I deployed my ‘Projects as Homework’ webinar at PMI’s Benelux PM Fair last week. It seemed to go down well, judging from the discussion and questions afterwards. I will tentatively look at the recording to see what I can learn.

But what other lessons did I learn about communication over live video?

PM Fair Benelux

The event was run excellently by PMI’s Belgium chapter. They had to make it virtual this year and were on their own learning curve. As speakers, we were supported in advance with practice on the platform (WebEx) and a couple of meetings to share best practice. We heard from Carsten Wendt who provided some useful ideas on how to recreate speaking in public to ‘speaking in virtual’.

I’d also recommend “Virtual Leadership” by Penny Pullan which talks more widely about the implications for leaders when things go virtual.

Lessons

I have been using video conference tools for many years, and like everyone, have used them a lot more over the last six months. But there is always something to learn.

Here are the top five lessons I have learnt over the past few weeks. These tips can be applied to:

  • Your day to day Teams / Zoom calls
  • Workshops using these tools
  • Sales presentations to people you may or may not know already
  • Speaking engagements

Tip 1: Good prep allows you to focus on your message

I’m a project manager so I would say that, wouldn’t I? But it’s really important so that you can concentrate on what you are saying, rather than what is happening in the Chat Box.

It also is helpful to have some help with the hosting – someone to keep an on the technical stuff, select the questions from the Chat or let you know when someone wants to contribute.

TIP 2: Choose the best video and audio kit you can afford

When you see lots of other presenters, there is a big difference in the overall experience, depending on the kit in use.

I’m not claiming to be a super user yet but I’m working on it. And you can always add your book into the background.

I think there are 3 types:

  • Laptop user – rubbish camera and microphone causing poor light and a view up the presenter’s nose. Background includes some portion of the ceiling.
  • PC user – decent camera with a built-in microphone, set just above eye level. Much better but the background, and lighting can be improved.
  • Super user – HD camera, dedicated noise-cancelling directional microphone, extra lighting, tidy and appropriate background.

Tip 3: It’s easy to rehearse – you’re sat in the live environment

This sounds obvious but the point was made clear by Carsten. Whatever environment you use for your video calls, it is the live environment. No need to see the meeting room first or explore the stage. No need to travel to the site to try it out. The process for rehearsal is:

  1. Sit down
  2. Look at the camera
  3. Start!

Tip 4: Don’t forget what you do when not online

Again, a great tip from Carsten. Don’t forget you’re a human. If you were anywhere else, you’d:

To make eye contact you have to look down the camera lens. This takes practice because you also want to see the audience or look at slides if you’re presenting. Moving about and using your hands might seem odd at your desk. But why not? If it makes for a better experience at the other end.

Tip 5: Variety is the spice of life (and of a virtual meeting)

A group of us have experimented with running workshops online. I was able to observe the delegates, while one of our group was presenting. You have about 120 seconds until people become restless. Also, they may be listening, but not always watching. Here are just a few suggestions picked up from various sources:

  • Vary what’s on screen, e.g. stop sharing your slides and talk to camera
  • Animate your slides to keep the screen moving
  • Ask questions, even if you answer them yourself
  • Pause to allow people to read higher content slides, check for understanding as you would in a meeting room

And in conclusion

Hopefully, there are a few things here that might be useful. I think the key point, as pointed out to us by Carsten, is not to forget what you do when face to face. Use some of the same techniques and adapt to the virtual environment.

And once you have mastered this technique, then you can investigate Virtual Reality. Now that is a whole different experience and coming to a meeting near you, probably quite soon. Watch this space as we start trying it.