How to master your power, influence and presence in the virtual environment

How to master your power, influence and presence in the virtual environment

In my last blog on this topic of power and influence in the board room we focussed on confidence, articulation and relationships (link ) and this blog dovetails into those areas but looks more specifically, at power, influence and presence in the virtual boardroom.

The rules for power, influence and presence, within a ‘normal’ environment still apply, however in the new ‘normal’, (virtual) environment, these rules may need to be adapted or sometimes exaggerated because the medium is now very different.

Rule 1 – Smile even if you don’t feel like it

Communication across any of the plethora of virtual platforms now available, means that every individual of working age, needs to establish or re-establish a symbiotic relationship with their respective machine(s). Yes, I gest (ever so slightly) but we should be mindful that the people you are communicating with, are receiving your messages though a digital platform, with inconsistent modes of connectivity, different screen sizes and others with dubious pixel quality.

It is therefore important for you to use your full range of facial and where necessary, physical expression, to remind them that the virtual world sits within the physical world we know and love.

At a fundamentally basic level, we simply need to smile as often as possible when on camera during virtual meetings. You could stick a smiley face just above the camera if you need to remind yourself that you’re in the virtual world, because people will always focus on your face.

So, my first tip is to be mindful that you are online and even the smallest of interactions create a lasting impression for your audience.

Rule 2 – Please, no beaches or family pics!

In any business environment, you want to make sure you are always taken seriously. Personally, I’m not a fan of beach backgrounds, bridges, towers or the other range of templates available as they can be somewhat distracting. A well-designed bespoke or corporate background can add that very simple, but effective professional impression that you want to present.

Remember, if you’re going to display your home, even a screen size view of it, keep it tidy and ensure that you’ve chosen the right space that provides the best lighting. How you present yourself is important and even in lockdown you can still be well groomed despite not being able to visit the barbers or hairdresser prior to going live.

Unfortunately, the old adage rings true, “you never get a second chance to make a first impression”. For me, I say “I can never un-see what I just saw”! Any faux pas you make, will be remembered by the online community long after that online event has ended. That said a faux pas can be fondly remembered and forgiven, or not, depending on how you deal with it at the time.

Your primary objective is to ensure that your audience is left with a positive and lasting impression of you based on the value you bring in terms of information or service – that is what you’ll be remembered for.

Ensure your device, whether a desktop, laptop, tablet or phone, is set at the right height so that you are able to look straight ahead into the camera lens. Commonly, people will just put the device on the desk or table resulting in the audience getting full view of your forehead and ceiling at best, or your nostrils at worst!

Sit comfortably at a sensible distance to the screen so that you can be seen clearly without the need to lean in, and in trying to understand what others see, why not do a test view with the device’s camera before logging on to the meeting. If possible, record a screen test and when you play it back, take a close look at yourself, the lighting and your all-important background.

My second tip then is to pay attention to how you are seen.

Rule 3 – Your words have meaning

You are speaking to a camera but in order to influence and have impact, you have to imagine your audience whilst speaking to that camera.
A significant part of my vocation is speaking to people; at training events, conferences, in consultancy and coaching sessions, and I usually thrive off and engage with the energy from my audience.

My first virtual presentation (forced on me due to lockdown) went ok…. sort of….but, I just couldn’t hone in on the energy that naturally comes from a live audience. Just four or so weeks later, I’ve now delivered numerous virtual sessions (training webinars, presentations and meetings) nationally and internationally – I didn’t sink, I swam.

During this experience, which 6 months ago would’ve had me running for the hills, I’ve found that I can focus on one or two people in the gallery view (Zoom and Teams), or if not, I’ve learned to look through the camera and feel the audience.

My advice, practice speaking to someone in the audience and using the camera lens as the vehicle to communicate your key messages to them. You’re the expert, so remember they logged in to hear what you have to say, so speak with confidence.

If your online platform allows you to change the location of your participants thumbnails, I suggest you do so. The best position is just below your camera. In the early days of my virtual journey (just 2 months ago!!) I was unaware of this all-important feature. I used my physical world knowledge of looking straight at the person I’m talking to, rather than the virtual world know-how of keeping my eye on the camera. For the whole of my first meeting it appeared as if I was disinterested in everyone because I was looking away. Remember, others can’t see what you see, they can only see what they see and that’s you.

