Jeff Bradford, an Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) member in Nashville, is the founder of the Bradford Group and President of Bradford Dalton Group, a full-service public relations and advertising agency with offices in Atlanta, Jacksonville and Nashville. We asked Jeff how executives can improve their virtual communications when meeting with clients, vendors and employees. Here's what he shared:

I wasn't looking at my phone, playing on social media, doing other work, reading email or any of the things we often do during a virtual meeting instead of attending to the meeting.

Want your next virtual meeting to be that successful? Read on.

My virtual meeting was with Scott Weiss, CEO of Speakeasy, which helps executives better communicate by focusing on style and content--that is, how and what you communicate. (And who is not a client, by the way.)

The Right Communication Style

An effective communication style, Scott said, is about being authentic, getting beyond the personas we often hide behind. Authenticity begins with empathy, the foundation for speaking with people, not at them.

It also requires a trait that every leader will proudly tell you he possesses: humility. (Of course, anyone proud of their humility ain't got it.) A humble attitude allows you to listen to others, instead of only listening for something you can use to your advantage.

Scott followed this advice during our Zoom meeting. He was both completely "present" and engaged--though not in an overly zealous, preachy or needy way. He came across as relaxed and comfortable, and, as a result, I felt the same.

The Right Kind of Content

Good communication content begins with determining the desired destination of each communication event, such as a Zoom meeting. There are four types of destination:

  1. Awareness
  2. Understanding
  3. Believing
  4. Acting

It's difficult to move someone more than one step at a time. So, when meeting someone for the first time, it's doubtful she will act on what you say. For example, it's unlikely you'll close a sale.

Setting a realistic destination for your meeting is the first step in creating compelling content. The second is understanding where the listener's current reality is vis-à-vis the outcome you're seeking. For example, if she already understands your product, try to move her to believe that you can solve her problem. However, most of us don't ask enough questions to figure out where the listener is. We simply assume. Or else--my signature move--we throw everything we have at her and hope something sticks.

This "kitchen sink" approach violates the third step of effective content, which is to create a message that is focused on what the listener wants. Most of us assume that every customer needs the same thing, so we put everything in the PowerPoint deck that could possibly impact their decision. Then, 80 slides later, we wonder why they have a glazed look and no questions for us. The most effective PowerPoint decks have less than 10 slides, or, even better, no deck at all--and you actually talk to people instead of reading slides to them.

People only want to know enough to reach the next step in their discovery journey. Flooding them with information, which you might think makes you look smart, is about the dumbest thing you can do.

The right communication style and content are essential to any meeting's success, whether in-person, virtual or by phone. But, succeeding virtually requires something more: working the camera.

The Virtual Meeting Difference

"Why do you think TV anchors are paid so handsomely?" Scott asked me. "Because they know how to work the camera." It typically takes years to perfect this art, and we've been trying for just a few months during the pandemic. So, don't feel bad if you're not wowing them.

But it's possible to rapidly enhance your virtual game with these pointers:

  • Look at the camera. It sounds simple, but haven't you been in Zoom meetings where the other person is looking somewhere else, like at another screen? It's irritating. It seems like they aren't paying attention, even though they actually may be.
  • Dress appropriately. Because most people attend virtual meetings from home, they've gone way too casual. Dress like you're at the office. Put on a clean shirt or blouse, not a Def Leppard t-shirt. Comb your hair. Shave. Look like you give a damn. If it looks like you don't, then you can't expect the person on the other side of the screen to care about what you say.
  • Curate your background. Whatever shows up behind you onscreen is part of your brand. The idea is for you to be the brand. Anything else distracts from that, especially dirty dishes or an unmade bed. One excellent solution: Use a photo of your office lobby as a virtual background.
  • Make sure you are properly seen and heard. Invest about $250 in a lavalier microphone, wireless earbuds and good lighting. If people can't properly see and hear you, you are literally nowhere.

Virtual meetings are likely here to stay, even post-Covid. They just make sense. Learning to maximize this suddenly ubiquitous technology may be the most critical skill to advance your career.

While these four "tricks of the trade" will improve your virtual meetings, the fundamentals for a good virtual meeting are the same as for in-person meetings: Be authentic, ask questions before providing answers, say only as much as is necessary, and do a lot of listening. Do these things, and you'll be an excellent communicator, regardless of technology.