Leadership coach and SCS instructor Sarah Lang shares her top tips for effective workplace communication.
With the COVID-19 vaccine roll-out, we're seeing workplace communication continue to evolve. Many workplaces are adopting a hybrid model, where team members are co-located, with some working remotely and others physically present in the office. This presents unique challenges. For example, how do you establish meaningful connections in this new environment? How can leaders and employees alike avoid miscommunication, distraction, lack of flow, and reduced motivation and decreased productivity during hybrid meetings?
In fact, a groundbreakingly 2021 study exposes a digital communications crisis. The study suggests that 44% of employees experience frequent digital anxiety, citing confusing, vague, unclear, or non-existent communication as the primary concerns.
As a leadership coach and communication skills trainer, my approach to the problem is to bring my full humanity to every interaction. When I first began teaching my public speaking, presentation, and leadership classes online at SCS due to the pandemic, the “best practice” in the industry was to keep my sessions as micro sessions, capping classes at two hours. I was told that no adult learners would last three hours in a class. And yet, my courses are two and three hours in length, and I consistently receive feedback that it is a rich learning experience, supported by an intimate, safe, virtual space. It is possible to conduct effective and engaging online meetings, presentations, or lessons.
Here’s five tips to help you clearly communicate your true message, engage your team, and boost productivity.
1. Prepare with your audience front-of-mind
Demonstrating empathy is more important than appearing clever.
Don’t lose their attention! You may have many ideas and lots of information to share. But it’s all too easy to get lost in the details and stray from the original point of the presentation. Instead, keep your audience – and their thoughts, feelings, and realities – front of mind, as you prepare for your talk.
In fact, acknowledging that you, too, are grappling with the uncertainty and awkwardness of this moment, shows humility.
How to do it:
- Ask yourself: what is the purpose of this meeting/ presentation? Why is this relevant to my audience? How will this information change their lives? How might they react, and what’s my main message?
- Prepare an outline of your talk that is simple and clear. The purpose of preparing is so that on the day of your event you can be present.
- Use transitional phrases so your audience can follow along.
- Show respect for your audience by preparing a message that takes into account their current situation, hopes, fears, and feelings.
2. Offer your full presence
Before you can connect with others, you need to ground yourself.
Powerful connection with others begins when you are grounded, centered, and at peace with yourself. You’ve done your prep work – you’re clear on your purpose and considered your audience and the impact your message may have on them – now your task is to be there with them.
How to do it:
- Take 5 – 10 minutes before your meeting to ground yourself.
- Step outside, shut down tech, do deep breathing, and anchor yourself in the moment.
- One of my favourite ways is the 5,4,3,2,1 exercise.
3. Connect authentically
Empathy is critical.
It’s so important to establish empathy, since many of our non-verbal cues are lost when we’re not in the same room, physically.
How to do it:
- Slow down when you speak!
- When a meeting begins, allow time to land; prepare a short and meaningful icebreaker.
- Make eye contact with every person on the screen, one-by-one, and say their names and an individual hello. In that moment, connect with them energetically. I actually beam a feeling of goodwill towards my audience.
- Remember that behind each of those Hollywood Squares tiles is an actual human being, sitting there, doing their best, and wondering how this meeting is going to help them.
4. Use Vocal techniques
Your voice is an important tool.
Your team has so much on their minds, stress levels are high, and distraction levels are heightened. You want to make it exceptionally easy for them to understand you, and receive your key message.
There is enough of a disconnect that happens virtually – and any technical glitch or delay will further “distance” you from your audience. Your voice is an important tool not only when it comes to delivering a clear message, but also when it comes to establishing trust. Many leaders overlook the importance of developing their vocal range.
How to do it:
- Practice speaking slowly and clearly.
- Make your words, voice, and face match.
- Familiarize yourself with the vocal range available to you.
- Incorporate pauses, aim for a moderate pace, and be aware of your pitch.
5. Include everyone in the conversation
Ensure you are making a conscious effort to include everyone in the discussion.
Be sure to treat all members of your team fairly and give them equal speaking and engagement time – whether they are joining in-person or remotely. MIT research demonstrates that remote employees tend to receive fewer promotion offers, and exhibit lower performance because they lack the facetime that their team members in the office have. Become aware of your own unconscious bias, and ensure you are making a conscious effort to include everyone in the discussion. Especially when it comes to the virtual realm– where so much nuance is lost – you’ll want to regularly check for comprehension.
How to do it:
- Ask for feedback from everyone on your team.
- Invest in the technology and tools to use polls for questions, and get your audience engaged.
- Pay attention to the body language, facial expressions, and comments coming from your team – and follow-up on what you are noticing.
- Call on team members by name, asking them to participate.
- Invest in your communications plan and necessary training to ensure your team members are aligned on how to have conversations that include everyone.
Try implementing these tips, and watch your team engagement - and productivity - soar!
Sarah Lang is a University of Toronto School of Continuing Studies (SCS) instructor, and professional certified coach (PCC, CPCC). She has a passion for supporting leaders, entrepreneurs, and innovators to grow their presence, professionalism, and poise. Sarah serves as a Leadership Mentor at the Ideation Clinic, and is the Founder of LeadWell Consulting Inc. Sarah teaches two courses at SCS: Public Speaking & Presentation, and Leadership Presence & Presentations.