070. Idea – Mastering Communication in a Virtual World
Welcome to EECO Asks Why. Today we have an idea episode and it’s one that I think a lot of people can relate to, and that’s mastering communication in a virtual world. You know, when COVID hit, it really impacted how we all have to communicate with each other.
And the people that are going to be very successful in the future are the ones that can master this skill. To help us walk through this idea we brought in an expert. This gentleman he’s worked with companies like Disney, Cisco, IBM, linkedIn, a lot of the big players out there. He’s got a couple of bestselling books, so we’re very excited for Tim Pollard to join us.
He was the CEO of a Oratium and one of the top leading companies in this space. So Tim, welcome. How you doing today?
Chris. Thank you very much for having me. I am doing wonderfully well, thank you very much.
Oh, we’re very excited to have you, Tim. And I know this topic means so much to a lot of our listeners out there because as we mentioned that to get started, COVID has just really impacted how we communicate in so many ways. And when we’re shifting to virtual engagements now what should expectations be for effective communication?
I think people have totally underestimated how much communication changes when it moves into a virtual world. And so what’s happening is their under preparing, under thinking how things should change and their effectiveness is, is really dropping.
And I think as you said in your intro, there will be winners and losers. When organizations, people move into the virtual environment from a communication standpoint. If you have two people selling a similar solution, well the one that’s going to win is likely to be the one that articulate their story more effectively.
And so whoever was winning in the old world may not be who’s going to win in the new world because the game, if you like has sort of been reset. We’re already seeing people adapting well to the virtual environment and doing very well as a result and then adapting poorly to the virtual environment and doing. Very poorly.
And as I said, I think the real interesting issue here is that people are totally misunderstood or underestimated how different the virtual environment is for communication. Everyone thinks it’s all about just master the platform. How do I use zoom? How do I turn on my camera? How do I mute? But that’s just the barest tip of the iceberg.
There are a lot, there are a lot of much bigger things that have changed that people haven’t understood. And that’s kind of why this is so interesting. I don’t think there’s. Certainly in my lifetime and I’m nearly 60. I don’t think there’s ever been a more interesting time to be thinking about writing about consulting in the area of communications. This is by far the most interesting season I’ve ever seen.
Absolutely. And one thing that comes to mind as someone who’s served in the B2B space for years is it was my relationship with people and the trust that they had in me. So, how is that shifting now that a lot of these engagements that are virtual now?
It’s interesting, when COVID hit we, as a firm were asked two questions over and over again, and one of them we totally expected. And one of them we didn’t expect. The one we expected is so how do we tell our story? How do we convert our sales story and adapt it in such a way that it’ll really work in the virtual environment?
That’s obvious we’re a message consulting firm. The question we heard almost as frequently, which we didn’t expect was how do I build trust in a virtual environment? Because, if you stick with the idea of sales, people buy things, but they also buy from people and they need to trust the people they buy from. And in a very flat one-dimensional environment, and that’s the real point about virtual communication is it’s it operates under a different set of social rules, social dynamics, but in a very flat virtual environment.
At the extreme, it’s me talking into a microphone to you. It’s very sterile socially. How do I build trust in that environment? And what we know is there are real answers to that. But you have to start thinking about things you never thought about before. For example the quality of your message is always important. It’s always been important, but when it goes virtual, it gets even more important because you’re going to be judged much more on the quality of your message because you, as a person aren’t even going to be in the room.
And then there are some other interesting things and we can get into them as deeply as you’d like, but we did a big study about two years ago. It’s actually discussed in the second book, but we did a big study on how does communication style correlate with trust. And what we’ve found is it’s not what you think it is.
It’s nothing to do with traditional things like eye contact and body language. In fact, there are three keys to driving up trust and what’s interesting is these three keys are particularly relevant in the virtual environment. And I’ll just tell you what they are: passion, authority and authenticity.
Passion means being enthusiastic, being passionate, expressing some level of excitement about what you do and, and excitement about solving a customer’s problem. That’s a hugely important thing. Audiences generally will rise or sink to the communicators level of passion and enthusiasm.
Imagine if I’m talking to you now, like. Yeah, communication’s really important. You really want to get it right. You know, that lack of enthusiasm is really going to come across. Whereas if I am genuinely passionate about solving your messaging problem, that is going to do a lot to build trust.
Well, authority is very interesting. People trust people who take a stand on something. I’ll prove that in a really funny way. Have you ever been to a restaurant in the old world when you went to restaurants and you ask a waiter, Hey, what’s good here? And, and he, or she says, Oh, it’s all good. You hate them, right?
You hate that person because they’re not taking a stand and you despise that unwillingness to take a stand or to show any authority. Whereas if you ask the waiter, what’s good here. And they say, you know what? The stakes are, okay. They’re not the best in town, but this, this pork chop is just to die for. You love them because they’re expressing a measure of authority.
I was talking to a client recently, we’d offered them three levels of solution to fix their sales messaging. It was kind of a light, medium and heavy, and they asked me outright, but what would you do? And the worst possible answer would be for me to say well they’re all equally good.
