Hello to you and all the best for a happy and healthy 2022!
And of course, let me also welcome you to part four of our “Good communication in an online setting” blog series. This time, I’d once again like to address some of the special aspects of the various communication levels – tonal and non-verbal, gestures and facial expression.
I’ve also added a small exercise for you – I invite you to go ahead and give it a try. Let me know how it works out for you!
It’s helpful for the speaker to have a friendly facial expression. An open smile at the beginning establishes a connection with the audience. Even if it isn’t 100% heartfelt at the beginning, as soon as a friendly person smiles back – and this is guaranteed to happen! – you’ll have created a bridge between yourself and the audience and a connection will have been made. A smile, however, shouldn’t grow into a permanent grin.
Eye contact simply cannot be overestimated – it engages the audience. By making good eye contact, you as a speaker will come across as confident and believable. Eye contact shows appreciation and helps the audience to feel seen as individuals. In addition, as a speaker, you’ll only be able to understand the nonverbal response of the other person if you have them in your sight. What’s more, by making eye contact, you’re virtually “commanding” the listener’s attention.
Yet, make sure you don’t stare too strongly at anyone, as this may unnerve the person you’re looking at. Similarly, avoid letting your eyes flit back and forth too much between people as this conveys insecurity rather than truly taking in the person you’re talking to.
Gestures are part of our normal conversational behavior, which is why it would be downright unnatural to suppress them during video conferences!
Gestures should underline what is being said, not counter it. Between gestures, your hands should return to a resting position – otherwise, the use of hands and arms may quickly come across as “flailing about” and distract from, instead of emphasize, the content.
If possible, stand up during video conferences. Standing up gives you much more control over what is happening; simply by being upright, you’re giving your appearance more impact. Don’t shift your weight from one foot to the other, as this easily looks like “rocking” and tends to make the audience nervous or distract them from what’s being said.
Taking a small step towards the “audience” or video camera can underline what you’re saying. However, you shouldn’t constantly be striding forward and backward, as this also can come across as quite restless and distracting.
Your most important tool when it comes to speaking is your voice! And like any tool, it needs to be well looked after and not used carelessly. The cornerstone of your voice is your breath, which naturally accompanies us every day and occurs automatically.
We can also intentionally use our breath to make our voice stronger – and to get any nervousness under control, because if you’re breathing calmly, you can’t be agitated.
Exercise “Conscious abdominal breathing”
A regular breathing pattern calms your body down. That’s why it’s important, in everyday life, to pay attention to breathing slowly and consciously into your abdomen. Get used to a counting rhythm. Slowly count to four as you inhale and then again slowly count to four as you exhale.
Lie or sit down comfortably. Place both palms on your abdominal wall. Your middle fingers may touch each other lightly. Now direct your attention inward, to your body. Close your eyes and take notice of your body from the inside out: your body, your back, your arms, your hands, your legs, your feet. Now direct your attention to your breath. Consciously observe the inflow and outflow of your breath. When you inhale, the abdominal wall rises; when you exhale, it lowers again. Your middle fingers come apart as you inhale and touch again as you exhale. Imagine a balloon. When you inhale, the balloon inflates, growing bigger and bigger; when you exhale, it collapses completely. Let your breath flow naturally. Just pay attention to how your belly rises when you inhale and falls when you exhale. Let any thoughts that distract you slowly pass by, like clouds in the sky. Again and again, turn your attention to your abdominal wall (for around two minutes). After the next exhalation, turn your attention outward again. Clench your hands into fists and stretch.
“Resting breath” exercise
“Resting breathing” is an excellent way to calm down in acute stress situations. You can use it before any challenge, before unpleasant confrontations or in the case of stage fright – and you can also use it if you’re experiencing an acute panic attack. Repeat the exercise until you feel a definite improvement.
No matter what, you will notice an improvement. Nervousness or agitation will decrease because no new energy is supplied when you’re hold your breath and therefore, you’ll have to rely on the surplus energy in your body. It’s important for you not to hold your breath after you inhale – otherwise, you may risk a headache.
Inhale and exhale deeply. After you exhale, hold your breath and start counting slowly from one to six or to ten.
Now breathe deeply in and out again. Repeat this breathing exercise for 2 to 3 minutes or until you feel definitely more relaxed and calmer.
Good actors “lubricate” their voice before every performance. Voice exercises can be very helpful for keeping your voice in a good, strong state, especially if you have a great deal of speaking to do. Exercises can help to make your voice richer, both when you’re preparing for a performance and during breaks when you’re carrying out online mediation (and by the way, it’s equally helpful for in-person events). This in turn clearly leads to a sense of calm and a slower pace, making listening easier and, at the same time, contributing to greater confidence.
Volume, speed and intonation
A change in volume, speed and intonation makes the content you deliver more lively. Speaking too softly not only makes the experience tiring for listeners, but also conveys an impression of insecurity and makes listeners impatient.
When excited, some of us speak faster than necessary or are afraid of not getting all the important points delivered in the time we have, thereby rushing through all we have to say. In such a case, less would be more!
Speed as such is not the problem if articulation is clear and you insert pauses – make sure to pay attention to those aspects!
Remember: You know what you’re talking about, but the listeners must understand it first, so meaningful pauses are necessary for a good understanding of what is being said and as a breather for the listeners.
Overall, online mediation works very well. It is comparable to face-to-face mediation. Yet, it’s important not to lose your head and, above all, not to focus on the limitations of online meetings, i.e., those things you believe would work better in person than online. This sentiment becomes immediately evident for participants and makes you looks awkward, unprofessional and not very trustworthy. It is always better to be oriented toward solutions instead of problems.
Of course, not every mediation is suitable for online work. This is the case, for example, when a mediation requires a high degree of confidentiality. The risk of the other side taking a screenshot of shared documents cannot be prevented and can only be ensured by contract.
Above all, enjoy the process, enjoy the technology if you can, approach the process with curiosity, and keep learning about communication (especially non-verbal communication).
Many of our mediators have greatly improved their technical skills because of the pandemic and by now are as familiar with this type of the mediation as with in-person mediation processes.
Good luck to you! And if you have any questions, feel free to contact us any time.
Go for it.
Your crisis manager