Nothing damages a speaker’s credibility and distracts listeners more than those ums, uh, ah, you know, and other fillers so many speakers lean on. Learn how to get rid of them so audiences pay attention to your message.
We were shopping for a career coach for our son and reached out to someone who came highly recommended as one of the best in the business. “Robert” immediately sent us an email with a multi-page PDF of the services he could offer us.
Included was a category called interview preparation. For $250.00, Robert’s one-hour interview preparation service would provide clients with “live simulated interview practice” to help them clearly articulate their brand and answer difficult questions.
My husband, son and I set up a phone interview using the conference line in my office.
As the call began, we heard a lot of background noise making it difficult to hear. We were asking Robert questions, but his connection kept cutting out and he said he was having trouble hearing us. At first, I thought it was a problem with my conference connection until I heard what sounded like “Iced grande six-pump vanilla latte.”
“Excuse me”, I interrupted, “did you say something”?
“No, thank you, just one shot”, he answered. “Oh sorry, he continued, I’m at Starbucks.”
Let me get this straight. Robert is being interviewed to work with our son. He offers services to help people improve their interview skills and articulate their brand. Yet his brand states ordering coffee is more important than paying attention. How can someone possibly offer interview preparation services if they don’t know how to conduct an effective interview?
My father used to say, “actions speak louder than words.” It means people’s actions, not their words show their real attitudes.
Someone can talk about being the best in the business, but nothing says that better than their behavior. Attitude, attention and approach to people from the moment you meet is what sets you apart. Whether pitching new business, delivering a presentation or attending a networking event, you have one chance to make a first impression.
One of our clients calls this a “customer centric” approach. In their case, they’ve spent millions of dollars, put policies in place and re-structured their entire business model to truly become more customer centric. There are thousands of companies who claim to put consumers first. They have catchy taglines that say so, but that doesn’t mean it’s true.
How often have you sat on hold for long periods of time listening to a recording telling you “your call is very important to us”? Then there’s the customer service line that says, “this call may be recorded for quality purposes”. What does that even mean? How about “calls may be recorded to help our employees handle your inquiries more effectively”?
If you have any interest in truly improving customer interactions, begin by becoming your customer. How would you feel if you sat on hold waiting for your call to be recorded for quality purposes? Or what about apologies that ring hollow?
A recent example of a bad hotel experience comes to mind when I took a team of coaches to a meeting at a high-end resort in Orlando only to experience a tsunami of problems. My air conditioner wasn’t working and when I requested a room change, the front desk manager suggested I didn’t know how to work the air properly. No apology. My colleague had a water leak and had to switch rooms. No apology. That didn’t even compare to another coworker who, to her horror, woke up to cockroaches crawling on her ceiling, bed and floor. Again, no apology. When they moved her to another room, the toilet wasn’t working and overflowed.
Furious, I located the hotel manager who asked me what I wanted him to do. I demanded he take room and food charges off the bill, but he refused. He told me he gave the girl with the cockroach issue a $100.00 room credit. Considering the client was paying for the room, that was hardly satisfactory.
When I got home, I took the issue to the top and got a call from a representative in the CEO’s office. She said she was sorry and offered me 15,000 hotel points, which can’t even buy a room for the night. I told her I wanted the hotel to apologize to my colleague who was traumatized by the roaches. They never did.
Here is what I find astounding. In today’s world of social media, my colleague, who had photos and videos of the bugs could have sent those images around the world. She didn’t and wouldn’t, but how can any brand take that chance?
The Harris Interactive Customer Experience Impact report says a happy customer whose issues are resolved tells 4-6 people about their experience. Approximately 13% of dissatisfied customers will tell more than 20 people and those people will tell more people just as I’m telling you. The report says 86% of customers have quit doing business with a company due to bad customer experience.
Every customer interaction is an opportunity to create positive experiences. When we treat others the way we want to be treated, we send positive silent signals that often speak louder than words.