And I said, well, I think the light solution is great, but it’s just not going to get you what you want cheap, but it’s not going to get you what you want. I think the heavy solution is fantastic, but that may be more of an investment than you want to make, given you don’t know us very well. I think the middle point, the middle option is probably the right one for you.
Now they love that because communicators need to express a level of opinion or authority. That drives up trust. Curiously, they went for the heavy option, but the fact that I was willing to take the stand was important.
And then the The third one, if you really want to build trust with a virtual audience is a degree of authenticity. And all I mean by that is being willing to show that there’s a real human being behind the business mask.
So we might be chatting and you know, how are you doing? I’m like, Oh, I’m doing well. My daughter is struggling a little bit. She had to come home from college. She’s missed a year abroad. And she’s really struggled with that. That little revelation that there’s a real human being here goes an awful long way.
Now you just, you don’t want to go too far with that, like, Oh, Hey, Hey Chris. Good to talk to you. I’m sorry. I’m late. I’ve got this weird rash on my back. No, no, no, no, you can’t right. You can’t go too far there, but there’s an interesting question here about trust and in our view, trust comes really from four legs of a stool.
I’ve given you three, passion, authority, authenticity. The fourth one is interesting and it is, I would call it goofy words, linguistic precision. What I mean by that is very crisp, clean articulation of your arguments. There’s no room to fumble what you’re saying in a virtual environment because you got too many distractions. You’ve got less room for imprecision. So in a virtual environment, it’s important that you articulate very cleanly and very clearly what you’re saying. And that’s going to bring to light things that we’ve never really thought about.
As much as we should have done in the past, for example, rehearsal. I would typically for any, any important presentation or conversation, I would rehearse quite carefully the key points I was going to make because people trust people who are clear and articulate and they don’t trust people who are fumbling around looking for words who take five goes to get the sentence to come out properly.
So if you think about the four things I just described, they’ve always been important. Enthusiasm matters regardless of setting. But I would say if you really want to build trust with your customer, with any audience, you want to think about those four things, trust a passion or authority, authenticity, and precision. Precision in language.
No dobt, it all ties back. You said to start off with though the quality of the message. So maybe give us some, some advice or some guidance there. How should we really be evaluating our message , or should we be modifying it now that everything is going virtually?
Yes. And that’s, that’s very interesting. There’s really two different questions there. One is what should we be doing? Period with messaging. Regardless of setting or medium. And then there’s a second question. What additional modifications might be needed to a message when it moves into a virtual environment, let’s just tackle them separately.
Most messaging, regardless of setting most messaging fails because it just doesn’t really align well with the way people’s brains work with the way people learn. So for example, if you put together a 50 slide PowerPoint with a lot of stuff on it and tons of information and not very well sequenced or structured.
And very fact, and data-driven so very left brain, but really lacking in story or imagery or metaphor. It’s just failing to check all the boxes of how the brain really works. So even if I was going to have a live meeting with a customer, what I need to do, what you need to do is build messaging, particularly sales messaging, but really any presentation.
You want to build messaging that has a set of hallmarks that are much more brain aligned. So very simple and crisp don’t you don’t get to present 50 slides cause you feel like that you’ve got to stay within the brain’s bandwidth. You want to create logic in your narrative. The brain does very well with stories.
It’s very well with randomness. If I gave you a seven digit number now, and then we came back to it in five minutes, you wouldn’t remember it at all because there’s no sequence to it. You want to create a logical narrative. You want to anchor your narrative in a customer problem. You want to give them a reason to listen.
They’re not interested in you until you’ve shown that you’re interested in them. And so gaining attention, gaining engagement is hugely important. And you would just to give you a fourth one, you want to interweave more story and imagery into a sales conversation. I can talk about problem in hospital lighting. Just one solution we messaged, we built recently.
But if I was describing that problem, it’s going to engage with you much better if I said imagine an old lady she’s in a senior living facility. She’s trying to read her crossword puzzle. It’s too dark. The lighting’s not good. She can’t read it. It’s driving her crazy.
So she complains to our kids and now you’ve got a patient satisfaction problem, blah, blah, blah. What I’ve done is I’ve taken a problem, which is poor lighting, and I’ve turned it through story into something that you can really visualize. So there are a set of rules about message architecture that apply regardless of setting.
Now very quickly. Let’s think about how that works in a virtual setting. In a virtual setting. Just imagine you have a narrow window to get an arrow through you have a customer that’s more distracted. I don’t know if everyone picked that up from the mic, but a couple of minutes ago, there’s a dog barking. That’s distracting you it’s distracting me or the ups delivery van or.
But this, in this season, kids running around, you’ve got a highly distracted audience who has lower mental bandwidth. There’s already research on this, that your mental bandwidth drops in a virtual environment because you have to focus that much harder. So what this means is a whole lot of things now have to change in your message. In fact, things you should have been doing now become even more important. So for example, simplifying your message. It had to be simple in a live meeting. It’s gotta be even simpler now in a virtual meeting because you have a more distracted audience with less bandwidth.
I’ll give you the best tip in the world. Do you know by definition, you should try and have all of your customer conversations in the morning. Because zoom fatigue is real. You think you’re going to get the best of your customer’s brain three o’clock in the afternoon when they’ve already had five hours of zoom calls?
