5 Virtual Meetings Best Practices for Zoom and Other Social Platforms

Amid a global pandemic, we are striving to get results without being able to meet face-to-face.  We need to lead our teams, but we need to do it screen-to-screen.  There are several platforms available, all which do a great job at enabling the screen-to-screen experience.  Granted, but why is it so much more difficult than running a face-to-face meeting? 

At the best of times, most of us are anxious speakers. 

Our shyness, nerves and anxiety revolve around what to say and how to say it.  Those feelings do not just go away when we meet with others virtually.  Our discomfort grows when we add to that the ‘newness’ of these virtual platforms, the limitations of internet bandwidth and the discomfort with always being on screen. 

A few months ago, we were used to letting our mind wander while watching TV.  Now, it’s watching us!  A further complication is interpreting facial expressions when participating in a screen-to-screen meeting. 

Micro-facial expressions are essential to our understanding of one another.

On screen, facial expressions all but disappear, are distorted or frozen for a moment due to internet connectivity.  Eye contact, so critical in face-to-face communication is difficult to achieve on screen.  It is hard to know where to look. 

As a default, we tend to look at ourselves (yikes).   

Some of us are exhausted with screen-to-screen meetings.  It seems that all our social interaction is on screen.  Our job, family, club, church, and even our doctor all occurs at home, on screen. 

What has not changed for leaders, is the need to plan, manage and facilitate our team meetings. 

Importantly, we need to engage our meeting participants.  That said, many of us were not always successful engaging our teams when we met face-to-face.  Screen-to-screen meetings just exacerbates the problem.  

Here are 5 important virtual meetings best practices for zoom and other social platforms:

Clothing

Dressing appropriately, contributes to your presence, where dressing inappropriately takes away from it. 

The rule is to dress for your audience.  If your office dress code is business casual, then dress that way for your virtual meetings.  

Here are some additional guidelines to keep in mind when on camera:

  • Avoid bright coloured clothing and accessories; they tend to reflect light and are too vivid on camera.  Instead, wear a blue, gray, pink, or beige shirt/blouse
  • Avoid black suits/jackets which tend to diminish your appearance because they absorb too much light.  Instead, wear a medium colored suit, best bets are blue/dark blue, gray, and brown
  • Avoid fabrics with complicated patterns such as checks, tight/close stripes, herringbones, tweeds, and loud plaids. Fabrics of this design tend to strobe and or flutter on camera which can be distracting
  • Wear clothes made of natural fabrics that tend to breathe easily under the warm studio lights. This allows you to remain feeling cool and comfortable
  • Avoid shiny jewelry that may sparkle, or any jewelry that rattles and may cause a distracting noise
  • Style your hair off your face to avoid shadows. A clearer view of your face allows the audience to see your expressions and connect with you more when you speak

Lighting

Merriam Webster dictionary defines “in the best light” as – “in a way that makes someone, or something appear in the best way.”  This is especially true when you participate in a screen-to-screen meeting.  Many people do not consider proper lighting at all, and it shows.  Regrettably, it reflects on their ‘presence’ as well.

The good news is you don’t have to invest $100’s in Hollywood lighting to show up “in the best light.”  Ambient light can do the trick.  Face a window if you have one in your workspace.  If that does not produce the desired effect, consider augmenting your space with additional lighting. 

Sound

It always makes great sense to procure a USB microphone or a USB computer headset with microphone for your virtual meetings to eliminate echo and reduce sound distortion.

Background

If you are going to use your natural environment for background, ensure it is neat and any distracting objects are removed.  Some web-based meeting platforms like ZOOM provide virtual backgrounds that you can substitute for your natural background.  If you choose a virtual background, you should consider using a green screen.  It provides stability to the background and eliminates jumpy images.

Your best angle and maintaining eye contact

You want to look your best when you are on camera.  The first step is to locate your web cam and raise your laptop so that your web cam is at your eye level or slightly above.  A virtual meeting needs human connection, and if your video is not relatable, it will be a distraction. Angles that are too low or too high will be distracting. Humanize your meeting by literally leveling with and looking in the eye of the people you’re talking to.  You may have to raise your laptop using boxes or their equivalent.  One more thing: IF you are using two screens, make sure you move the platform screen below your camera otherwise it will look like you are looking at something else in the room.