When we send silent negative signals, they can have long lasting damaging effects, sometimes without our knowledge. For example, after our call with Robert the career coach, as a courtesy, I thanked the person who recommended him. I also shared my experience. After referring him to dozens of people over the years, she is not likely to recommend him again.
It seems like everyone is doing it. Zoom. Skype. Teams. Chime. There is a wealth of video meeting services to choose from. That doesn’t mean people know how to look and sound their best, because they don’t.
In all fairness, most people didn’t need virtual services that often. According to Reuters, before coronavirus, only 7% of American workers had the option to work from home. Now, almost all of us are home and we’re fortunate to be able to have technology that allows face-to-face meetings with people across the world.
However, what works well in person doesn’t always translate to your computer screen. Furthermore, if you don’t know some basics, you can damage your credibility.
Here are seven steps to up your presence the next time your virtual presence is requested.
1. Look at the camera, not your audience
This is the single biggest mistake people make. In person, it’s important to look your listener in the eye. On video, looking at someone on the left, right or at the bottom of your screen can actually make you look like you’re looking elsewhere and not listening.
You should look directly at the camera and make sure that camera is at eye level. Try putting your device on top of a box until the camera is directly across from your face. Even though it may feel uncomfortable especially if the person talking is on the other side of the screen, you will appear to be making eye contact and look far more engaged.
2. Do not sit in front of a window
Too many people position themselves in front of windows. Perhaps there is a great view, but cameras don’t respond to light the same way our eyes do. If the light is coming from behind, you will look dark like a silhouette.
Instead, make sure the light is coming from in front of you, so it illuminates your face and people can see you. Also, frame yourself so you fill up the screen and we’re not looking at your ceiling.
3. Speak up
Even though your mom may have told you to use your inside voice, there are exceptions to the rule, and this is one of them. Inside voices work great when you are sitting with someone in person, but across a video screen, you may be perceived as lacking energy and conviction.
As a former television reporter, I always spoke to the camera as if people on the other side were a little hard of hearing. Picture yourself in a big room and speak to the back of the room. By projecting your voice just a little, you will convey more confidence and authority.
4. Talk to one person
It’s difficult to maintain a calm presence and conversational tone when you’re looking at a bunch of little squares on a screen and glancing back and forth at your notes. You’ve probably seen people who look uncomfortable as their faces tense up and they sound stiff.
When you visualize speaking to one person, perhaps your spouse or best friend, you will come across as more conversational and authentic. It’s okay to have notes and it’s okay to look at them, but talk, don’t read. I post little sticky notes on the side of my computer screen so I can glance at them to recall key points. That’s less distracting than looking down.
5. Be present to have presence
When all eyes are on us in a meeting room, we are more conscious of paying attention and appearing engaged. Alone at our screen, it’s easy to get side-tracked and start checking e-mails or working on other projects without realizing we are still on the screen and may be coming across as uninterested or not focused.
If you want to project presence, then be fully present. Try not to bite your nails, play with your hair or make it obvious that you’re texting. Like a media interview where you’re conscious of the camera always being on, think of a video meeting the same way. You’re always on!
6. Background blunders can be prevented
You’ve seen these backgrounds. Open cabinets, unmade beds or backgrounds that are so busy, you find yourself looking at everything except the presenter.
The easiest fix is to pick a quiet area in your house that is free from clutter and visual distractions. Perhaps a sitting area or room with a blank wall. Do not wear the same color as the wall behind you and don’t wear green if you’re using a green screen. Bright colors with minimal patterns tend to look best on camera. Video services like Zoom also offer customized virtual backgrounds but choose wisely. If you want to appear professional, you should probably avoid the Tiger King or Simpson’s living room backgrounds.
7. Smile, you’re on camera
Smiling in person is much more natural than trying to force a smile while sitting in front of a screen. For most of us, it feels fake. However, to a viewer, you can actually look like you’re frowning if you’re not smiling. A smile also helps connect you to others.
While we aren’t going plaster smiles on our faces for hours on end, it’s important to make a conscious effort to have a pleasant look on your face when speaking so you come across as friendly and positive. Studies show that people who smile are also perceived as more trustworthy.