When speaking on a virtual platform, make sure to have eye contact by looking right into the lens, and not at the screen at the faces of your team members. When you look into the lens, it makes the people on the other end feel like you are looking into their eyes, and this creates a deeper connection.
We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?
In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Renée Marino.
Renée Marino is a professional communication coach named by Yahoo Finance as one of the “Top 10 Communication Coaches to Follow in 2021!” She was the co-host of Tony Robbins and Dean Graziosi’s first-ever virtual “World Summit’’ and has spoken, performed, and been interviewed on thousands of live and virtual stages, including Dean Graziosi’s podcast The Dean Graziosi Show. Renée helps people create genuine connections in their life and business by balancing new school technology with ol’ school simplicity. She also uses her well-rounded experience of communicating through various mediums to train companies, organizations, schools, and universities in strengthening their communication skills. Renée can be seen as the female lead, Mary Delgado, in the film, “Jersey Boys,” directed by Clint Eastwood. She has been featured in People.com’s “Ones to Watch,” Variety, and The Huffington Post, which stated: “The Broadway star — who is basically Tina Fey’s celebrity doppelganger — is a scene-stealer. ‘Jersey Boys’ pops whenever she’s onscreen.” Renée wrote and performed her solo show, I Am Me, Because of Three, to sold-out venues in NYC and LA and received rave reviews. Her Broadway credits include Pretty Woman: The Musical (dance captain/assistant to the choreographer), West Side Story (Rosalia), Jersey Boys (Mary Delgado), Chaplin, and Wonderland (ensemble). She has toured North America with Cats, Disney’s High School Musical, and Jersey Boys. Her television credits include Regina on Fox’s Weird Loners and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.
As a coach, keynote speaker, and longtime performer, Renée Marino has inspired people worldwide with her energy, relatability, and authentic spirit. Renée’s forthcoming book, “Becoming a Master Communicator: Balancing New School Technology with Ol’ School Simplicity” will be released in January. Her book is now available to preorder here: www.BecomingaMasterCommunicator.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
Thank you for having me! As a girl growing up in an Italian-American family, who sat around the kitchen table constantly communicating with my family through conversations, eating, and laughing, my deepest love was always in connecting with people. That love was manifested in my becoming a professional singer, dancer, and actor on Broadway, in film/tv, and on tours for over sixteen years, where connecting with people from stage, screen or in-person was the true purpose of the work. One of the greatest opportunities of my life, playing the role of Mary Delgado in Clint Eastwood’s, “Jersey Boys” film, was made possible because of honest and direct communication. I’ve always believed that communication is the foundation of all of our relationships, and the answer to so many problems that we face in our lives. Because of this belief, in 2017, I had the idea to write a book about communication, and while performing in my most recent Broadway show, Pretty Woman the Musical, I began writing that book. Once the show closed, I knew that I was ready to start a new chapter in my life with communication, but didn’t know where to begin in creating my own coaching business, until I took a course from Tony Robbins and Dean Graziosi that helped to guide me. Before I knew it, I was coaching clients, continued writing my book, and now here I am launching that book which will be in bookstores on Jan. 25th, 2022. I feel such deep gratitude for being able to help my clients create genuine connections in their lives and businesses, (on camera and off,) through honest and authentic communication. *I want to make an important note here, that this backstory is quite an abridged version. There were many highs and lows, and nothing in my life was accomplished without endless and undeniable hard work, an ability to become “Rejection-Proof,” passion, and a deep desire to help others by following that passion.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
In 2013, I was playing Mary Delgado, Frankie Valli’s wife, in “Jersey Boys,” on Broadway. Clint Eastwood came to see the show one Sunday matinee because he was directing the upcoming film of “Jersey Boys.” A few weeks later, they began calling people in from our company to audition for the film, and they put out a breakdown, (a description of the type of person they were seeking) for the role of Mary Delgado. I called my agent to ask her to call the casting department and ask if I could have an appointment to audition for the role, and after two weeks, she called me back to say, “Renée, I don’t know what the problem is. They won’t give you an audition for Mary, but they’ll give you an audition for one of the Angels, who sings “My Boyfriend’s Back.” I was so upset and confused because every other woman I knew was getting an appointment to audition for the role, but here I was playing the role at the highest level I could be on Broadway-and they still wouldn’t give me an