My third tip therefore is, exude confidence by bringing excitement and passion to your delivery.

Rule 4 – Speak and be heard

Sometimes it’s difficult to hear each other when online and the connection variations don’t always help. To compensate you may need to use headphones, earbuds or external microphones, but articulation is key.

In the early days of my professional journey, I proactively took courses to improve my articulation in public speaking which focused on speaking drills coupled with the breathing exercises. The courses, at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art (LAMDA) alongside my membership with the Professional Speakers Association (PSA), were invaluable.

“Peter Piper picked a ….”

“How now brown cow”

The consistent message was to speak more slowly and pay attention to diction, it will help to get your point across much more eloquently.

We must recognise and accept that it will be even more difficult to conduct long speeches and hog the floor in a virtual world because the audience’s attention span has significantly decreased, and that button to disconnect is just a click away!

The solution? Ensure that you are concise with your delivery. You must be self-aware (not to be confused with being self-centred) and like I said under Rule 2, record yourself to see how you come across on camera. Shyness or nervousness can be very ambiguous and mistakenly be translated as being aloof or rude. In a virtual world be even more succinct and to the point.

Tip four then is; speak clearly, succinctly and articulately

Rule 5 – It’s time to be the Jack of all trades AND the Master of One

Influence in any environment will always have a correlation with confidence and respect. In order to be confident and earn respect you must know what you are talking about and practice it enough so that you deliver your content naturally, rather than rehearsed or scripted.

Be authentically you so that your personality comes through. Talk about what you know and have experienced – this always aids confidence.

In a virtual environment practice is so significantly important. I remember reading once that Anthony Robbins wanted to become a great professional speaker, so he committed to deliver, across a 12-month period, as many ‘gigs’ as possible to hone his craft. In fact, he delivered more speeches during that period than most ‘professional’ speakers would undertake in their entire career.

I should give a disclaimer here, as it has been almost two decades since I read that article about Tony Robbins, and I’m sure the growth of the professional speaking sector has smashed his yearlong marathon – either way, I’m sure you get the point. We must become familiar and increasingly comfortable with using technology as a tool and in so doing, deliver as many virtual talks as possible. I remember my first international zoom webinar where I was the keynote speaker. I came off that ‘meeting’ completely demotivated with negative self-talk like “there was no energy” and “this virtual stuff is not for me”.

However, during a short period of time, and with my persistence in moving forward, things changed for the better. Over the last few weeks I’ve accepted as many virtual speaking engagements as I could fit in, and if there was a space left in my diary, I proactively crammed in a number of events myself.

I’m no expert (yet) and I can’t honestly say I’ve cracked it in six weeks; however, I definitely feel the energy though the screen and camera now, and I also project it. A couple of great testimonies I’ve received include; “after your talk I got up and clapped in my office”, you nailed that presentation” “You were on fire”. The key thing is to learn as much as you can about all that you can in the virtual space ie:

• Lighting (natural or artificial)
• Best device (desktop or tablet)
• Location for connectivity (kitchen, lounge or bedroom)
• Platforms (Zoom, Teams, Webinar Jam)
• Microphone (in-built or external)

The list goes on but more importantly, you should aim to master the one element that determines your successful delivery – YOU!

It’s no surprise that Tip Five is, confidence comes from practice and authenticity.

Rule 6 – Know your audience

So, my last point in developing that presence and influence is to keep the audience, on their toes. You should aim to be one step ahead and you will not achieve this if you are not confident with the technology, so spend time ensuring that you are.

When you speak have your ‘grabber’ speech ready. In summary, you should say something to grab attention in the first sixty seconds ie a relevant fact or statistic or a strong quote instead when doing a presentation. Anything that will grab and then retain attention for you to unfold your theme for the rest of the session.

Also why not create opportunities for the audience to engage by sharing your screen if possible, encouraging chat or doing a poll? The ease at which you navigate and become ‘at one’ with the technology will be key.

Therefore, master the technology is my final Tip to you.

Good luck.

Karl George