While most meetings used to be a total waste of time, social distancing makes it impossible for most businesses to operate without meeting virtually. Popping into Marcy's office? Gone. Dragging Bob with you to Marcy's office to settle who is responsible for what? Gone.
Screens are not only the new normal, but when things return to "normal," teleconferencing will still be a much bigger part of the average person's daily workflow.
Which means many of the skills you once used to communicate effectively, marshal support, or even occasionally take over a meeting -- just because you're in charge doesn't mean you actually run every meeting -- no longer work.
Here's how to fix that.
See the camera as your best friend.
Eye contact matters. But when your screen looks like the intro to The Brady Bunch, it's impossible to make eye contact with everyone. Still: Some people try, shifting their eyes from box to box in order to be "inclusive."
To the people in the meeting, that means your focus seems to be anywhere but on them. Maintaining eye contact requires staring at the camera.
Even if if it feels odd. Even if you're tempted to see how people are reacting to what you say.
Save reading the room for when other people talk. When you're up, focus on the camera. That's the only way to make people feel you're talking to them.
Speaking of the camera...
Place the camera at eye level or higher.
A laptop on a desk naturally creates an upward view of you. The taller you are, and the shorter your desk, the more pronounced the angle.
And the less authoritative and professional you appear.
Raise your laptop or monitor so the camera is at least at eye level, or even slightly higher. Otherwise, your neck and the underside of your chin take center stage.
And no one wants that.
Clean up your background.
Over the past few weeks, I've seen unmade beds, overflowing laundry baskets, messy kitchen counters, mud rooms that were more mud than room.
Working from home might mean you have background options, but still: Frame the view so whatever is behind you isn't distracting. You want the focus on you -- not your stuff.
Another easy way to do that is to ensure you fill most of the screen. The goal is TV "talking head" style: Your head, your shoulders... and that's about it.
In this case, distance is not your friend. The farther away you appear, the less engaging and involved you appear, and the less impact your facial expressions will have.
In short, make sure the focus is on you. Not everything around you.
Sit still and focus on the screen when you're not talking.
Make a sudden movement ,and everyone will notice. Eat, and everyone will notice. Fidget and fuss and re-arrange, and everyone will notice.
In short, if you wouldn't do it in a real meeting, don't do it in a virtual one. And while you can turn off your video for a bit, if everyone appears on the screen at all times, the fact you switched off will be apparent, which means everyone will assume you've mentally switched off, too.
Speak a little louder than you think you should.
A strong voice imparts confidence, credibility, and authority.
Just pretend you're in a large room, and your voice needs to carry. To make it easier, turn your speaker volume down a hair; that will make you instinctively speak a little louder. (Like when you raise your voice when you're on the phone and can barely hear the other person.)
Just make sure you don't yell; there's a big difference between authoritative and overbearing.
Be smart about the chat window.
It's tempting to use chat functions to toss in little asides, to make jokes with other attendees, to carry on side conversations.
Don't. Use the chat window as a tool to benefit everyone: to supply a link, share a document, or add broader context to a point.
The chat window is a great place to show you're extremely prepared, that you have the facts, data, and analysis at your fingertips and you're ready to share it.
Because while you might think of a virtual meeting as just another meeting, it's not.
The medium has changed, which means the way you convey your message must change.