appointment. After feeling my feelings for a little while, I threw my hands up and said, “I did everything I could, so I’m still going to audition for an Angel!” In the audition room that day, the casting director and I were talking for a bit and then he said, “Ok, would you like to sing the song first, or read the scene?” At that moment, I took a breath, and heard this little voice from within saying, “You have to do this, it feels too right.” I looked at the casting director and said, “You know Geoff, I gotta be honest with you. I was really hoping to come in and read for the role of Mary Delgado.” He looked at me and said, “I was just thinking the same thing.” Well, I did the audition that day and felt so grateful that I simply got the chance TO audition. About three weeks later I got a call from my agent saying, “You’re Mary Delgado in the movie. Clint Eastwood loved you!” I felt like I was in a dream! The first day on set Clint walked up to me and said, “You know I went around to all the different casts but nobody was in your class. Then you came in and put yourself on tape, and it was the icing on the cake!” He and I would eat lunch together every time I filmed, and one day we were sitting with one of the producers of the film when they were talking about how Clint knew that he wanted me for the role when he saw me on Broadway. I said to them, “Do you want to hear a funny story? I couldn’t even get an appointment for the role. The only reason I ended up auditioning for Mary is because I opened up my big mouth in the room!” They were completely confused, and responded, “What do you mean, we requested the girl from Broadway to come in and audition?” Well, what happened was a miscommunication with a casting associate who was casting several films and once, and happened to drop the ball. I love this story so very much because it is not only a powerful example of why having the ability to honestly and directly communicate is so key, but also, how communication with oneself is most important. If I didn’t stay in constant communication with myself, by having quiet time to tap into my wants, needs, and struggles, then I wouldn’t have been accustomed to hearing the quiet voice of my soul/gut instincts that spoke to me that day. Bottom Line: At first look, this story can appear to be about an actress who got her lucky break, but when you look deeper, you can see that it’s a story about the opportunities that become available when you can communicate honestly and authentically within and to others!
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am obsessed with quotes! I love them, I use them every day for inspiration and I create my own! There are so many that have and continue to positively impact my life, but one comes to mind that has always stayed with me. “The saddest thing in life is wasted talent.” This is a quote from the film, “A Bronx Tale,” written by Chazz Palminteri, which is actually a quote from Palminteri’s father. All throughout my life, I have had this deep feeling within me, that I have to utilize every God-given gift that I was given, because otherwise why would I have them? I believe that the purpose of my life is to use my gifts to help others. Otherwise, those gifts go to waste, and just the thought of that gives me a pit in my stomach. Through all of my years as a professional singer/dancer/actor, (which was always what I dreamt of being as a little girl,) I still felt a pull inside that there were other gifts I needed to explore, and this feeling is why I decided to become a communication coach and an author. Coaching and writing were always passions of mine, and although I will always be a performer down to my core, I’ve always known I needed to activate my other gifts, because not doing so would mean not entirely living my purpose.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
My father, Frank Marino, who passed away last year was an incredible man and the greatest father a child could have. He instilled in me strong morals, such as integrity, loyalty, kindness, and self-respect, and no matter what, to always stay true to myself. He taught me that people will often try and place their opinions and beliefs on you about who you should be, but you need to always be true to yourself no matter what, and be confident in that person. I have lived by these words, and they have carried me through every part of my life. Now I share this same guidance with my clients whether I am helping them to communicate on camera and be themselves, or communicate in person.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?
When a team is physically together, they are on the same level playing field, so to speak, which means that they can experience the camaraderie of being in the same space, at the same time feeling one another’s energy. Feeling one another’s energy automatically connects team members more powerfully than through a digital screen. When a team is in person, they have more time to physically interact during breaks or lunchtime, and this deepens the bond within those work relationships. Also, in a study titled, “The Impact of Using Technology-Based Communication on Quality of Work Relationships,” Madara PRATT and Sarma CAKULA found that in-person company meetings and training programs are helpful in developing better social relationships among team members.
