Engaging as a BOLD leader can make the difference between creating memorable impact or appearing invisible, or what many describe as feeling like “Zoomans.” BOLD research from our latest group shows both men and women reporting their executive presence and communication could be stronger and bolder.
One client, Nicole, recently described feeling like she couldn’t get a word in edgewise in a meeting with a group of all men and only one other woman. “They were all talking so quickly and sharing their opinions, it was hard to find a way to jump in,” she told me. She left the meeting feeling unheard, unseen and angry.
Let’s start by remembering the two foundations of expression:
- Verbal (words, arguments, solutions, and content): This is what most people focus on and tend to worry about expressing (especially when they are considering stepping out of their comfort zone). Our actual words shockingly count for only 7% of our communication. Remember, what you say counts far less than how you say it.
- Non-verbal (vocal tone, facial expressions, head movements, hand gestures, body posture, physical distance, and even fidgeting): These count for a whopping 93% of our communication. Smiling, sitting up straight, eye contact, nail biting – all of these things speak volumes. I have a client who bites his nails and says it’s just a habit even though he only seems to do it when he gets nervous or upset. This has caused team members to have the perception that when the boss starts biting his nails, it’s time to shift the conversation.
These forms of communication are in play in both virtual and in-person interactions. Yet virtually, they are accentuated because of the intensity and the closeness of the video interaction.
The ABCs of Finding (and Using) Your Voice
So, how did Nicole find and assert her voice? She followed these three key steps:
- BE AWARE: Nicole started by asking herself how she was really feeling. She knew she felt angry, but she didn’t realize how invisible and unvalued she actually felt. She chose to manage her mindset and depersonalize by realizing that her peers weren’t doing something to her, they were simply talking too much and not listening. She was then able to move through the emotion and identify her solution.
- BELIEVE: Nicole’s solution started with remembering that she had valuable input to express. Her Itty Bitty Sh***y Committee was active at first, filling her head with chatter – Are you sure you have the right answer? Don’t say something that might make you look stupid! Why can’t they stop showing how much they know and make room for others to talk? Initially, she was spending more energy listening to the vicious voices in her head and remaining quiet. She began to remind herself that you have a valuable perspective – find a way to make yourself heard!
- CHOOSE: Once Nicole set the intention to engage regardless of the challenging dynamics, she started to get creative and choose solutions to help ease her out of her comfort zone. She started speaking even when there wasn’t a clear break. She literally raised her hand in the Zoom participant panel and she spoke up in chats. When she did speak, she acknowledged others by mentioning them by name, paraphrasing key points and building on them, asking important questions, and providing observations and recommendations.
High performance teams continually assess the quality of their meeting effectiveness by answering the question to what extent are our meetings a poor or valuable use of time? This opens up their ability to improve communication, inclusiveness and ultimately, performance. High performing leaders who are inclusive ALLIES also pay attention to meeting dynamics and ensure there is enough time/space available for everyone to engage.
Tips to Improve Your Video Presence
Below is a checklist for yourself and your peers:
- Be on video as much as possible. While it’s not easy or possible for everyone all the time, if there are critical meetings, video is always better. It literally keeps you in front of others and helps you stay present. Be in the middle of the screen, with your head taking up at least a third of your screen. Look at the camera when you are speaking, and arrange the participant panels at the top of your screen as much as possible so that you are always looking up.
- Focus on the environment. Have a clean background as well as good sound, lighting and camera quality, if possible. Notice how you are situated in your screen – it’s best to be in the middle, and not too close or too far from the camera. Move farther back if you talk with your hands.
- Always remember you are on camera. I have seen everything from leaning, slouching, nail biting, “Zoom stares” (looking bored and uninterested, and resting your face on your hands) and visible distraction where it’s obvious people are getting notifications or multi-tasking. Turn off notifications, and in important meetings like offsites, close everything but the video platform.
Two tips to increase your energy:
- Move around on breaks by stepping away from your screen and ideally, doing something completely different (go outside, get coffee, wash dishes, do anything that gives your brain a break). Or at minimum, move to another room to check emails on your phone.
- My favorite energy enhancer is to hide your self view! This will make you much less self-conscious and more present to focus on others.
- How is my presence and participation perceived today? (Feel free to ask a peer for objective input.)
- What is the biggest area on which I want to focus to increase my executive presence?
- What is the extent to which everyone is engaging in your meetings, and what is one thing you can do to increase it by 10%?
Please feel free to reach out to me and my team if you’d like to connect about how to apply these ideas, to help members on your team navigate these conversations, or to discuss the biggest current challenges you are facing today.
Wishing you good mental, physical, emotional and social health.
Remember to find resources to inspire you here.
Yours in practice,