Digitally Speaking: Virtual Meetings Require Strong Public Speaking Skills

One thing that the new normal has laid bare is how bad some people are at public speaking. Yes, it was always obvious in a business meeting when a participant (or leader) was lacking in the communications department, but there were distractions (note-taking, reading on the phone, getting coffee). Now, with eyes trained on the screen, there is no escaping a painful reality: people should better prepare for meetings by practicing public speaking.

Have you ever given a speech to the mirror? Perhaps you should start. People trained in public speaking often train themselves by practicing in the mirror. It’s not just the words of the speech, but how those words are enunciated and punctuated with facial expression.

When giving a speech in person, an experienced communicator will seek to take command of the space with proper posture and walking in the stage space. They might firmly plant their feet and use their diaphragm like a singer to modulate their voice. By contrast, a zoom speaker might slouch over the computer while looking down at a spreadsheet and, wait for it, drone on.

Stunningly, a software company promoting its meetings platform is running a TV ad that can politely be termed as from Hell. The spot is meant to be inspirational, I suppose, depicting teams in live-action problem solving, but golly, it’s as wonderful as listening to nails on a chalkboard. Why? Because it depicts poor communications. The speakers halt, hem and haw to get their sentences flowing. The viewer is groaning. Feel familiar? Don’t be that speaker.

Here’s How to Improve Your Computer Speaking Skills

  1. Look at the camera while you are speaking as if you are looking into the eyes of your audience. This requires extemporaneous speech (more on this in a moment).
  2. Sit up straight and breathe out your words so they actually flow and you feel/appear poised and gracious. This will calm your audience so they can focus on what you’re actually saying. Hemming and hawing creates restlessness in the audience because they get annoyed wondering what you are trying to say.
  3. Prepare. Even if you are not giving a formal presentation, write out your main points and then bring your notes to a mirror. Standing or sitting up straight, breathe in and make your points so you are confidently speaking to the mirror without looking down at your notes.
  4. Smile. In the olden days, salespeople were told to smile as they worked the phones so that the person on the other end of the line would hear confidence and warmth in the voice of the caller. These is even more important on a computer screen. Smile. It goes a long way to engage your audience and to give you confidence as well.
  5. Listen. Just like pre-covid public speaking in a space with other people present, be sure to listen to points being made by other people and favorably respond to new ideas. It’s OK to say, “that’s interesting. I had not thought of that,” or, “that’s new. Tell me more.” Anything you would do or say to shut down someone in an in-person meeting that could be uncomfortable for other participants will be even more obvious within the confines of a group video chat. Be a leader by engaging as a welcoming, kind presence. We could all use a little more kindness these days.

Also, be mindful of time. Just because many meeting participants are stuck working from home does not mean time has become less valuable. On the contrary, time might be more of the essence as some decision-making has accelerated to meet the quickly evolving circumstances to function as a business amid a pandemic. Respect people’s time and they will respect you. In a trying economy, the economy of words is as important as ever.

If you are interested in a public speaking training session, contact me at katharine@adroitnarratives.com.