Before “COVID-19” was part of our daily lexicon, we sat shoulder to shoulder on airplanes, eased into impromptu conversations that led to collaboration, and celebrated pivotal moments and new partnerships. We were together, in the same space. Now, almost a year into pandemic…we still are. Yes, venues have gone virtual. Face-to-face is now screen-to-screen. And maybe, these days, we wave more often with emojis. Yet, we still can—and must—hone interpersonal connectivity.
In the knowledge economy of 2019, about two-thirds of our daily interactions occurred in person. Today, we navigate Zoom fatigue and yearn for meaningful exchanges. As we strive to situate compelling professional communication in an evolving landscape, I invite you to experience SCAD’s expertise and enthusiasm: instead of focusing on the distance between us, SCADamp—our university’s professional communication studio—embraces this historic moment to champion, reimagine, and empower connection. Previously, I shared my Pro Tips for speaking and visualizing; today, we explore Part Three of my Pro Tips for Digital Dynamism. Let’s connect!
Effort. Your quest to connect begins long before you log in to Zoom, adjust your camera, and check your levels. Prior to anything else, remember: research, research, research—know your audience. If you’re engaging a roundtable of company representatives, take time to background them beyond the boardroom and brand. Look at news articles, press releases, LinkedIn profiles, and other publicly available sources that reveal personal tidbits, values, and personality. Check social media profiles, too—you don’t have to tell someone you’ve peeked at their Facebook or Instagram, but you might find useful intel and potential portals of connection. Audiences respond favorably when you make authentic attempts to get to know them. As Eric Hunicutt, SCADamp communication coach, says, “There’s always an opportunity to do some homework on who you’ll be speaking with. But that research can’t happen in the two minutes before you Zoom. Give yourself enough space so you can fold your research and prep into your rehearsals.”
Energy. Breath. Brain. Body. The Three Bs “speak to the idea of being mindful and present,” says Director of SCADamp Ally Steinweg. “Because we recognize that, right now, in this cultural and global moment, there’s so much that can pull our attention from the task at hand.” The fix? Raise your energy level to project focus, attentiveness, and enthusiasm. Begin by taking energizing breaths: inhale slowly, deeply, and exhale in short bursts—five or six of these will boost your readiness. Next, channel your brainpower away from nerves and anxiety and on the task at hand: Who is my audience? What story will I share with them? What feelings and ideas will I leave them with? Finally, ground your body and center yourself. Feel your feet connect with the floor, and send that awareness up to your head—imagine a string pulls you up ever so slightly, off the floor. You’ll stand tall, alert, and ready to engage. Your audience will notice.
Ease. If someone tells you to “just relax” ahead of a presentation or pitch, smile and kindly thank them for the advice—then quickly banish that thought from your head. No, you don’t want to seem nervous or anxious, yet you also don’t want to exude casualness. “Pitching is not casual,” Hunicutt says. “Presenting is not casual. Teaching is not casual. The ideal state is to be both energized and at ease.” We achieve this state through research and rehearsal—see Part One of this series—which establishes our command of the material and the moment. And when we’re at ease, we exemplify confidence, dignity, and empathy—an aura that evokes intelligence, ability, and trust. Over Zoom—where body language is not as apparent—our capacity to project a compassionate, compelling affect resounds with even more relevance.
Eye contact. True story: your eyes are likely drier now than a year ago, and that’s because we’re all staring at screens much more during the pandemic. Your eyes provide prime points of physical connection with your audience, so you’ll want to keep them fresh, bright, and healthy. Today—and certainly before your next presentation—commit to the 20-20-20 Rule. Every 20 minutes, look up from your screen, locate an object 20 feet away, and focus on it for 20 seconds. This simple technique reduces eye fatigue and enables you to be more emotive and energized during a presentation. And once you’re ready to present—meaning that you’ve framed yourself in the camera and selected a flattering angle—deselect the self-view in Zoom. Doing so will keep you from appraising yourself and help you focus on your audience. Make warm, welcoming eye contact with the camera—affix a pair of eyeballs atop your screen as a reminder.
Enthrall. Thoughtful eye contact catalyzes connection; empathy, compassion, and authenticity endear you to viewers. “When you’re presenting, when you’re performing, you are giving of yourself,” Steinweg says. “You’re giving your audience a gift.” Yet, we can give even more. As Briar Goldberg, TED’s director of speaker coaching, recently shared, envisioning presentations as gifts prompts speakers to elevate the entire experience, from practice and rehearsal to the pearls we impart—epiphanies, solutions, and respites. Professional presentations are shared experiences, and the most compelling speakers repeatedly ask themselves this question: What’s one more meaningful moment that I can create for our conversation?
Educate. As lifelong learners, we believe knowledge deepens within, expands throughout, and extends from engaged communities. As audience-focused presenters, we envision every pitch and performance as a learning lab—a pop-up opportunity to create community and foster fresh, fulfilling discoveries. Make no mistake: regardless of title or role, you’re an educator. So, teach! Audiences want to hear what you have to say; they want to contribute to new conversations. And the dialogue will continue. Because, whether on stage or over Zoom, connections you create in “the room” will transcend walls and screens. Truly, teaching is the ultimate way to connect.
While the pandemic has fundamentally altered life and shifted daily interactions, the cornerstone values of vibrant personal communication remain. And we can elevate them further. As discussed in Part One of my Pro Tips, speakers today have even more control of venue and message. In Part Two, we learned how to create visual authenticity and expertise. Now, in Part Three, we understand our calling as speakers—to bring people together, birth new ideas, and begin new friendships. In this season of uncertainty, carpe omnia—seize the opportunity. Heed the call. Speak. Visualize. Connect.