There is a scene in the show Downton Abbey where the Butler, Mr. Carson is given his very first phone. He sits there practicing over and over how he should answer it if that modern contraption ever rang. He uses various phrases and tonality. It is a really cute scene because we take our modern conveniences as a given. But it did get me thinking about how technology has influenced our meetings.
If you are like me, you probably are finding many meetings are being conducted through teleconferencing or online video. Face to face seems to be getting less common, mostly to save money and to save time.
And like our Mr. Carson practiced with the new fangled phone, we need to be aware of some basic actions that can make an online meeting more productive. Here’s a short list of actions you can take to make your meetings more productive:
Introductions are more important online
Everyone should state their name (location) at the start of the meeting. This helps folks identify the speaker’s voice. One trick I use is to draw a rectangle and then write down the names as each person goes around the call. It helps me visualize who’s “in the room”
Be physically aware of your presence
Your physical presence affects your online persona. Did you know that some sales people place a mirror in front of their phone so when they are speaking they remember to smile. It really affects the tone/tenor of your voice. As goes your posture, so goes your voice. Be cognizant of your posture during the call.
Beware of insider language
If you are meeting with external customers or suppliers – remember, some of the terms you use inside your company may not mean anything outside of your company. Your words matter even more if you aren’t able to see the other person’s body language which leads me to the non verbal cues of your conversation.
Body language still speaks in volumes
Only about a billion articles have been written on this subject. If you are on a teleconference call you do not see the other person’s body language. Be careful about using humor because it may fall flat. In an online meeting – you can see the other person in a video conference so it would be to your advantage to take a moment and position the camera so it is not looking up your nose or that you are centered and not sitting half out of frame. Also remember to see what’s behind you – if you have a clear glass pane and people are walking back/forth during your call it could become a distraction.
If you are using a video call, you have to know what the camera sees. What is in your background? What clothes are you wearing? You have to think like a television producer. Be cognizant of that your clothes don’t make you appear like a floating spectral because they blend into the background. Conversely, red, stripes and other patterns may interfere with your messaging. Remember, “frame rate” affects the transmission between your camera and theirs. In between you have firewalls, proxy servers, and a whole host of other things that can slow down your video feed.
Muting your speakerphone is a courtesy to others
If you are not talking, go on mute. No matter how quiet you think you are moving papers, different speakers amplify noise at different levels. And for heaven’s sake – if that’s the only time you can eat during your day, please mute. We don’t want to hear you chewing your chips.
If you are calling around the globe – you may have a slight delay in transmission. You’ll know early in the meeting if you have a transmission delay so be on the look out for those awkward pauses.
Be here now
It’s tempting to text, read emails or have side conversations while on a teleconference but it could cause you to miss a key point. Stay in the game. Stay engaged in the call.
Alert others if you need to step out
Let the people on the call know when you are going on or off mute. Or if you have to step out of the room. In a video conference your absence is much easier to notice.
Like Mr. Carson, we all have much to learn as we embrace these new “meeting tools” into our business processes. I think they will make us better in the long run if we choose to follow some simple actions to make them so.
Most people hate meetings. Yet, oddly enough, I happen to like them.
Now before you think I’ve lost my marbles, let me explain…
I define meetings in a very broad sense: a gathering of two or more people to communicate. Meetings can move mountains through honest communication. Meetings can eliminate waste and confusion by getting everyone on the same page. Meetings can bring to light risks the team can now work on to minimize.
Meetings are simply the gas that moves along progress.
So why do people hate meetings?
Maybe it’s because there are lots of bad meetings, such as meetings that provide more confusion than answers, meetings that make no difference to the team’s success or failure, or meetings that discuss all the wrong things. Ugh. No wonder meetings get a bad rap.
There are three kinds of meetings necessary for a healthy organization:
- Working meetings: Team comes together to solve something
- Pass down meetings: Sharing of information (All Hands meetings)
- Report out meetings: Status updates, Metric reviews (usually includes recovery or continuous improvement plans)
Either you’re the Creator or the Attendee and in either role, only you can prevent BAD meetings.
- Identify the meeting’s purpose and provide an agenda. No exceptions.
- How many times do you get called into a meeting and have no idea why. If you expect someone else to provide information – tell them ahead of time so they can bring it and be prepared.