On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?
When a team is not in the same space, each member of that team has their own set of distractions from the environment that they are occupying. One person may be in a small apartment with individuals having conversations in the next room, while another person may have their cellphone on their lap that pulls their focus every time a notification goes off. This naturally creates a disconnect, because there is no commonality of the same environment. Another challenge that comes into play is “zoom fatigue” which was just studied by communication Professor Jeremy Bailenson, who is the founding director of the Stanford Virtual Human Interaction Lab. Bailenson found that the amount of eye contact on Zoom is dramatically increased versus when in person, which causes more physical and mental exhaustion. This exhaustion, in turn, makes it harder for an individual to focus when in a virtual meeting. Another challenge to consider when a team is not in the same space is how much more each person is consumed with themselves on camera. In a virtual meeting, members have to be aware of things like, “is my camera angle ok,” “is my lighting bright enough,” and just seeing themselves, in general, makes a person more self-involved. As a result, this self-awareness decreases a person’s ability to listen as effectively as they can when they are in person, where they don’t have to be concerned with those things.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space ? (Please share a story or example for each.)
To communicate effectively with your team virtually, you want your virtual meetings to feel as close to physical meetings as possible.
1. When speaking on a virtual platform, make sure to have eye contact by looking right into the lens, and not at the screen at the faces of your team members. When you look into the lens, it makes the people on the other end feel like you are looking into their eyes, and this creates a deeper connection. I recently attended a virtual seminar with about forty other attendees. There were two different speakers at the seminar, and the first one looked at the screen the entire time. I felt such a disconnect, and as I looked around at the other attendees, I could tell that they did as well. Many of them were looking at their phones, or simply not engaged at all. The second speaker began, and it felt like a complete shift in the seminar. The speaker was fully connecting with everyone through eye contact the entire time, and, in turn, we were all completely engaged and leaning in to listen.
2. When you enter a virtual meeting, before getting into business, greet your team kindly and ask how everyone is doing. Take a few minutes and allow the group to engage in some casual conversation. This simple practice gives everyone a chance to relax and more importantly, connect on a personal level before getting into work. Every time I teach my “Connecting on Camera” workshop, I begin with introducing myself first,( to set the tone of “sharing”,) and then have everyone tell their name and where they’re from. By starting the session with everyone sharing, it breaks the ice and lets everyone learn about each other. Then, everyone is much more calm and comfortable, which causes them to be more open in asking questions and also to engage with one another during the session.
3. Move your body around on breaks to positively shift the stagnant energy from sitting and staring at a screen. Otherwise, you will feel fatigued, and this prevents you from fully focusing, listening, and connecting with your team. I first understood how important this was when I had been on zoom meetings for three hours straight one day, and while I prepared for my next meeting, I found myself feeling mentally foggy and physically drained. I quickly realized that I had not gotten up, or moved for that entire time! Right away I went outside, walked around in the sunshine for ten minutes, and came back feeling recharged.
4. Have the space you occupy while doing your virtual meetings set ahead of time, so you don’t have to think about it. When we are fussing with our cameras, thinking about our backgrounds, or concerned if we have enough lighting, we are not able to fully engage with our team. One of the first times I met with a client of mine, he was not used to being on camera, so the first twenty minutes were spent helping him find the right angle and a spot in his home with good lighting, so I could see him for our session. We want to avoid situations like this by having our space already prepared, so we can completely listen to and focus on our teams.
5. In this day and age of digital technology, it is so easy to be distracted by notifications going off on our smartphones, and several tabs being open on our computers. In order to connect with our teams as effectively as possible, we want to turn everything else off, even though it may be tempting to look up something on the internet when you’re in a Zoom meeting because you believe no one can see you doing so. (Trust me, even if someone can’t actually see you surfing the web, they can feel when you’re not giving them your full attention virtually and otherwise.) Last year I was coaching a company of twenty women, and as I was speaking, I was completely thrown off when one woman’s cellphone rang more than once, and although she muted right away, she then proceeded to pick up the phone and text. This immediately interrupted my focus and ability to connect with the company. Bottom line: Do everything you can to avoid distractions, which also includes being in the quietest space possible without televisions on or conversations happening.
Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?
As a new entrepreneur, I can only speak for myself, as I am a one-woman show right now! With that said, the biggest challenge for me has been working from my home, where distractions are all around such as the laundry that needs to be done, the food that needs to be defrosted for dinner and don’t forget the seasonal decorations that need to be changed out! I am someone who loves to work in an outside location, where my brain understands it does not need to be concerned with anything but that work. I am finding ways to create more structure with being at home like not allowing myself to do domestic tasks until my “workday” is over, and also taking breaks every hour where I make sure to move my body, and get outside. That way when I come back inside, I know it’s time to get back to work!
Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?
The tools that have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space are making sure everyone has their cameras on so we can see facial expressions and body language. Also, greeting everyone in the virtual meeting as they enter the virtual room, and allowing everyone to share how they are doing before getting into business. One other extremely beneficial tool in replicating being together is making eye contact by looking into the camera lens as opposed to looking at the screen.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
If I could design the perfect communication system, it would be one where I could speak my thoughts, ideas, and strategies into a voice recorder, and it instantly formats my words into five different things: an email to send to my list, a blog post, an audio-video with photos,( that have already been uploaded to the system,) a social media caption for FB/IG/LinkedIn, and one for Twitter. The system then tracks the analytics for each platform notifying me which ones are successful in engagements, and which ones are not.
Is there a part of this future vision that concerns you? Can you explain?
As incredible as advanced technology is, I am concerned that if we do not remain self-aware, we can allow that technology to take over our human connection and interactions. The subtitle of my book, “Becoming a Master Communicator” is Balancing New School Technology with Ol’ School Simplicity for this exact reason. We must learn to balance technology with the more personal channels of communication such as in-person meet-ups, actual phone calls, and handwritten letters. By having balance, we can enjoy the gift of technology, without letting it control us or causing us to lose our deep human connections.
So far we have discussed communication within a team. How has the pandemic changed the way you interact and engage your customers? How much of your interactions have moved to digital such as chatbots, messaging apps, phone, or video calls?
The pandemic has caused all of the communication with my clients to be done virtually. I have the gift of having clients from all over the globe, and thanks to virtual technology we can communicate effortlessly through Zoom, which is my primary platform for connecting. The use of WhatsApp has also been extremely helpful in keeping me connected to my clients from all over the world!
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?
The best way to give constructive criticism to a remote team member is to do so over a video call, or in a virtual meeting, so the physical expressions and body language can still be seen. Begin with the positive, and draw attention to what they are doing great first. Then explain that you’d like to give them feedback that will help them to build upon the great work they are already doing.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
Music is the language that connects us all, and I absolutely love to use music to accompany meetings. The music can be played in the beginning as people enter the virtual room, during a meeting as a pause for a celebration of something the team accomplished, or at the end of a meeting to leave everyone on a positive note!
Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I love this question because I have thought about this subject a lot. If I could inspire any movement, it would be the movement of “Master Communicators.” This movement would be comprised of individuals who understand that everything starts with communication and that when we learn to master this skill we truly become limitless. These individuals would be dedicated to learning the right time and place to communicate through digital devices and the right time and place to put the devices aside and have a direct conversation. The first priority would be practicing intrapersonal communication, because once we have good communication with ourselves, that sets the tone for all of the communication we have in our exterior relationships. This movement would be a beautifully positive and driving force in helping people to communicate honestly and authentically in their personal and professional relationships. My dream is that my book, “Becoming a Master Communicator,” will be the catalyst for this incredible movement.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Please follow me on Instagram: @IAmReneeMarino Facebook: @CoachReneeMarino, LinkedIn/Twitter: @ReneeMarino, Website: ReneeMarino.com, and my book, “Becoming a Master Communicator,” is now available for Pre-Order: www.BecomingaMasterCommunicator.com. When you pre-order the book, you receive two incredible bonuses: “21 Ways to Use Communication to Increase Business Opportunities,” and “An Introspective Video Journaling Tool.”
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.
Thank you so much for this interview, and I wish you all Honest, Authentic, and Effective Communication in your Businesses and in your Lives!