No. So always try and get on the right side of the zoom fatigue. I’ve let someone else get the 3:30 slot. I think there’s a major structural change in sales happening where everyone should be arranging all of their meetings in the morning and then all your afternoon, should we spend on administration and research and prep and expenses.
But people, people just aren’t thinking about this properly. So the, the main idea. Is that in a virtual environment, you have to assume you’re working your customer kind of doesn’t have quite the same mental capacity, and this is also the stupid, it’s just incredibly hard to work in that environment.
So you have to streamline, you have to simplify, as I said earlier, you have to really perfect your language and then some very structural things, better microphone to improve the sound go for the meetings in the morning is just a fascinating raft of things you now have to get. Right.
Right, right. That front end prep and work and everything that we can do to to improve and make that experience better. Because like you said, that that mental bandwidth drops, that’s a good tip about targeting the morning times versus the afternoon. I hadn’t thought about that. So any other of those low-hanging areas that you’re seeing is this common mistakes or, or trips that people are, are making with the virtual?
Yeah. Yeah. Yes. And it ranges from simple but obvious, but people have missed them too to really quite deep. We actually use an acronym for this called TRAPS and I think your audience would find this helpful. When it comes to mastering the platform avoid the traps. So what are the traps?
T is technology. Here’s a really obvious tip and everyone forgets this. Get the meeting onto the platform that you best understand. I am a WebEx guy. I think WebEx is amazing. I think zoom is pretty good. I think the rest of them suck. I will get I think zoom is okay, but I’ll do it customers saying, Hey, let’s do a zoom call.
And I will always say, Hey, if you don’t mind, can we do it on my WebEx? And they always say, yes. Nobody cares what platform it’s on, but I’ve now got it on the platform I understand. I know where the buttons are. I know where the icons are. I know how to do chat. I know how to share my screen and it’s amazing how easily those little things can trip you up.
And if you suddenly have to do something, heaven forbid Microsoft teams. I don’t love that platform. I be careful what I say here. I don’t think it’s very good, but I also don’t. I don’t really know how it works. So now I’m fumbling around looking for the share button or mute button. I don’t know where they are. Well, think about how that kills your credibility. So you do need to know the basics of the core platforms cause you can’t always control it. But the great thing is to get the meeting onto the platform you know best. And now I know exactly. I know everything about how WebEx works. You do want to know your way around the core platforms, just, just in case you have to use them.
The second thing, by the way, here’s another one it’s less true now, but if you’re working from home, make damn sure that the kids aren’t binge watching Netflix and destroying your bandwidth. We have a, we have a bandwidth blackout that we have in our house when I’m on a, on a web call. And if you’ve got three kids in the house and they’re all streaming something onto their iPad, you’re going to kill your bandwidth. Again, obvious stuff, but people aren’t doing it.
R is very interesting guys, remove distractions lock the dog in the garage or whatever it is. But it it’s, it’s interesting. One of the things we know is true now in a post COVID world, some of these distractions are now seen as more acceptable. I was doing a call. Oh, I dunno a month ago with a very senior executive, funnily enough, from the electrical industry and for the whole call, he’s got this adorable little 18 month old baby boy. He’s just bouncing him on his lap and he’s cute as all get out.
And we chat a little bit about him before we get into our conversation. We’re having a very serious business conversation. There’s nothing weird about that at all. And I was reflecting that if that had been 18 months ago, pre COVID, that would have been weird, but there have been some changes to the rules, but here’s the difference.
He was the audience or the customer, and I was the presenter or the seller. I think it’s less acceptable for you as the presenter. So a great rule is, is remove those distractions, lock your office door, put do not disturb on the door. Obviously life is life. If you have to be the sole caregiver of a young child, they might come in.
But in general, try and get those distractions out of the way. I actually moved this conversation into a different part of the house cause they leaf blowing somewhere on the other side of the house. And so I’m just thoughtful and attentive about distractions.
The third one’s really interesting. A that’s ambience. On a web call just have a professional look and feel to the environment. There’s two mistakes you make here. Never have the window behind you. Because now you’re back lit and you’re just blacked, blacked out like a witness protection program. Absolutely stupid and obvious thing to fix. But I would say on every web call, I do one in five people has the light directly behind them.
And then don’t have a pile of laundry over the back of a chair in front of that light, you just, again, it just kills your professional look. So always be front lit. You always want to have the window in front of you. And then another good tip on ambiance by the way is always raise your laptop up.
So the camera is that eye height. You ever been on a call recently and you’ve just got a fantastic view straight right up somebody’s nose, and you can really get to examine their nose here. Well, you think everyone would have figured this out, but I was, I was actually watching the news the other day and they were interviewing the BBC news and the world news, the American version.
So I live in the States and they’re interviewing a doctor about some aspect of COVID amazing woman, but she’s got the laptop on this really low desk and it’s looking straight. Up into the roof of her mouth and her nose. And it was sort of, it was really discomforting right. For heaven’s sake. So just think Superman. think Superman, right. Up, up and away.
