In the working world, your success comes from your ability to speak and to persuade.
Effective communication is paramount. Even the techies agree. The message coming out of Silicon Valley is that human communication matters even more than code. LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner said at a Wired forum on the future of work that communication is one of the key skills gaps of the future. He stated, “As powerful as AI will ultimately become and is becoming, we’re still a ways away from computers being able to replicate and replace human interaction and human touch. So there’s a wonderful incentive for people to develop these skills.”
The arrival of COVID-19 has meant that suddenly all communication is digital. As we work from home, we spend our lives communicating through the pixels on video conference calls rather than across a meeting room table. Our success at work now depends on our ability to inspire our audiences through a screen.
Many people struggle with this and long for life to go back to normal. But those who adapt will thrive. The good news is that there’s so much you can do to up your game and find your voice onscreen. And it will make all the difference to your success in the post-COVID world as well. By honing your skills so that you show up on your video calls and webinars with an energy that makes people sit up and listen, digital does not have to be the poor relation of face to face. It’s different, sure, but if you embrace it, the medium can be a golden chalice for you professionally.
The trouble is that people often start off from a position of resentment. It can feel hard to make a personal connection when people are miles away, on a screen. Meetings conducted electronically will always feel different in the same way that going to a Broadway show is different than going to the movies. Actors learn how to handle the differences between theatre and film, and you can learn to ace your video calls by tweaking the strategies with which you ace your face-to-face meetings and presentations. You have to embrace the medium, understand the challenges and learn to handle them.
Think of these challenges as the 4 Ps: platforms, pressure, practice (lack of), and paranoia. You have the platforms — they bring great professional opportunity if you learn to ace them. But they can bring performance pressure. The age of video conferencing is a Golden Age of opportunity for you to make your voice heard, but only if that voice doesn’t wobble when you press record.
To platforms and pressure, you can add the challenge of a lack of practice when it comes to using your voice. If you’ve had a morning of emailing and haven’t been using your voice much, and haven’t had time to practice aloud the words you need to say on your video conference or webinar, you will feel nervous. When pressure meets a lack of practice it creates paranoia. Hunched before your screen with tense shoulders, breathing from your upper chest, you’re in the posture of fight or flight. Your stressed system labels your audience as a threat. Your system raises the alarm and your heart rate rises. You become flustered and trip over your words, say too much or, worse, you go blank.
But with a little awareness, this is all avoidable. Use these tips for mind, body and voice to ensure success in this new digital age.
1. Clarify the message in your mind. Before going live, broadcasters take a few moments to say particular phrases aloud to make them clear in their mind. It’s important to bullet point the main ides you need to communicate and say them aloud a few times. You can even do a test run by recording yourself on the voice notes app on your phone, or turning on your video call platform and doing a filmed dry run. Then, become your own coach as you polish your delivery.
Once the words are clear in your mind, take a few minutes before the call to calm and quiet your mind. Turn off your devices and take some calming breaths. Think about what your audience needs to know. A TV news anchor shared that she says to herself: “Take your time.” It slows down the adrenaline rush of going live and she is able to show up confident and composed.
2. Practice good body awareness. Text neck is a bad repercussion of the digital age. Slumping over our devices with the head poking forward and shoulders hunched not only impacts your voice, it also raises your stress level. Check in with your body when you read or text on your phone or write on your laptop. Notice the effect that text neck has on your breathing. Is it up in the chest, or low and wide in the back, ribs and belly? For calm delivery on video conferences, you want the breath low and wide. It quiets the nervous system.
To make sure you own the screen on your video calls, make sure your screen is at the right height so that you sit up straight and meet people at eye level. Then remind yourself “ears over shoulders” to keep you aligned and confident through the call. Also, before your call, stretch and move your body to get the blood flowing. Then, just before the call, bring the body to calm state by quietening your mind. Focus on taking deep breaths into your belly.
3. Regulate your voice. The most powerful piece of advice when it comes to finding your voice in the digital age is to center yourself after each sentence. Speak in short sentences, and when you get to the end of each one, close your mouth and take a tiny pause as you prepare for the next point. As you pause, imagine the lovely scent of a rose. The feeling it evokes helps make your in-breath relaxed and diaphragmatic, and ensures that your voice (which is powered by the out-breath) sounds relaxed, resonant and engaging.
As every broadcaster knows, the camera requires a little more energy than face-to-face communication. Give your voice a little topspin. A broadcasting secret for adding warmth, energy and charisma in your voice is to imagine talking to an old friend down the lens. It brings a smile to your voice, which ups your energy and charisma. It also takes your nervous system out of fight or flight and into “rest and digest,” so that you show up open and centered rather than on edge.
When you harness the power of mind, body and voice in your digital communication, you discover that it doesn’t have to be inferior to in-person — just different. And when you embrace the differences and work with them, you adapt. And, as we know well, adaptation is the key to thriving in this new normal. By stepping up to the digital age, you’ll be able to speak up and stand out in the COVID age, and the new normal that follows.
Caroline Goyder is an expert speaker and communication coach. Her new book is “Find Your Voice: The Secret to Talking with Confidence in Any Situation” (Penguin Random House UK, Jan. 30, 2020). Visit www.carolinegoyder.com for more about her work.