LEADING IN UNCERTAINTY: HOW TO SHORTEN AND SHARPEN VIDEO CALLS

In the early days of COVID lockdown, many of us marvelled at how seamlessly we switched from face to face meetings, to video-based conversations. In the last couple of weeks, however, some of the initial wonder has given way to fatigue, discontent and resentment. Don’t believe me? Google “Zoom fatigue” and you’ll get 60 million entries!

There are lots of reasons for this fatigue; prolonged eye contact is unnatural, non-verbal cues are harder to process, we’re more likely to multi-task, there is more of a pressure to ‘perform’, we’re more sedentary, we’re juggling personal circumstances, among dozens of other reasons.

There’s lots of practical tips on how to improve your energy in the face of “Zoom fatigue”, so I won’t repeat those here. For me, the bigger game is to dramatically improve the quality of how we lead video calls, so that everyone can get more done, faster, and with much less effort.

If you lead video sessions, the three simple tactics in this blog will help you to shorten and sharpen them in such a way that your colleagues will thank you. Of course, these tactics assume that you actually need to have this meeting; that video is the right medium; and that you’re trying to deliver an outcome, not just connect with others.

Provide context before content

Content is the subject we are focused on. Context is why that content is so important right now. Observe any meeting and, more often than not, you will see the leader jump straight into the agenda, encouraging everyone to get lost in the business of the day. This is not effective in a normal face to face meeting, let alone on a video call where people have all of the additional challenges listed above.

A much better way to start your video call is to provide context before content. Simply tell your audience why this meeting is so important, why it’s important right now, and why their specific contribution is so critical. Even if the agenda stays exactly the same, the quality of the meeting, its outcomes and the commitment of attendees will all, almost certainly, increase.

Your people don’t want more communication; they want meaningful communication. If you can’t describe the context of your video meeting with any kind of significance or conviction, then you should probably cancel it and give everyone back some time.

Do you provide context before content?

Focus on the question you’re trying to answer

20 years of data from our consulting practice shows that one third of meetings go ahead with almost no chance of success, and the other two thirds are only half as productive as they could be. While I don’t have any data for video calls specifically, my strong sense is that it would be even worse.

Of course, there are lots of things you can do to improve the quality of a meeting, but the single most important thing might surprise you; just focus on the key question or questions that you are trying to answer. You may have heard Einstein’s famous quote before; “If I had an hour to solve a problem and my life depended on the solution, I would spend the first 55 minutes determining the proper question to ask… for once I know the proper question, I could solve the problem in less than five minutes.” In my experience, he was spot on.

A well framed question, usually beginning with ‘how’ or ‘what’, works for two main reasons. Firstly, we love to solve riddles, so you’re guaranteed much higher levels of attention from your audience than a typical video call. More importantly, it forces us to get really clear on the core purpose of the session because we can’t hide behind vague meeting outcomes or agenda items. When we all know what problem we’re trying to solve, we’re much more likely to solve it, quickly. Again, if you can’t articulate an important question for your video meeting, chances are you don’t need that meeting.

Do you focus everyone on the question you’re trying to answer?

Give the punchline early

Many of us get lost in a long preamble before we make our key point, particularly when we are trying to give bad news or deal with a sensitive subject. Unfortunately, the longer we talk without saying anything material, the more nervous, impatient or tired others typically become. Why? Because now they are trying to listen to two conversations; the one they are having with us, and the one they are having in their head as they try to figure out what we’re trying to tell them.

Overlay all of the uncertainty and anxiety of COVID, plus a medium that has a tendency to fatigue the audience anyway, and you understand the scale of the problem. Once you have set the context and articulated the key question, go ahead and give the punchline very early in the conversation, and encourage others to do the same. This might sound like, “I can give you the whole story, but the punchline is…”

This tactic works for the audience because it focuses everyone’s attention on a single conversation. Rather than trying to second guess where we’re headed, they can breathe in and engage wholeheartedly. This tactic works for us because it forces real clarity on what we’re trying to say. It also creates more space for conversation, debate and understanding, which is far more engaging than staring at someone speaking on a screen.

Do you provide the punchline early?

I hope these three tactics resonate for you, and will help you to sharpen and shorten your video communication.

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about PETER

For two decades, Dr. Peter Fuda has been a Sherpa to leaders, teams and organizations across the globe. He’s coached more than 200 CEOs to measurably higher levels of performance. His consulting company has delivered some 50 cases of business transformation and more than 1,000 cases of leadership transformation, at a success rate of greater than 90%.

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