Right. Have the laptop, have the laptop up and have it further away. Up up and away. Superman. Right. Have it four or five, six feet away. You get a much better perspective. I don’t want a close up view of your nose hair.
So the last two quickly. P is prompts. Whenever you’re presenting have very good notes. And the other thing you want to do is position them behind your laptop, close to where the camera is, because then you’re not constantly looking down and disconnected. We may get into this later, but you want to have your camera on. You want to beg them to have their camera on, and you want to be looking at the camera the whole time, as much as you can, which also means you shouldn’t project slides. But what that means is have your notes behind your laptop. So you’re always staying at eye level.
And then the final one various thing is sound in a live meeting, sound quality is perfect, but words leave my mouth and they arrive at your ear 10 feet away. Perfect sound quality. Think about what’s happening now.
I’m talking into a mic on a pair of headphones. That’s going into my phone over the internet, out of whatever laptop speakers you have, and it’s not good. And that sound decay contributes to how hard it is for somebody to focus. It’s hard to listen. With poor sound quality. So another really, really obvious one is invest in a good microphone.
When I’m doing a webcast or a web web based meeting, I have a ultra high quality microphone that I connect to my laptop, and at least I do as much as I can to improve the quality at my end. And then that has a material difference to the sound that comes out at your end. And funnily enough something that I’ve known in the radio industry for a long time is this is a particular issue.
If you’re a woman. Now that’s not a wildly sexist comment. It’s interesting because I was talking to a radio producer about this recently. Women’s voices typically, not always, but typically operate at a higher register than men’s voices and that higher register isn’t captured as well by most microphones.
And therefore it doesn’t transmit as well over digital channels. They’ve known this for years in the radio industry, that radio interviews, you would always need a better microphone or is use a better microphone or it would be more helpful for women to be talking into a higher quality microphone.
Again, that’s not a gernder bias comment is simply that women’s voices operate in a different tonal register. So if I was a woman with a higher register voice, I’m going to be having to overcome that additional barrier. So even more reason to really invest in a great microphone. So if you really want to master the platform, then that acronym is very, very helpful. TRAPS.
Some of that it’s really obvious. Like we’ve all looked up somebody’s nose and thought how grotesque that is. So, you know, what. Get up, get a shoe box and put your laptop on a shoe box. It’s not that hard and don’t sit a foot away from it. Sit four feet away from it. Sometimes it’s just, you need to hear that. So once you’ve heard it, you’ll never, you’ll never forget it, but you just need to learn.
And some of it, I think we need to, as we’re trying to support. You know, people, customers, and users, or even just teammates virtually, we need to invest in ourselves get some good lighting.
You know, I have some backlights some little cheap USB led lights and I can dim them up dim them down, but it gives me some proper lighting when I’m on a virtual meeting something that you just got to take on yourself.
Absolutely. Yeah, we actually actually have a photo that we use to show people how to do this, but it’s one of our team members. His laptop has raised he’s using a good quality mic.. He’s got natural light in front of him, but it’s a little bit off to the side. So he has a table lamp on the other side to avoid those shadows. His notes are behind his laptop and he’s just an exceptionally good virtual communicator.
Now compare that to some Joe who’s got the light directly behind him, his laptops too low down. He’s far too close to it. He’s using a garbage microphone and his notes are distracting him. It’s, it’s extraordinary how big a difference this can make. And again, audiences judge communicators more harshly than they realize.
You’re not just judged on what you say. You are judged to some extent on a broader package of how you carry out, how you conduct your communication. So if someone’s presenting to me and there’s, there’s kids running around again, that’s not necessarily an issue, but kids running around backlit poor mic. Poorly positioned laptop. I’m forming associations there. And we do well to try and solve those problems.
What about standing during a virtual meetings and actually you have to raise your energy level. Is that something that you’ve seen people try to do?
Yes. Thank you. I forgot that. Yes, absolutely. I should have tied that back to the passion and energy and enthusiasm. I would always stand up. I would always stand up to present. You’re a better on camera. Appearance there and you have higher energy level. Just try this now you’ve got about 30% more lung capacity when you stand up.
So all, all manner of things improve. I completely disagree with the idea that body language and eye contact matter. They don’t, we proved this, but as far as the energy level, that imparts and at least an ability to be a bit more expressive those are really important. Now, again, that will tend to do two things for you. That a good one. Well, one good thing. And one thing you’ve got to watch.
The good thing is that will tend to put you further away from your laptop, which is exactly what you want. You don’t want to be writing close. But the second thing you gotta do is make sure then you raised. You raise the laptop up again, the laptop is more sort of chest or neck height rather than you looking down into it. But yeah, no, that’s a great tip. I totally agree with.
Yeah. I learned podcasting that I have to stand. We tried a few with me sitting down and Adam was like, your energy level is not right. So we’ve learned that standing up helps and, and it’s funny you say that. So I have two monitors in the studio and one is when I’m sitting down, I have a camera. Right on that. And once I can sit down, I think when you and I had our virtual meeting, I had that camera going.
