After 30 years of leading DeFinis Communications in the Presentation Skills training industry and growing it into a thriving business with outstanding trainers, I am excited to announce that we will be merging with GrahamComm, a recognized Bay Area leader in presentation and communications skills training and coaching.
Even though many of us have been working remotely for the past year, few would say the time at home has felt like a vacation. Quite the contrary! The majority of people I speak with are exhausted, rushing between virtual meetings, dealing with daily pandemic stress, having the kids schooling from home, and meeting typical work deadlines each week. The desire for focused concentration is met with interruptions and the demands of hourly multitasking. And unfortunately, this applies to preparing a virtual presentation as well. Giving a successful presentation requires that you dedicate concentrated time to prepare and practice. But that time is hard to come by in our current work from home environment.
No matter what industry you’re in, if you want to reach higher levels of success, having a strong business vocabulary is key. Your vocabulary helps in not only your everyday business communications, but it also enables you to navigate the political landscape within your organization. Well-armed with the right word, you can convey your message accurately, inspire and influence others, and ultimately change your company and yourself for the better.
Seeing Tom Brady’s smile after he won the Super Bowl with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday night was one of the game’s high points. His grin stretched from ear to ear, highlighting the absolute joy he was feeling in that winning moment. I saw that same look on Amanda Gorman’s face when she spoke her poem at the Presidential Inauguration in January. Her face conveyed excitement, pride, and passion. When we see joyful people like this, we can’t help but feel and even mimic their emotions. This phenomenon is called “emotional contagion,” and it’s an important aspect of presenting—whether in person or on the virtual platform.
As this most challenging and disruptive year comes to a close, all of us at DeFinis Communications wish you a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season. As I connect with our team, our customers, and our online readers and supporters, I notice several conversational themes emerging. Most people I talk to are taking stock of a difficult year with a surprising amount of optimism and confidence. They are looking forward to the new year, a vaccine, a reconnection to those they love, and a return to some level of normalcy. They are also reflecting on the year that has passed—the year that we have somehow endured and survived.
When you’re giving a virtual presentation, your voice plays a crucial role in your success. In fact, I’d say that of all the presentation skills vital for influencing others on Zoom (and other online meeting platforms), your voice plays the most essential role. Think about it … in the online environment, you’re always going to be a flat 2D image to your audience. And no matter how you try to improve the quality and impact of your visual image, you will still be flat. Therefore, your vocal skills must do more than convey a message; they must also be your main tool for building enthusiasm and for influencing your listeners. So as you strive to improve your vocal skills, focus on these three key areas.
Recently I attended a Zoom birthday party for the 99-year-old father of a dear friend. Everyone in attendance—three generations of his family members—were in their own homes. Doug and his wife (also in her 90s) were totally unassisted by the younger crowd yet were using Zoom like pros. I learned that they also email and text family and friends regularly, and use all the latest technology. What struck me most while on the call was the ease with which this couple was communicating on Zoom. At DeFinis Communications, we embrace Continuous Learning. Here was a perfect example of what that looks like when it works.
Leading a virtual presentation from the quiet of your kitchen table is challenging enough. Add in the stressors of a crying toddler in the background, the dog barking at the delivery driver, the lawn service company mowing the yard outside your window, and your oldest child continually asking, “Mom, can I have a snack?” and it’s easy to see why so many parents—particularly mothers—are having a hard time embodying professionalism in the age of COVID.
It happens to even the best of us: You’re leading a virtual presentation and you see signs that things aren’t going well. People are visibly distracted. They’re looking at their cell phones; they’re muted and having a side conversation; some are even turning off their camera completely. Then you start seeing the “number of participants” icon show a lower and lower number as people quietly disconnect … literally. While you may not know exactly why it’s happening, your listeners are giving you clear signals that you are not doing enough to keep their attention.
If you want to become great at something, you have to immerse yourself in the topic and study it thoroughly. This is true for everything from art and technology to music and even virtual presenting. In fact, for years we at DeFinis Communications have advocated that our clients become “Consumers of Speaking.” This means that you seek out talented presenters and examine their skills, style, and idiosyncrasies so you can learn from them and emulate what they do best. As Michael Jackson said, “Study the greats and become greater.”
Over the past several months, many people have asked me if the formalities of standard speech preparation apply to the more casual virtual presentations taking place today. Since most people are working from home now in a less-than-formal setting, is it still important to maintain tried and true presentation principles, such as ending your presentation with a final thought? My answer is always yes.
When presenting to a virtual audience, it’s easy to lose people’s attention and feel the energy plummet. In fact, “the distraction factor” is one of the most important differences between speaking to a live audience versus a virtual audience. In simplest terms, your virtual audience is more prone to distraction. But all is not lost! Your virtual audience is pliable and impressionable. They can be influenced. In fact, they want to be influenced. They want you, the meeting leader, to take control and come to their rescue. They want to be “pleasantly distracted from their own distractions.” The secret to doing this successfully involves the power of inquiry.