Finally, establish your on-camera position.  The safest composition for all devices is upper chest level.  Mimic how close you will get in an actual in-person meeting. When you are meeting someone in person, face to face, you don’t get too close or too far away – you just keep enough distance that you can hear each other.   Frame your position using the ‘Rule of Thirds’, a mechanism that photographers use to frame their shots. 

Barry Kuntz
Senior Associate, Corporate Class Inc.

Leadership in a Crisis: Coronavirus Crisis Management Strategies in Under 3-Minutes

I have had my share of professional crisis to manage in a 30+ year career in industry. 

However, nothing compares to what we are experiencing right now with the coronavirus pandemic.  A year ago, in helping a major university with a scandal that rocked their world, I volunteered to formulate a program, using my experience, which we internally called Crisis Leadership: The New Normal?

As I use the material now with coaching clients (former and current) and any friends who will listen, I find myself apologizing that this is too simplistic.  However, I am told by them to “button it,” and it’s helping.  I guess it’s beneficial to have some frameworks against which to plot their current experiences.  So, I am happy to share a little bit of that with you.

When it comes to leadership in a crisis…

It is much smarter to prepare for and prevent a crisis than repair and repent. 

I am not sure from whom I borrowed that phrase. One of the most important things we all learn when going through a crisis is the cost is always high and unnecessary. However, if handled poorly, the costs and risks will increase exponentially. I imagine this sounds familiar to you if you have experienced a crisis.  We also learned that the impact (its power and force) of any crisis, though it may feel like an event or a relatively discrete moment in time, will persist far longer in terms of impact including loss of reputation, increased cost of regulation and compliance and now, of course, lives. 

It is not too late to do your best as a leader! Can I give you a few pointers?  If I can’t, we will talk about that leadership problem later.

We are taught as leaders to take charge, be at the front of the pack. So, what we often see is leaders who tend to exhibit excessive confidence in how they manage the moment, often with minimal preparation or study.  This can be a lonely place to be and is dangerous to you and others.

You can still prepare to be a better leader in this moment.  While I can’t get it all done, in this 3-minute leadership in a crisis education bite, what I can give you is:

  • a definition of a crisis (thanks to Pearson & Clair),
  • the 3 phases of a crisis, and
  • a competency to quickly explore and eliminate

So, what is an actual crisis?

When developing this program originally, I did not have an operational definition in my back pocket.  I had examples and illustrations but not really a definition.  Let me share one that I found useful. 

A crisis is a situation or event that is likely to be:

  • high in consequence
  • low in probability
  • high in ambiguity relative to solutions

I am going to assume that with the coronavirus pandemic, we can all agree that we have these 3 factors today in abundance. 

  • Consequences: Consequences are dire and have already impacted lives and families around the globe.
  • Probabilities: We can debate probabilities of this disease and contagion factors. However, from my perspective it appears we did not think this was probable at this magnitude and this might be the toughest challenge of all.  How long will this go on and how will we recover?
  • Ambiguity of Solutions: It seems to me we have in great quantity ambiguity of solutions:  how we respond, where supplies can be secured, what will work for containment, steps to mitigate, medications to use, vaccine development and who’s in control of what decisions. The list is endless.

We agree it is a crisis, so now what?

These 3 elements can help you to contain and focus the conversations you are likely having daily.

The Phases of Crisis Management During the Covid-19 Pandemic

No doubt we are in the acute phase of this pandemic, and yes, there are 2 other phases (pre and post).  Many organizations have risk plans, conduct annual environmental scans and even drill practice, as part of their leadership in a crisis strategy.  Use that experience and relish it if you have it in place.  In the heat of the moment you might not remember, ‘oh my god we modeled a similar scenario.’  There might be insights to revisit.  We have heard that the CDC or maybe it was FEMA has a 400+ page resource guide for such an event we are experiencing – I personally hope someone is using it.

