OPINION20 August 2020

The power of influencing remotely

B2B Covid-19 Opinion

Sinead Jefferies writes about how researchers can make an impact while communicating using virtual tools.

Late last year, I wrote a Research Live article about influence and gravitas and how important these are if we want to be truly effective in the work we do. Without even thinking about it, much of what I wrote was about the power of interpersonal connections – how we engage people who are in the room with us.

But now, all of us have had to become used to communicating indirectly, with a screen or phone acting as a conduit for our interactions. Although many of the principles of effective communication still apply, it doesn’t come easily to everyone, and there are different factors to consider to ensure we still have the ability to influence effectively.

So, how can we make these principles work in a world of remote communication?

Really know your stuff, inside and out

In the world of virtual meetings, presentations and conferences, the key to success is preparation. Yes, still make sure you know your subject matter and can give confidence in that knowledge, but just as important is to know your tools. If you are attending a meeting or giving a presentation via a platform you have never used before, make sure you practice. Know how to set it up, how to share your screen and how to move the slides on. Practice – even if it’s with a friend or family member. Give yourself time to know exactly what you’re doing, so that while you’re on the call you can focus on sharing your expertise.

Know more than your job description

Video calls don’t often allow the more relaxed, informal chatting opportunities we are all used to having when we’re in a meeting room – for example, when we’re waiting for people to arrive or while the host is wrestling with the AV equipment. We often use those moments to talk a bit more broadly about something interesting we’ve seen or heard, and it feels more natural to slip those things in when you’re talking to people in person. 

There are still ways to demonstrate your broader knowledge within the constraints of a video meeting. If you’re the organiser, it can often be a good idea – particularly for training sessions or larger sessions – to set up the call to start 10 or 15 minutes before the formal meeting. This allows people time for more casual chatting, but also to have those ‘by the way, have you seen this piece of research’ or ‘I was reading something the other day about…’ conversations that get missed within the limitations of the main meeting.

Also use this opportunity to follow up with people afterwards. Lots of us are missing having conversations with colleagues, and I have found many people more open to phone calls than they would be when they’re in the rush of an office all day long. Drop someone a line, ask for 15 minutes of their time for a chat, and use that to broaden out the conversation that you couldn’t have during the meeting itself.

Don’t be shy to give of yourself so that people feel a connection

One of the things I’ve loved most when doing virtual meetings and presentations is that little sneak peek into people’s lives. I’m probably nosier than I should be –there have been certain people whose photo gallery walls and bookshelves have had me gazing on enviously – but I’ve also loved the normality of people working in kitchens with their other halves walking past in the background or kids sticking their heads around the corner.

I think it’s made us all more human – and I’m all for that. It’s not easy for everyone as we don’t all have the luxury of beautiful homes and dedicated home offices, but that’s not what it’s about, so don’t let it stress you out. I’ve loved hearing people’s stories about why they’re working in their garden shed or have their poorly dog on their lap. The thing about making connections is giving people something of ourselves and our story – demonstrating our humanity.

Be considered and measured

For me, one real benefit of presenting or running meetings more remotely is the sense of control it brings. If you prepare properly, you can be much more at ease than if you’re in a room surrounded by strangers. If you’re presenting, you can decide to have everyone on mute and invite questions when you’re ready for them or by people raising their hands. You can have your notes and prompts beside your screen to refer to when you need to.

It is also worth thinking about structuring a debrief, for example, in a different way. If you share slides in advance, you can ask people to submit questions or thoughts ahead of the meeting. If there are lots of attendants, think about using the chat function for people to note down their questions as you’re going through and then deal with them all at the end. Rather than feel daunted by what can seem like an unnatural set-up, use it to your advantage.

Be comfortable in your own skin

Above all else, think about what works for you. If you need to speak to someone and feel a bit daunted by the idea of a video call, arrange a phone call instead. Vice versa, if you think you can be more persuasive over video, suggest that. As I wrote in my original article, ‘authenticity is for everyone. Do things in your own style. Make things your own.’

Don’t feel obliged to be ‘as good’ as someone else – be your own best. But if there are elements of how other people run remote meetings or deliver video conference presentations, borrow at will! Think about what it is that you admire and figure out how to make that your own. The ultimate goal of exuding gravitas and being influential is for people to have trust and confidence in what you say, so do whatever you need to ensure you have that confidence. It might be lots of practice. It might be asking other people to turn off video when you’re presenting, muting everyone, or asking a colleague to handle question via the chat/messaging function.

Think about what is making you anxious and use all the tools at your disposal – and you have a lot more at your disposal than when you’re around a table in a meeting room – to allow yourself to shine.

Personally, I have found that I prefer running meetings over Zoom than I do in ‘real life’. I can manage the dynamic of the group much more easily by setting out clear ground rules at the start, and I find it easier to see who wants to contribute and to allow everyone to have their say. But that’s what works for me, and we are all different.

Above all else, remember that you have ultimate control over your own knowledge and understanding; that goes for however you’re interacting with your audience. Don’t underestimate the value that you bring. Beyond that, figure out what works for you, think about how to minimise anything you’re worried or less confident about, and always believe in yourself.

Sinead Jefferies is a consultant at Watermelon

1 Comment

2 months ago

A really considered piece Sinead - hugely helpful. I have also found that the remote meeting has made it easier for "experts" to join sessions (they have been more willing, and I've been less reluctant to ask, as rather than having to travel and give up hours for a 15 minute contribution they can literally jump into the meeting for a few minutes) - this has made influencing easier as a respected colleague or even third party expert can be invited to join and lend weight/credibility to points being made ...

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