And then I also have a camera mounted on a little platform that I built. That’s about two foot tall and that’s where my second monitor sits. And I have a camera on top of that. So that’s can toggle between, but you have to be I had to invest time and get all that. Right. Because depending on the scenario I, want my ambiance to be right. So it’s a, that’s a great acronym. And I think one, it really helpful for our listeners for sure.
Good. Yeah. I thought you can write that down in our virtual training, we have a little card that’s in the handout that you just pin it on your wall and just until it becomes second nature, just remember to do these things, but you’re right.
I think the key word here is intentional. You have to understand the issues that have changed and you have to respond intentionally. It’s not enough to wander in one minute before your call starts and just switch on zoom dressed in some crappy black Sabbath t-shirt with the light behind you and the laptop to low down. You’ve got to put more thought into that. Communication matters and like anything in life you you’re going to get out, roughly what you put in.
I can tell somebody who’s poorly prepared and hasn’t thought these issues through within the first 30 seconds. Now, sometimes it’s, they just don’t know the rules. I think that’s where we fit in. We can we’re, we’re, we’re sort of enjoying our role now, teaching people the rules of virtual communication.
No doubt. I, and I’m curious to own your take on this because I’ve seen more and more cases in the virtual setting where sometimes you get you jump on these zoom meetings or teams or, or WebEx’s, and not everyone has a camera on, is there, if you were to walk me through some tips on how to encourage people to flip those cameras on, to make that engagement better, any, any advice there?
Yeah, so, probably three or four things. One always have your own camera on. Have it on from the beginning. I I’ll give you four tips. Even ahead of the meeting in the final confirmation email. Hey, Chris, looking forward to talking to you. And I hope we get to have our cameras on. It will be nice to kind of try and recreate a real social experience. So something subtle that says let’s go for cameras here. And now you and I obviously doing this over audio, which is normal for a podcast, but I think if we were going to do a call and you’d say, Hey, Tim let’s do is, it’ll be fun to meet you and see your face.
So something like that. So try and set that scene. Maybe a lot of times people don’t turn the cameras on because they feel like they haven’t prepared. Well I was on a call recently where a woman from a senior client, senior woman from a client said, Hey guys, I’m just kind of not. I didn’t kind of set up for camera work today and she’s laughing.
I’m like, Hey, that’s totally fine. So sometimes people get into a day where they don’t want to be on camera. So if you can help them ahead of time to think about that. That’s that’s good. Second thing always get your camera on. Always get your camera on because that encourages people. If your camera isn’t on theirs will not be on.
The third thing is then I would always just ask. And I’m very low key. Like, Hey Chris, am I going to see your face today? And that’s sort of subtle. So I’d love to love to see your face. You know, something like that. You can’t be overly familiar, but ask, say, let’s, let’s do that. Let’s try and create as much of a real social interaction as we can.
You then put a subtle social pressure on somebody to go along with that. It’s a little harder for them to refuse. And then the other thing I would say, and this is very important. This comes back a little bit to the structure of your message is don’t project slides or at least don’t project them for the whole time.
I I’m a huge opponent of slide based presentations. I would probably much prefer people build a nice, really simple clean document or boil their argument down. So it does fit on just a very small number of slides, maybe project that while you’re talking about it and then get it off the screen as soon as you can.
In other words, establish the slides are not the center of attention here, but we are, we are having a conversation and the supply, the slides are a support to that. So, yeah. Because what will happen a lot of times is people move to slide based. Then you watch somebody turn their camera off, and now you’ve got no idea what they’re doing.
And now they’re petting the dog or they’re checking email on a big call with a large number of people. You you’ve got an issue there and there is, by the way in there another very small tip, but worth mentioning. I would typically try and do smaller meetings in terms of numbers of people. When you get 20 or 30 people you’re done, there’s no real face-to-face connection possible, even if they’re on screen.
And so if I had a meeting say I wanted to do with eight people, I might break it into two groups of four. And so, Hey, let’s, let’s do this twice so we can have a more meaningful interaction. And there’s another issue that’s going to show up in a minute, which I think is in one of the questions you want to ask, but how you build interaction and how you get alignment and really know if the customer or the audience is engaging. There are some other things you need to do beyond just cameras and that really the number of people on the call. That’s going to make a real difference there.
Right, and to your point on what you said about when you start presenting, I’ve seen it happen so many times, they just disappear. They’re gone and you see the initials and it, and you’ve lost them at that point. And I think those are some great tips that ahead of time. No, this was wonderful. Always having yours own because I’ve also seen it whenever someone joins a meeting and their camera’s on, it’s like, Immediately that’s like dominoes. They just start popping up, up, up, up, up, up camera’s start coming on. So
People. People, follow social pressure. If the first three people on the call have their cameras on, pretty much everyone will end up on camera. Now somebody might be driving. Somebody might be on their phone. Somebody literally might be having a, a bad head eye and they just don’t want to do that.
And that’s totally fine. One of the rules of communication is you can’t win every battle, but that doesn’t mean you don’t fight it. You know, I can’t always guarantee that everyone on the call will be on camera. I had a call the other day where two of the guys are in a, in their car and their respective cars.
And so there’s nothing I can do about that. They’re just on audio while they’re driving. It’s fine. But I still want to get the odds as much in my favor as I can.