Acute Phase

In the acute phase you should have a response team not a response individual!!!  Even if you are the sole leader of your practice/department/business, we are all in this together.  If your “go to” leadership style is to take on too much alone, this will not work.  Don’t shield people from the truth, don’t limit a spokesperson to one individual.  Keep messages simple but frequent, and always let people know when they will hear from you next.  Ask a lot of questions, keep lines of communications open and listen as much as you speak. 

Pre and Post Phases

We will discuss the pre and post crisis management strategies and phases another time, but we are all learning a lot!  My greatest caution is to stay present on the crisis. No one wants to be where we are, so natural inclination is to talk about what’s next: when operations are back to normal or when the economy really turns back on.  Stay present. 

Lastly you have a lot of leadership strengths that will help you.  In our original program, we identified 16 crisis leadership traits to cultivate and 2 traits to avoid at all cost.  In this limited time lets go straight to the one trait that will PUNISH you and those around you:

Don’t be a Blocked Personal Learner: resisting new information, confident only with your current skills, unwilling to try new approaches, certain that you have it all figured out.  So how do you know if you have this deathly trait?  Quite honestly, others can tell you but if this is a problem for you but they are likely to fear you as you have more power or status or degrees or accreditations. 

Have you ever been called a perfectionist?  Does the “stubborn” label work?  Have you been accused by your spouse or children (who are braver than most) of being stuck in the past or your own solutions?  A friend’s young adult son frequently tells him his views are no longer relevant and he better wake up.  This harsh feedback can have a positive impact if you take action. I can offer a few quick suggestions on how to compensate: collaborate more, listen more, ask questions, delegate or defer to others

If you are brave, give permission to someone who works for or with you to speak truth to power and tell you if this could be you.

I wish you were sitting across from me (yes 6 feet away and wearing a mask) I would ask you about how you are doing in effectively managing leadership in a crisis.  I would close our conversation focused only on you and your personal resilience. 

We all know this is going to be a long haul in the acute phase.  How you weather this storm, how you rebound from adversity is key.  Managing your stress, accepting tough feedback, forgiving your mistakes, managing your emotions and building your empathy skills takes a lifetime of work but you have never needed these traits more. 

I will say that if you can advance your resilience capabilities during this crisis you will likely be well set for the rest of your life. 

Chris Oster
Associate Partner, Corporate Class Inc.

Learning to Rise During COVID-19 with Dare to Lead by Dr. Brené Brown

We’re all experiencing a new normal – both in grieving our past lives, prior to February 29, 2020, and in finding a new way forward. The psychological effects of COVID-19 have been devastating for our society.

Since March 1, 2020, our global environment has changed due to COVID-19. CBS anchor Gayle King says, “I feel emotionally drained. I feel spiritually drained. I think a lot of people are feeling this during this time.”

The second order of effects of COVID-19 include disruption of family routine, social distancing, isolation, loneliness, layoffs, job loss, exposure to extreme stress, and moment by moment digestion of knowing that more than 2 million people across the globe have COVID-19 exposures and that there are more than 180,000 deaths globally. These are all anxiety provoking.

Learning resiliency skills during and after a major event such as COVID-19 is not easy. Modern neuroscience tells us that we experience physical, social, and mental threats, all with the same intensity.

However, in this light, our rising skills are ever so imperative. Author Dr. Brené Brown says that gaining skills in rising up enable people to take risks and jump into the vast unknown. Learning to rise is a three-part process: “the reckoning, the rumble and the revolution.” People are emotional beings. When you react emotionally to something, you can move forward by becoming curious about what you feel and why. Tune into your mind and body’s reactions, such as an increased heartbeat, a dry mouth or ruminating thoughts.