- You are responsible to ensure the meeting’s productivity. Constantly assess if it is accomplishing your needs. People’s time is a company resource -it’s the same as spending money on supplies and tools. Are you being a good steward?
- If a meeting needs a different format, change it.
- If you find no one is coming it’s either seen as not productive or your time slot stinks. Change it!
- If the meeting is no longer needed, stop having it. Heresy? No, more like reality.
- If you are a member of a standing report out meeting – own your information. The team is counting on you to share what is important for success. Come prepared to share the specifics of what is needed to improve your metric. Be prepared to elevate the “important”.
- Don’t throw issues out without having first done your homework. If you see a problem, pull the right people together and solve it (Yep, you should have a working meeting before you throw out the issue).
- Know your meeting types! If you are reporting out, you better have had working meetings to support your report out plans.
- If you are there to “just” listen – then take copious notes, communicate back, and think how you could pro-actively help the team.
Minutes are time consuming but necessary. Too long after the fact and they become worthless like day old fish. In a time-sensitive (or as a friend says “fluid”) environment, too long could be 12 hours. Have you ever tried:
- An action item list. It’s a great way to track commitments, people and timelines.
- A shared file. It could be as simple as an excel file and it can go a long way to keeping everyone on the same page.
- A simple white board. Put it in a common area. Everyone can see it.
If we remember that the purpose of any meeting is communicating and we each do our part to communicate better – “meetings” may actually be liked. Now, who’s got the cookies to the next meeting?
Over the past few weeks we have mentioned the importance of visuals as we have explored different perspectives of preparing for a presentation. This week I want to focus solely on the visual element of your presentation.
Historically, presentations were solely and completely oratory – there were no visuals. Oh I suppose you could argue that Grog the caveman may have used a cave wall, a fire-blackened stick as his pointer and the camp fire as his projector but what were his handouts? Sometimes I feel like I’ve been around meetings as long as poor Grog. Once upon a time, projector slides were used. It was a tedious process that required extreme advanced planning and a whole AV support department if the carousel got out of order or hung up.
Then “PowerPoint” came along…. It was a game-changer. PowerPoint leveled the field and gave anyone the ability to either use great visuals or bad visuals. Throwing images on a slide does not constitute a presentation. You have to think through what image supports which thought. Here are ten basic rules….
- Slides with only words should have no more than 7 bullets per slide with no more than 7 words per bullet.
- Text size on slide is proportional to size of the delivery screen. Don’t use a 12 point font size EVER. Choosing a font size to make “all the words fit” breaks rule #1. Test your presentation. Visit the room. See where your presentation will be. Is the room dark? Will there be a light source in the room?
- While you have lots of options with font types, colors, bolds, italics, shadows…these should be used for emphasizing a point. Wrongly placed, such creativity distracts from your message.
- Charts and graphs’ axis must be clearly labeled. There must be a legend. No exception.
- Clip art can help drive home a point visually – or it can be distracting and irrelevant. Every slide doesn’t need clip art. Use it wisely.
- Slide order matters. Slides should augment your message outline and guide to the conclusion. If, when you practice, you find the flow seems disjointed try rearranging a slide or two.
- Number your slides. It helps the audience track for both note-taking and asking questions.
- Give credit where credit is due. Follow copyright rules.
- Your slides should be similar – Title size, Paragraph size, Font type, Background color, Font color, Logo usage, Use your company’s presentation theme if you have one. Consistency will allow your audience to focus more on your message.
- Use consistent slide transitions. It will help create a flow/continuity to your presentation and overall message.
Remember, think through what you are going to use visually. If the visual will raise a 1,000 questions, it may be telling you not to use it.
You’ve spent a lot of time and energy to craft your message. All the while, knowing you get one shot at communicating (kind of like this blog, perhaps?) – with little feedback. Your data is organized. Your flow, impeccable. But there’s one more element of the presentation you need to ensure. And it’s a big one. It’s the interpretation of your message. What will your audience leave with? What will they remember?
If you have watched the recent presidential debates I think the best part is what happens afterwards. The candidates or their “spin doctors” crowd into the press room each trying to “interpret” what you just heard. What they “really” meant. Why politicians can’t just use plain english like the rest of us is for another post. Perhaps they just didn’t remember to use “The Rule of Threes”.