No doubt, no doubt. And to the point where you, you were just making so far as is understanding alignment and, and looking for friction points and just understanding is my message getting across. It’s hard to do that virtually body language is, is not as easily read across the computer, any tips on how to address that.
Yes. Yes. This is a huge issue. Do you remember I said earlier that the real challenge in the virtual environment is not mastering the platform. The real challenge is understanding the change in social dynamics.
So there are three big changes in social dynamics. We’ve talked about two of them. One of them is. Distraction and an inability of the customer to focus because they’re being distracted. The second one is sort of a loss of mental bandwidth that it’s just, they have to focus really hard. If you add those two together, they tend to drive you to the same things, simplicity and really good linear messaging because both of them are about sort of a decay in their cognitive abilities.
The third one’s completely different. The third one is a loss of social cues. I I’m talking to you now. I don’t know if you’re agreeing. If you’re disagreeing, if you’re skeptical, if you’re rolling your eyes, if your arms are folded and scowling, all of these things that are phenomenally important in certain types of conversations. If I’m a leader and I’m just presenting to my team And they are about some big project and how we’re all going to have to work really hard to pull together.
I need to know how they’re responding. I need to know if they’re like, yeah, God we’re with you, or, yeah, good luck with that. I’m going to go look for another job. And it could not be more important in sales. You know, th the great gift of salespeople is not ultimately that they’re great communicators. A lot of great salespeople are not great communicators.
The great gift of salespeople is they have high social IQ. They know how to read a room and understand what’s going on. And what’s its feel what’s its vibe. What’s its feel what’s its mood and lean in and respond to that. And that is one of the biggest challenges in virtual communication is this social sterility, this loss of feedback.
Now, one of the two ways you fix that, there are two ways. One is we talked about, get on camera, get them on camera. Don’t project slides. And, and by the way, if you’re well-rehearsed, we talked about that. And if you have your notes in the right place behind the camera, you can really focus on their faces and bodies and understand how they’re responding.
And, and again, a third rule don’t allow the meeting to be too big. If I’ve rehearsed well. So I don’t need to be looking at my notes and I have a few notes behind the camera and there’s only three or four people and their camera’s on. Okay. Think about the aggregate effect here. I can actually pretty closely replicate the social feedback I would have got in a live environment.
So that’s the first thing is, is build your communication model, construct communication model that can create social feedback. The second thing is totally different it’s to do with your intentional use of questions. So you in a live meeting it’ll tend to be vibrant and it’ll tend to have a lot of interaction because just how natural human discourse works.
In a virtual meeting, that changes. It goes very flat. People tend to go into sort of receive mode rather than interact mode and the phrase we use a lot. Monologues are great in Shakespeare, but they don’t land deals. You can’t let a conversation, especially with a customer turn into a monologue. Now, part of that is the camera piece I discussed, but the second part of that is questions.
Now here’s the thing you want to know. The key here is great outbound questions. And it is one of the single biggest weaknesses of all communicators. Have you ever seen somebody do a presentation and the last slide, the last slide says questions, question Mark. Yeah, that’s kind of what kind of, what kind of idiot does that?
It, I like to say it if you’ve done it right, but that’s ridiculous, right? Because that’s not interaction and by the way, That is literally a signal that the conversation’s over. So you never get questions at those moments. What we don’t think hard about this. We don’t know how it works. What we do is we tend to, we don’t think about how important the question is, and we don’t think about how to structure a great question.
So let’s imagine let’s take a key moment in a sales conversation where I might have talked to you about a problem that you’ve got. I finished that. And then there’s this embarrassed silence. And then I ask a really dumb question. So so there’s the problem, guys? What do you think? We just naturally our human brains naturally ask terrible questions on the fly.
So I ask you that. Well, what do you think? And then the customer’s like, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a problem. That just kills you that’s right now. W what should you do? Imagine I presented a problem. Let’s say hospital lighting. And I’ve talked about nursing productivity and I talked about patient satisfaction and I talk about safety because you have poor lighting in a stairwell.
People break their legs. So I said, well, Hey guys, we’ve looked at this, this interesting lighting problem. I presented four ways it shows up at a hospital. I’m really interested you know, Chris is, as you think about your hospital, how would you rank order those four. What, what would be your, how would you prioritize them?
That’s a brilliant question because now I am forcing you to engage intellectually with two things, right? I’m forcing you to engage intellectually with what I said, the customer’s now got to go, Oh, crap. I’ve got to think about that. Okay. Well, You know what we have lost some nurses. And so I do care about productivity and their work working environment.
It’s clearly important. We’ve had patients are satisfied, blah, blah, blah. So now the customer is forced to think through and engage with your argument intellectually. The second thing is telling you, it’s just telling you what they think is important. There’s nothing more valuable for a salesperson for the customer to feed back to them.
Yeah. I care about this and I don’t care about that. Now, what do you think about how you get that? You don’t get there by hoping your brain is going to come up with a good question in the moment, because it won’t in the moment. You’re going to say. So what do you guys think?
