our facial expressions. It’s best to position ourselves so that our upper body is visible, and our colleagues can see our arm movements and posture during video calls.
Mind the camera when gesturing
If we wave our arms around in front of a webcam, they may disappear from view and that can be annoying for others. When we gesture towards the screen our hands can loom large and that’s annoying too. But gestures are important so we should ensure that others can see them but that they don’t dominate the screen. For instance, if we put fingers up to indicate a number, we should position our hand close to our shoulder rather than in front of us and towards the camera.
Maintain a good posture
During a virtual meeting, we will each be speaking for only a small portion of time. For the rest of the meeting, it is only our non-verbal communication that others will experience. If we maintain a good posture, it’s a more professional look than slouching. Slumping in our chairs can make us seem smaller and so less confident or significant. Leaning slightly forward demonstrates engagement in the meeting while leaning back suggests that we are not engaged or that we disagree with what is being said.
Small details with significant impact
It’s harder to appear empathetic and to build connections when you are not meeting face-to-face. We can address this by starting a virtual meeting and every contribution we make with a smile. When speaking we should pause occasionally to allow others to absorb what we have said and to consider their response. Others may need more time in the virtual environment to weigh up the points we have made due to the lack of non-verbal cues. We should nod if we agree with what is being said and we can show we are paying attention by resting our chins lightly on our fingers.
Eye contact remains important
Eye contact is crucial when meeting in person. It signals engagement and enables us to assess the reactions of others. Sadly, it is almost impossible to replicate in the virtual environment. If we stare at the webcam for the entire meeting, we will miss the non-verbal cues provided when others are speaking. It is advisable to watch the screen when others are talking and then look directly at the camera when we are talking.
Adapting to a new world
The world is a very different place post-pandemic. When we were forced to stay at home virtual meetings became the norm and it is likely that many people will now continue to work from home. Businesses discovered the cost-effectiveness of online meetings and courses. We will all be using digital meeting tools more often and must be mindful of how they can impact communication. We may never be able to communicate with others quite as effectively online as we do in person. However, we can make a few changes that will help us to build relationships and to communicate more effectively.