Maybe they didn’t:
- Use three different ways to communicate the message such as a story, an example, or a memorable sentence.
- Use three different facts, data, or information to support their conclusions.
- Repeat the message three times throughout the presentation. Repetition helps people retain the message that needs to be remembered.
Take a moment to look at your presentation. Where can you incorporate the Rule of Threes in your presentation?
Presentations always have a time limit. Always. Isn’t it fascinating most people believe they have to use every second? Why?
A presentation is not about filling a time slot but rather it’s about getting your message across and having it remembered. It’s how you use the minutes and not about using all the minutes. Quantity or quality? You get to decide.
Here’s “10” thought starters you can use the next time it’s your turn to plan the meeting’s message.
Think about how you will:
1. Gain your audience’s attention.
Snoopy always started his stories with, “It was a dark and stormy night…” What’s your opening? Your opening draws the audience into your idea. Stories are a good way to focus a group on a concept. A strong visual may work too.
2. Keep their attention through the “boring bits.”
“When the eyes glaze, it’s time to raise…” your game. Voice inflection, planned movement (hand gestures, walking across the stage) and well done visuals are ways to keep regenerating your audience’s attention.
3. Own the conclusion.
After all the preparation, your conclusions must be the strongest part of your presentation. Is your conclusion a “?” “!” “.” Your ending has to be as strong as the opening.
4. Prepare for the questions.
I’ve yet to see a presenter who did such a terrific job that there were no questions. Having back-up slides to address questions that may be asked keeps an audience from getting off track from your message. While you cannot be prepared for every question, you can be prepared for the most likely.
5, (and 6, and 7, and 8, and 9, and 10.) Practice your pitch.
Be sure you are able to deliver your message in less time than allotted. Meetings can get cut short. Life happens. Are you prepared for this? If you are organized in thought and prepared in your delivery you will be showing respect to your audience.
Tree Solo by jay holobach
Have you ever had a conversation where something you said caused the “I have no idea what you are talking about” look? In a one-on-one conversation immediate feedback allows you adjust on the fly. Unfortunately, as a presenter, the audience-to-presenter feedback loop is a lot less immediate.
How do you avoid assuming everyone knows what you’re presenting? True, some of the audience may know some of the story but not all of it. You’re the presenter. You own the story line. You know its plot. Your job is to package the message in a way for the audience to comprehend the plot the same as you do.
Here are some “plot” guidelines for you to think through before your next presentation…
1. You are the Tour Guide (a.k.a. The Storyteller)
Have you ever been on a tour where the guide told a story so well you felt as if you were there when it happened? That’s someone who’s taken a bunch of facts and woven them together into a cohesive message. A story. A message that resonates.
Think of your presentation in a similar light. Remember last week’s blog? We said to identify the “big idea” and up to three main points to support it. Once you have that, your next move is to figure out how you want the audience to connect the dots. Do you want to lead with the main idea and then build support – or – start by building with the supports and finish with the main idea? Whichever way you decide, don’t leave it up to the audience to connect the dots – they may end up with a different “big idea”.
2. Do not assume polite listening is comprehension.
You cannot assume your audience will understand what to do with the “big idea”. If part of your message is to sell an “action”, you must be very clear on what that “action” is and its importance to the audience. Do not assume everyone will arrive at the same “go do”.
3. Leverage visuals to clarify your message.
Every slide, every picture created must be done with the audience in mind. Remember, they are seeing it for the first time. You’ve lived with it for a week. They are trying to digest the image and listen to you talk. The average person comprehends nearly 200 words per minute. Throw in a visual (or two?) and you’ve created cognitive overload. (LESS IS MORE when creating slides/visuals.)
How many presentations have you seen where the visuals weren’t clearly marked, acronyms flew around the screen, and the message was lost? Going the extra mile to ensure your visuals are self-explanatory will help deliver your message. Let me repeat myself: Less is more.
4. The audience doesn’t need every detail to get your “big idea”
My husband’s art teacher once told him to paint a tree doesn’t mean painting every leaf and branch in painstaking detail. A simple shape and color shift will tell the tree’s story. Similarly, when creating your presentation, filter out the less important “stuff” and organize the path of critical thinking. The old adage “keep it simple” is applicable here. Your job is to simply express the thought journey that arrives at your message. No more, no less.