Whenever I’m preparing any presentation, I do two things. Well, I do a lot of things, but two things in this sphere. I look for the moment where a question to draw the customer out is absolutely critical. What is that critical moment? And there are several of them, but one of them is always when you finish discussing the customer problem. And then I very carefully design a killer question.
Not what do you think? But often I’ll ask, well, guys, we looked at four things. I’m kind of interested in this. If you, if you imagine you had a hundred pennies, how would you assign a hundred pennies across those four? In terms of the importance you would place on them? That’s a breathtakingly good question.
And that is one of the best ways that you can overcome the lack of ordinary feedback and cues, the lack of body language. So you get part of it by always having faces on screen, smaller crowds. But the second way is you want to become a brilliant question master. And if you can do that, it will make an enormous difference.
You don’t need 50 of them. You probably in any great sales conversation, need two or three. You know, so I might later on say we’ve looked at the implementation of our model and I’ve shown you some ways it’s easy to implement, but I’m curious when you look at our model, in what ways do you feel it might be easy to implement for you?
And in what ways do you feel it might be hard? And then the customer’s going to come back and say, Oh, well, I think the nurses will be really jazzed about this because they want a better environment. I think operations will have a bit of a challenge because they don’t want to rip out the ceiling.
How do you rip out the ceiling of all these old ladies bedrooms? And again, they’re telling you so much, so if you really want to be great adapting to the virtual environment. You need to intentionally design interactivity. The two ways you do that by showing faces and designing questions.
And I guess to, just to clarify, you’re not waiting for those questions at the end of your presentation, your, your inner weaving those throughout to, to check that engagement into to see kind of progress, how things are going.
100% And the, one of the biggest mistake communicators just make is to take questions at the end. Well, I do a lot of keynotes, big 3000 person keynotes, even in a keynote live or virtual. I will encourage questions as we go throw a question in the chat.
You know what often with a big keynote, like for IBM or somebody will have a moderator. In our studio where we’re broadcasting from, because if you, if you confuse somebody or really thrown them off and it creates a sort of a cognitive fracture, what good is it answering that question 45 minutes from now? To me, it’s a sign of cowardice in presenters.
They’re afraid to be thrown off track. I hate that. I would always say, look, even if it’s a big group, but if you have a question, throw it in the chat and then I’ll always have moderators. I obviously, if it’s you alone just to have them ask, but, but you’ll always have a moderator. And if they, if it’s a really dumb question, then the moderator will typically ignore it.
But if they see a good question, there’ll be, Hey Tim, I’ve got a question here. It’s very respectful and that’s in a big keynote. Now in a sales meeting, period, you have to do this. And by the way, the other tip there is always tell them at the beginning, Hey, let’s say questions as we go. Nobody wants a monologue. Let’s try and have a, a vibrant conversation.
So encourage them upfront to ask questions, pause, but don’t pause and say, okay, well let me just stop there. Cricket, cricket. Everyone does that. It never works. You’ve got to, you’ve got to, to ask the great outbound question. Let me just pause there. We’ve talked about a problem that we see hospitals having.
In what ways is that showing up for you, Chris, or maybe Mary and suddenly. You’re so much better as a communicator, if you, if you think that through. Yeah. By the way, just try to give you as much practical advice here. The other thing that gets you, that is there’s a rule of, we call it the rule of one third.
If you’re going to have a one-hour conversation, never plan for more than 20 to 25 minutes of unbroken remarks. Always make sure that you allow at least half, if not two thirds of the time for conversation. One of the reasons people get no conversation is they just don’t build in enough time for it. If I’m going to speak, if I’ve got an hours meeting and I plan to speak for an hour, well, I’ve already lost, right?
Because I don’t have the room there. So don’t plan to speak for too long. And then intentionally design the conversation. You want to think as hard about the questions you ask. Certainly that you think as hard about the questions you ask, as you do about the material you present. Your, your prep for your questions is just as important for your prep, for your remarks. It’s all one thing. In fact.
It is. And I think that’s where so many people, they just oversimplify that or they think they can in the moment. Oh, it’ll come to me. And that’s not, that’s just totally not the right approach.
No, I keep meaning to look into this and I haven’t had the time, but there is. W we’re real students that are our company of how the brain works, how the brain works relative to communication.
And the brain is just lousy at constructing good questions. I don’t know why. You end up with like, so any questions, that isn’t even a question it’s like, or so, so what do you think or so thoughts, questions, reactions, responses. No, one’s going to rise to that bait. That is a very unappealing bait and somebody will come in then very reluctantly and that’s bad.
It’s like, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s a problem. Yeah. Yeah. It’s a problem. It’s like, they’re so reluctant because they feel, I think they feel the laziness on it. Whereas again, if you say. Hey, how would you rank order these four in terms of how they would concern you? You, you it’s become a puzzle or a challenge, and now they have to lean in intellectually and that’s what you want. Right? The key of communication is to engage somebody mentally and you blow that. If you get the interaction design role.
No doubt. Tim, this has been, this has been wonderful. I think this is one of those episodes for that, that people will go back in and listen to multiple times. Cause there’s so many good golden nuggets of advice and you know, we, we call it EECO Asks Why to get to the heart of the show with the Why. I’m anxious to hear what, where are you going to go here? Why is it so important that we should master this skill of virtually communicating?
