Every Friday for an hour, Fission’s team of about 18 strategists and developers meets via video conferencing to connect all our team members. Here everyone is looking happy because a puppy will join the DC team on Monday (a joke for April Fools?! Yes, it was).
Fission prioritizes using video for meetings because, as partner Cheryl Contee notes, a large percentage of our communication is body language. The more senses that are activated in communication, the better understanding and interaction can be.
A high 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual according to Hubspot, and visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text. Visual … a big 6-letter word these days! Visuals inspire us. Says one social media coach: “Instagram is easy to use and inspires us to share moments with our friends, be a part of political movements, activism, or to help nonprofits save the world.” So too, video meetings increase multi-sensory communication.
Behavior can change outcomes, and we at Fission are in the business of making the world a better place. As a strategist, I’m interested in how small tweaks can lead to big changes. So here are my recommendations for making video meetings sing so that you get better outcomes:
1. Your body language is speaking so know what you’re saying with it
Of course, a video call isn’t just about what you say, but also how you look and move. Programs like the Harvard Mediation Program teach active listening skills that end up being useful for many social situations where you’re being evaluated or judged or simply interacting (can you think of any situations like that?!). While getting certified there, fellow students and I were coached in simple but important things like sitting forward, having arms and legs open (not crossed), and looking attentively at someone’s eyes.
Nonverbal behavior has an effect on people’s perception of us — we regularly make sweeping inferences from body language. Someone who looks like they’re actively listening will likely engage in more meaningful conversations that get important information out. We ourselves are also influenced by our own nonverbals, so here’s point #2 to help with that!
2. Take time before a video meeting to be in a power pose
Cuddy makes a persuasive case for taking two minutes before any meeting to stand in a power pose. Do this especially for meetings where you’re being evaluated — but that’s most situations to a degree. It’s a low-tech life hack.
Make yourself big, stretch out, open up. When people feel powerless, we close up and make ourselves small — not what you want to do. When feeling victorious, researchers have found that even blind people extend their arms up and out in a Victory signal. Here are some other high-power poses (these are screenshots from Cuddy’s TED talk):
In contrast, here are some low-power poses showing people protecting themselves and closing up:
By participating in meetings with the power of your full presence — with confidence, assertiveness, enthusiasm and comfort — you can help to change the outcomes of meetings. Physiologically, being assertive, confident and comfortable is when people have higher testosterone (more assertive) and lower cortisol (less stress).
Most likely before a meeting you might be hunched up, looking at an iPhone or writing on a computer. But instead we should be doing a victory sign beforehand 🙂 So for 2 minutes take a power pose to get your testosterone up and your cortisol down. You are configuring your brain to perform the best in the situation, as Cuddy says, so you don’t leave a meeting feeling “Arg! I didn’t show them who I am!”
People evaluate others most positively when they participate with presence, passion, comfort, authenticity, and enthusiasm — ie, when they bring their true selves. You dislike having no reaction from someone you’re talking with, right?
3. Show simple, visually clean surroundings behind you
This one is quick! Clean surroundings can enhance a video call while a cluttered background increases distractions. So before you start a video call, think about what your surroundings will look like from the other end. The brains of the people you’re meeting with should focus more on you and what you’re saying, not the filing cabinet and cactus behind you. “It all distracts from the communication we are trying to have right now,” explains Bowden. “Remove all distractions.”
You can control your background to your advantage. You want focus to be on your body movements and conversation, nothing else.
And to wrap up …
Of course you know that how you dress sends a visual message, so I won’t include that in these tips 🙂 And you know that a camera pointing at you from below (eg from a laptop) isn’t the normal way that someone would see you in a regular meeting (and not the most flattering).
What tools can you use? When our team was small, we used Skype video … and often experienced technical glitches (but worth it) … then Google+ Hangout, with glitches as well but still worth it because we could see each other, and now Bluejeans.com to have better sound and video quality for a big group. A benefit of Bluejeans is that some people can call in via phone if needed.
When in-person meetings aren’t practical, video meetings are often a much better alternative to traditional conference calls. You might have to coach people on how to use a video conference tool (download the plug in, test it out, etc), but after the first time they’ll be hooked.
Adriana Dakin @apdakin is a strategist with Fission and a board member of Young Women Social Entrepreneurs. She has a Master in Public Policy degree from Harvard Kennedy School.