5As - Our presence matters when virtual
[Today’s Tuesday Reading is from Justin Sipher, Program Leader, Leadership Coach and Consultant at MOR Associates. Justin may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
Many of us have just passed the one-year anniversary of when we transitioned from working in and around our colleagues and the community we serve to now working remotely. We have lost the ability to pop into someone’s office for a quick discussion or maybe even stay in the conference room after the end of a meeting to follow-up on a previous discussion.
It has been a complicated year for all of us, both in terms of trying to find a space in our home worthy of video conferencing, and also navigating personal responsibilities. We have not simply been “working from home,” we have been “working while home” with other responsibilities.
While careful not to judge others due to their circumstances, it is still evident that as professionals, our presence matters. In this case it’s our virtual presence that matters. We can’t have a video studio at home, nor should we feel pressure to. However, there are many things we can do to ensure that the presence we are conveying represents both what we want and what we need for success.
In a recent workshop series, Leading & Managing in a Virtual World, MOR Associates suggested a framework to think about enhancing our Virtual Presence. As we do for many other topics, we gave it a catchy way to remember it. The 5As of Virtual Presence. Aware – Appear – Active – Articulate – Authentic.
Aware - We have seen colleagues, and perhaps ourselves from time to time, enter a meeting not fully prepared. Running late, disorganized, still dwelling on the previous meeting, the list goes on. Also when leading a meeting, did you get the agenda out in time for the participants to fully prepare? Have you considered the desired or needed outcome? All of these align with being aware. What used to be the need to reset your mental and physical mindset before entering a room, is the same in the virtual space when entering a Zoom.
If any of the above resonate with you, perhaps utilizing some known techniques can help you:
- Planning time to map out the preparation needed for the week.
- Defensive calendaring to allot that time.
- Before clicking that meeting link, be aware of the purpose of the meeting and your involvement.
- Commit time to developing or reviewing the agenda to maximize your impact.
- Ensure action items, deadlines, and next steps are documented from meetings.
- Be intentional about what you contribute to make the most of the time.
Appear - As I said earlier, most of us do not have a dedicated studio space where we live to allow for focused and visually appealing backdrops, nor should we feel the pressure of living up to expectations. Still, there is much we can do, with some good attention to detail allowing us to project the appearance we want for the situation. The reality is that how we project ourselves does matter and can convey more messages than we realize or intend.
Controlling the controllables regarding ensuring your appearance can include:
- Increase lighting in front of you, and reduce the lighting behind you.
- Do what you can to increase the degree to which you are looking at, or very near, your camera.
- Be aware of all the visuals in your background and make sure it’s representing what you want.
- Use a virtual background (or the blur feature) if and only if it improves your appearance for the situation.
Active - Given our virtual engagements are frequent and each one can be incredibly impactful, you should be aware of and intentional about your activity level. The temptation to multitask is omnipresent with our desktops showing a multitude of communication, collaboration, and productivity applications. It’s so easy to think that you will simultaneously get these other tasks done while also on a video conference, especially when you feel the topic or conversation is not directly relevant to you. However, more often than not, your divided attention will backfire. Are you being an active listener when engaged in dialog? Also, the virtual world can be an amplifier to our natural introvert-extrovert tendencies.
I’d never suggest someone try to be anything other than authentic. However, here are suggestions for improving your activity level:
- If you know that you are an extrovert, be sensitive how hard it may be for others to jump into a virtual conversation if you and others with similar tendencies often unintentionally overwhelm a conversation. Perhaps you can occasionally seek the perspective of those not so eagerly engaged. Or practice patience before chiming in to allow others to add to the conversation.
- If you have more introverted tendencies, you need to find ways to seize a moment in the conversation to share your perspective. Also, the chat feature may be a way for you to insert your perspectives. If your participation isn’t noticed, then your absence won’t be missed.
- Staying focused and practicing active listening is an important habit to reinforce in the virtual world. We can’t always predict when our expertise is needed, and it quickly becomes evident if called upon if you were not fully engaged.
Articulate - The ability to successfully articulate your point is an essential skill in the virtual world. Our presence both impacts this and results from it. The skills of the written word, the ability to verbally make a point, and lastly the ability to use visuals that successfully support your messaging all impact your success. With this in mind, be aware of the following:
- Be as clear and concise as possible in expressing your points.
- For added impact, look at the camera so participants experience you looking at them.
- If you’re using visuals, keep them simple and practice sharing them within the collaboration technology prior to when it counts.
- If you have written cues, keep them as short mental joggers so you don’t come across as scripted.
Authentic - A key to successful presence is associated with having and projecting confidence. This is aided when an individual feels they can be their authentic self. A culture where every person can be themselves allows for people to perform at their best.
- Leverage your strengths, be genuine, and stay true to who you are.
- Authenticity and inauthenticity are both easily observable, even virtually.
- Be authentic and purposeful to the agenda - help the group stay on topic and make progress on that topic. We can all do this regardless of our formal role. Lead from where you are.
Make sure to be intentional about the presence you are projecting while in this virtual space and start with controlling the controllables. There are certainly things we cannot manage but if we focus on that which we can influence and control, we can make sure to project the presence we want.