How to master virtual communications: 10 expert tips

Written by Rachel Massey

Video calls are part and parcel of every day business operations, with highly-respected businesses such as HubSpot, Facebook, and First Bank amongst those embracing such practices to support their communication strategy.

Virtual communications can be purposeful, engaging, and save invaluable time, but only when done properly.

Virtual communications: 10 tips for your team

Have a clear purpose and communicate it

Consider for a moment what proportion of online meetings you attend are actually productive and efficient.

Polycom’s study into virtual meetings revealed 82% of workers believe virtual communication is a key contributor to success, prompting companies to host more online calls. That said,many remote workers perceive a large proportion to be a waste of time. 

If you’re arranging a meeting, be clear on the purpose and communicate it to your participants. If you’re attending a meeting and you’re not clear on the purpose – ask the organiser.

Consider if a video call is really the best option

Many people use video calls as their preferred virtual communications format - but is it always necessary?

While there’re various benefits of using video calls for your meeting, such as higher engagement, increased efficiency, and cost reduction,if you can’t articulate the reason why a meeting is necessary, then consider a different option.

In some cases, shared document platforms with detailed comments can reduce the need to meet. If the purpose of your meeting is simply to share information; consider replacing calls with recorded video messages. It will save your, and your colleagues’ time.

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Provide focus and predictability to your virtual communications

For virtual meetings, always have an agenda and a clear structure to maximise virtual communications.People generally prefer predictability over uncertainty when entering new situations so make it clear what’s going to happen and what’s expected of those involved. Frequently signpost what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it.

Only invite those that are absolutely necessary and say no to meetings that aren’t of value

How many should you invite to your meeting? The fewer the better! This may sound obvious, but it’s much easier to invite – and very easy to accept meetings in a virtual world.

Energy Resourcing recommend inviting a maximum of 10 guests to your meetings to ensure your video call is

  1. Brief, and

  2. Effective

It's Common for people to invite others for fear of upsetting them by leaving them out. We also readily accept meetings for fear of missing out. Carefully consider what is the of role each participant in the meeting and if their presence will help achieve the purpose.

Refine your body language

Studies have shown that being on a video call requires more focus than a face-to-face chat.As the host, it’s important to consider your body language, as this’ll inform the tone of the conversation

When you’re participating in a video chat, you need to work harder to process non-verbal cues like facial expressions, the tone and pitch of the voice, and body language; paying more attention to these consumes a lot of energy.

Additionally, interpreting body language is highly subjective and we can frequently misread the cues. Place your energy on your own facial expressions and body language. If you’re unsure about how people are feeling – ask them!

Carefully consider your camera set-up and the messages you want to send

Video calls are much more common, yet we still see many examples of people who pay little attention to their visual framing and background.

People draw conclusions based on very little information, so give some consideration to what they will be seeing, and prepare a suitable camera set-up. You can’t control how everybody sets themself up for your meeting, but you can control how engaged you look and the energy you display.

Check your own camera set up ideally before a meeting begins and remove anything that may become a distraction.

A word of caution! Constantly staring at our own image during a video call can be mentally tiring and can act as a stressor as we critically check how we look and how we’re behaving on camera.

Once you’ve checked that your composition sends the right messages, consider using the ‘hide self-view’ which means that you cannot see yourself, but others still can.

Click for infographic "5 Tips for on-camera presenters"


Be prepared for the Low Reactor

When we say low reacting, it can mean several things. It could simply be that people turn their cameras  off and we cannot see their reactions to our ideas. Or by Huthwaite definition – it’s someone who is low on verbally reacting with either support or disagreement to your ideas or suggestions.

This may happen because there are different social pressures when talking to someone remotely. When we put forward our ideas, opinions or suggestions, we tend to seek approval. 

Even if someone verbalises disagreement with what we say, at least we know. When we don’t hear support or disagreement it can make us feel really uncomfortable, but we don’t always know that this is what is happening.

Either way, hosting engaging video meetings is important. Be prepared that people react differently in a virtual world, and you may not get the reaction you seek – or any reaction at all. If you’re unsure as to how people think about your ideas or suggestions then ask them.

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Don’t fear the silence

Similar to low reaction; silence in video calls can feel really uncomfortable. Silence in real-life conversation is important and creates a natural rhythm. But in a video call, silence can make you anxious.

One study showed that even a delay as small as 1-2 seconds made people perceive the person talking as less friendly or focused.

Expect that silence will happen and that this is a normal part of everyday conversation. If you ask somebody a question, give them time to think. If you need a quiet moment to think for yourself, let others know that is what you’re doing.

Break down complex messages

Keeping people’s focus and attention in meetings is a key challenge.

If you have complex or important messages to deliver, breaking them down into smaller, shorter chunks and summarising the key points are two of the many strategies you can use.

Change activity frequently (every 5 minutes is a useful guide). Send any reading beforehand and use visual aids to support your messages. A word of caution, many of the presentation slides we see used in virtual meetings are densely populated with text while the presenter is simultaneously talking.

Our brains are only capable of focusing on one thing at a time and messages can easily be lost as the audience shifts focus between the visuals and what the presenter is saying. Try replacing busy slides with short bullet points to support what you are saying.

A useful guide is to consider showing slides with a maximum of 5 bullet points and with no more than 5 words per bullet. Graphics are even better.

Get your point across

Whether you’re running, or participating in a meeting with larger groups, getting your point across or your contributions heard can be a challenge.

Extroverted members of the group may dominate the conversation; people’s attention starts to wander and poor connections are among the reasons why this may be an issue.

Draw focus and attention to your contribution by using what we call ‘behaviour labeling’. This is announcing the behaviour you are about to use before you use it.

For example, stating ‘I have an important point to make’ or ‘Can I ask a question?’ has the effect of slowing the conversation down and focusing attention on what is about to be said. Try it in your next meeting and see what happens.

If you’re tasked with finding solutions to problems in a group setting, managing a team or simply looking to improve your communication skills our communications workshop will help you to build trust in your virtual environment, deliver clear communications and develop your core communication skills.


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