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Mark Bowden VSS

July 30, 2020 by Speakers' Spotlight

Communicate Effectively While Working Remotely with Body Language Expert Mark Bowden

Even as many people are slowly returning to in-person work as some pandemic restrictions are relaxed, many more are going to be working from home for the foreseeable future. As we all navigate this radical shift in workplace culture, it’s important to ensure that our virtual presence in presentations, meetings, and client calls is the best it can be.

Joining us for our latest Virtual Speaker Series session, body language expert and bestselling author Mark Bowden spoke on a wide range of tips, strategies, and ideas that will make remote work feel more comfortable while also helping us to communicate effectively.

To start us off, Mark talked about how it’s very natural to feel stress and anxiety about working through video conferencing software. He said not only is it a new way of work for the majority of us, but it can also feel quite vulnerable to sit at home with a camera pointed into our personal space. So, it’s a challenge to feel comfortable working this way and that compounds the frustration of trying to convey ideas, to sell, and to collaborate in this rather unnatural setting. Fortunately, Mark offered a set of several useful principles to keep in mind to combat this, while offering plenty of incidental tips along the way.

Less is More: Shorten Lesson Lengths

The first principle Mark discussed with us was about making sure to keep session lengths, whether for meetings or presentations, shorter than you might normally. He said it’s easy to lose engagement of the video audience because we’re working in a format where people normally have total control over what they watch, when, and for how long. A virtual sales pitch session might subconsciously feel like a YouTube video for someone, but without being able to start and stop at a whim. This is a major part of the challenge for connecting with virtual audiences, so Mark said to keep a careful eye on timing.

A helpful tip he added was that research showed 18-to-20 minutes was the realistic limit of a person’s attention. You can certainly have a session or call last for longer than that, but try to use the 20 minute mark as an indicator of when you should change the subject matter or format in some way. This will help keep things moving and avoid some of the exhaustion that many people report from participating in longer video sessions.

Easy In – Easy Out: Provide a Compelling Outcome

Mark’s second principle was about clearly showing what your audience will learn or gain from the virtual session up front. This relates more specifically to virtual presentations, but has broader applications as well. As he put it, there is very little social risk involved in people “checking out” of a virtual session, especially one where audience members can come and go without notifying the rest of the group. Be clear, be concise and signpost what your intentions are, both up front and throughout.

Get a Sidekick: Model Virtual Interaction and Connection

To really make virtual communication feel more natural and engaging, focus on making it more social. Mark’s suggestion was to try and find a partner that would be suitable to turn the session into a discussion rather than a lecture. Maybe if you are presenting results for your department, alternate back and forth between yourself and one of your colleagues. Or, if you are presenting for a client, bring one of their leaders on-screen so that you can get immediate feedback. Mark said that obviously this kind of format doesn’t work for every setting, but we can still mitigate the one-sidedness of the normal video call by opening the conversation to questions and comments. These should be able to come in at anytime, and further help to break things up and provide variety for engagement.

Let Them See Your Eyes: Position Your Camera for the Best Effect

This is a simple principle, but the difference is so easily noticeable. Mark said positioning your camera so that it is roughly at eye level helps immensely in forging a connection with your audience. It feels more natural and again makes it seem more like you’re having an intimate conversation, whether it’s a one-sided presentation or not.

Let Them See More: Set Up Your Physical Context for More Information and More Light

Again, a relatively simple principle with a big impact. Mark said that, while we may not have everything under our control these days we should have control over ourselves and personal space. Curate the area where you host your video sessions so that it is clean, presentable and also offers some personal elements. In the same way, consider dressing as you would for a normal face-to-face in-person session. All these things make us more relatable and provide context so that the person at the other end of the camera feels like they can know and trust you. Going along with this idea, be thoughtful about lighting. Natural light is best if possible, and ideally it should be in front of you. Backlighting can hide your features and give an ominous or detached feeling, Mark said.

Sound Matters Most

At the end of the day, Mark said, how we sound while communicating virtually is the most important element. Visuals can be passable but anything other than clear, crisp, and reliable sound will result in you losing your audience quickly. Test your microphone setup in advance and if you have any doubts, consider investing in a better microphone or even headset. There are many affordable options available that can be delivered and will work within minutes of being plugged in. Don’t suffer because of a lousy internal laptop mic.

Download Mark’s executive summary of his presentation for quick access to his useful tips.

Voted the #1 Body Language Professional in the world, Mark Bowden is passionate about giving people the most influential and persuasive communication techniques to stand out, win trust, and build credibility every time they speak. Inspiring, energetic, engaging, and entirely entertaining, Mark’s memorable talks not only educate, but have proven life changing for audiences, helping their businesses grow across all industries and sectors.

Speakers’ Spotlight has been offering virtual presentations since 2009. We work with a range of speakers who are comfortable with presenting virtually on a variety of topics. If interested, contact us for more information.