Let’s take a closer look at the three steps to Learning to Rise:

  1. The Reckoning: Our reckoning during COVID-19 is being in a situation where our emotions run high. We find that our physiology is taking over our thinking, and logic and behavior are not present. The key to the reckoning is being aware, present, and conscious that something has gotten a hold of you. Next, it’s time to get curious about it. For instance: I’m in a lot of pain, feeling really vulnerable, my stomach is in knots, feeling like I am paralyzed, want to punch something, or I need to get away and run from this situation (freeze, fight, or flight). This step can be hard because most tend to blame others or outside circumstances.
  2. The Rumble: Brown describes how people “offload” emotions onto others instead of reckoning with their feelings. They tamp down their emotional reactions until one small comment or action sparks an out-of-proportion outburst. Or, they get angry, place blame and make excuses. Rumbling is stepping into the story, owning it and taking it to the mat! Rumbling typically includes the story we make up absent of data. Consequently, it’s usually based in fears and insecurities. These evolve into conspiracy theories. Conspiracy theories can often contain confabulations. Brown defines this as a lie told honestly. We replace missing information with something false that we believe to be true. This shows up at work when we share what we believe is factual information, but it’s really just our own opinion. Brown encourages us to write our SFD (shxxx first draft) to start an interruption. It’s a simple way to notice your story while being in your story. To put rising skills into practice, start with:
      • “The story I’m telling myself…” or “The story I make up…”
      • Write it down!
      • There are a whole host of follow-up questions that Brown outlines as the Story Rumble process. The most challenging question is: “What more do I need to learn and understand about myself?”
  3. The Revolution: According to Brown, the revolution is all about claiming authorship of our own stories and lives. It’s about taking off the armor and rumbling with vulnerability, living in our values, braving trust with open hearts and learning to rise!

As we move to gain control of our lives through building, deepening, and strengthening our resiliency skills, we practice mental endurance and model resilient behaviors for our communities and families. By doing that we embrace Daring Leadership. I Dare You to Lead.
————————————————————————————————————————————–

Terri L. Williams
Senior Consultant, Corporate Class, Inc.
Dare to Lead Certified Facilitator

5 Tips to Help You Stay Present During a Time of Uncertainty

By Corporate Class Inc.

Have you ever heard the saying “don’t let the future steal your present?”

It can be challenging to do, especially during times of uncertainty. The COVID-19 crisis has many of us worried about a number of factors like our health or the health of our loved ones, financial commitments, and our jobs…just to name a few.  Our minds can easily get distracted by worrying or feeling anxious about things that we “think may happen” in the future. This impacts our overall mental and emotional well-being and our ability to make effective decisions in the present, which will help our future.

Try these five tips to help you stay present:

1. Conduct a “What if?” detox

The words “What if?” can be very powerful and can often lead to creating your own narratives about what may happen in the future. Most worries, anxieties, and fears start with “What if…?”. What if I catch the COVID-19 virus? What if I fall very ill? What if I lose my job? What if I can’t pay my rent? What if the economy does not recover?  If not properly harnessed, all of these “What if’s?” can destroy your confidence and ability to stay present.

Try replacing What if with “I can” or “I will”, to help you stay focused on what you can control.  For example: “I will practice social distancing and wash my hands regularly to mitigate the risk of me becoming ill.”

2. Practice Mindfulness

Practicing mindfulness means being more in tune with your thoughts and emotions and recognizing what your body needs. Focusing on your breath will draw you back to the present moment.  This allows you to more effectively communicate whatyou are thinking and how you are feeling with others, which helps minimize your anxious thoughts. Listen to what your body is telling you and give it what it needs. If it is feeling run down, rest.  Maybe you need fresh air or a glass of water.

3. Minimize News and Social Media

During a crisis, it’s important to stay informed on what’s happening in the news; however, it can be easy to become completely consumed.  When you check social media or listen to news first thing in the day it becomes a lot harder to concentrate on anything andit’s harder to not be dragged into a negative loop. Limit the amount of time you’re spending watching the news and scrolling on social media. Give yourself limited time slots during the day to check-in. ⠀⠀

4. Feed the Senses

Focusing on your five senses can be one of the best tools to bring you back to the now. If you find your mind wandering, take control of your thoughts by asking yourself: What do I hear? Taste? Feel? See? Smell? This helps take you away from ruminating and reminds you that what matters most is what’s happening right at this moment.

5. Create a Reminder

Creating a reminder for yourself can give you the nudge you need to get back to the present moment. You can use sticky notes, screensavers, set an alarm on your phone, or a picture of something that grounds you and helps bring you back to the present moment.

Get Present. Pause. Connect.

Wherever you are be all there. ~ Jim Elliot