Yeah, I think that is a really, really interesting question. You know, why is, why is mastering communications so important? I think there’s a really interesting paradox here because communication is often described in business in industry as a soft skill. And that is like damned by faint praise. What are the real hard skills?
I dunno, like accounting, the husband, but communication is just a soft skill, which is a very short jump away from saying it’s kind of optional, but let’s think about this. Let’s think about whether it really is optional. I hate that term soft skill. You can literally look at people across history, across the millennia.
In fact, Whose communication ability was a foundational part of their success. Winston Churchill, perfect example. And, and arguably, although you don’t really want, we, we, none of us want to go there. I don’t know if Hitler. Adolf Hitler actually motivated people who were good, fundamentally good people to incredibly sinister actions.
That’s the power of communication. You could argue that Churchill rally people ultimately to virtuous actions, the defense of freedom. So think about Hitler, Hitler in some ways achieve more showing you the power of great communication. Now, unfortunately he achieved it for the most evil of purposes, but, but what we can understand if we study it carefully is communication is an enormous part of historical success.
Look at Steve jobs, Steve jobs, widely regarded as one of the finest communicators who’s ever lived, I think in terms of contemporary business lives, certainly. And it is absolutely clear that it was a huge contributor to his success. I’ll ask you a question and I will deliberately not let you answer it and I’m not going to answer it either. Name one presidential election in the U S where the weaker communicater one.
This is really interesting stuff, right? Commute, great communicators, beat average communicators consistently in every sphere in every arena. That’s why they play so much emphasis on the debates and in the politic political realm. And particularly, look, if you can just score a draw that’s okay. You don’t want to be beat just beaten badly in a debate.
So yeah. The paradox is we sort of think of communication as a soft skill or kind of nice if you have it, but who cares? But I could talk for an hour about how you can prove empirically that great communicators tend to win versus average communicators. Now winning sort of matters, right? In sales. If I’m up against, let’s say hypothetically three other lighting companies for this hospital’s business. And to have them go in with a garbage PowerPoint, talking all about the lighting and I go in with an elegant argument talking about why lighting can help a hospital run better, achieve your goals, solve your problems in a logical narrative, beautifully, carefully prepared and I, and within that experience, I’ve got great interactivity. I’m gonna win. It’s. As simple as that.
We have tons of clients who’ve really embraced kind of our full model for message design and delivery. And I’m getting emails regularly now about how powerfully they’re performing in the virtual environment and how well that’s impacting the sales outcomes.
So I don’t think it’s a stretch to say it really matters and that there are winners and losers. We sort of need to move on from the, the soft skill nonsense and start to understand that communication like leadership, like accomplished change management. not soft skills. They are unbelievably important skills.
If you’re a leader and you can’t manage change. You’re going to go down fast and quiet when things change. So I, I don’t know. This is more perhaps a plea to the heart than the mind in some ways, I think it’s also a plea to the mind, but if you want to be an accomplished professional, it is very hard to be that in a profession where communication matters, but my brother’s a transplant surgeon. He’s a great guy. I don’t think he has the best communication skills in the world, and I don’t care. If I need a liver transplant. I don’t care if the guy can’t string together two sentences. I want him to do a great liver transplant, but in most professions, communication is important.
And in sales it’s arguably the most important of all skills. So I don’t think you can ignore it. I don’t think you can just assume you’re going to, you’re going to waltz up to your laptop and do well without thinking really hard about the architecture of your message and the architecture and conduct of your meeting.
And we’ve already for the last 45 minutes, we talked about 20 different mistakes people make and how that’s going to destroy their effectiveness and destroy their credibility. So I am, I am genuinely passionate about this. You, you fix this or you will suffer the consequences.
Well, in your, your expertise to knowledge, to the insights you brought for this episode has been wonderful. For those that want to learn more we’ll put links in the show notes. Tim has two great books. One called the compelling communicator. One called mastering the moment, both are great references as well as his company, the work they’re doing there. So I encourage everyone to check the show notes out learn more. And Tim, thank you so much for bringing so much wisdom today.
No, that was fun. I don’t know. Let me add one thing. It’s to my eternal frustration, both books, but the second one particularly was, was concluded before the world went virtual and I’m sort of noodling on the miserable idea of having to go back into those books and redraft them to some extent for the virtual world.
I think if your audience is really interested in this, there’s an e-learning we developed in conjunction with a couple of very big clients called designing and delivering the virtual sales conversation. And that really does reflect our more recent thinking. And most of what we’ve talked about here. I want to stay married, so I don’t know if I’m going to get to write the virtual communication book because it took a lot out of me to write the first two and the principles.
The principles are not changing. It’s now this different social environment. That’s a really, really fun product. It’s 10, 20 minute lessons on how do you build an actually a virtual message and execute a virtual meeting? And we just did a big refresh. That’s probably the most direct access to what the deeper terrain that we’ve talked about.
Absolutely. And we’ll make sure we link that up. Grab Tim’s books on Amazon and then go check out that course. So Tim, this has been wonderful. Thank you.
Lovely. It was so much fun. Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed it.