Now’s the time to stage a virtual intervention with your leaders

by | May 27, 2020 | Covid-19, Public Relations

When your leaders and frontline communicators are doing media interviews or Zoom sessions from home, what do you see? Technical glitches? Wooden delivery? Content overload?

Now might be the time to stage an intervention.

Our expectations for a quality virtual experience have always been low, but with “Zoom fatigue” and the distractions and limitations of working from home, it’s harder than ever to grab and hold an audience’s attention.

So as restrictions start to lift, consider giving your senior leaders and spokespeople a virtual communication makeover.

That way, when the next crisis hits (or this one returns) they’ll be better prepared to project the credibility and competence necessary when they’re doing media appearances, employee town halls, presentations to investors or any other critical communication from home.

Help them master their technology

The ticket for entry is a flawless technical performance. Audiences are much more likely to tune out and miss the message when the sound stutters, the video freezes and slides lag.

Trying to fix these problems remotely, especially if you’re dealing with executives who are stranded at home and not technically savvy, is a serious challenge.

So as soon as isolation orders are relaxed, you might want to invite yourself into their homes and give them a complete tech overhaul. Bring along a qualified AV professional and outfit them with these must-have tools:

  • The best modem/router that money can buy. A strong internet signal is Priority One.
  • A hard-wired Ethernet connection. Most home Wi-Fi isn’t strong enough to reliably transmit video, audio and slide presentations.
  • An external webcam. Most built-in webcams aren’t sufficient for professional communication, especially in the low-light situation many of us have at home. Speaking of which …
  • Quality lighting. Get more light on their face. Consider investing in professional equipment.
  • External microphone. Do not overlook the importance of sound. Distorted, tinny audio can be just as distracting as bad video.
  • Extra screens, so they can see notes or the chat window during presentations. While you’re at it, elevate their main screen to eye level or higher. Nobody wants to get up-close-and-personal with the speaker’s sinuses.
  • A decent backdrop. Virtual backgrounds can be convenient, but unless you use a green screen, the results are going to look amateurish. You could install a physical, branded banner, but I actually think a natural backdrop is more relatable to viewers. Just tidy it up!

Arm them with a tutorial

As you can see, a proper tech setup raises the complexity of their virtual communication. And if they don’t have a dedicated space in their home to keep this equipment standing, they’re going to have to learn to be comfortable taking care of these details themselves.

You can walk them through the process before going live, or give them a checklist and instructions. (When was the last time you had to figure out how to access Ethernet instead of Wi-Fi?)

By the way, the first item on that checklist should be to reboot their computer before any online communication. It improves system performance, closes out applications competing for bandwidth and reduces the chance of a crash.

Reshape their content

Once you’ve mastered the technology, you can move on to the more substantive aspects of virtual communication. That begins with compelling content.

Here are important points to emphasize with your people:

  • Shorter is safer. For virtual presentations, marketing pro and professional speaker Jay Baer recommends reducing your usual content by a quarter to a half.
  • Start fast. Don’t waste those first few minutes with long, flowery introductions or tactical housekeeping. Get down to business quickly.
  • Focus on the audience. More than ever, people in this age of distraction want to know what’s in it for them and why they need to invest this time.
  • Sharpen the content. Stick to the rule of threes. What do you want them to know, feel and do?
  • Use stories to humanize yourself.
  • Change it up. To keep them from drifting off, switch gears every 10 minutes or so—change topics, tell a story, take a poll, show a video.
  • Ditch the “Death by PowerPoint.” Bullets kill. You want them watching, not reading, so simplify your slides. Instructional designer Craig Hadden recommends you make each slide “digestible” in three-to-five seconds.

Improve their delivery

Delivery technique becomes even more important when you’re trying to engage an audience virtually. Here are the essential aspects of great delivery:

  • Absolutely turn on the webcam. I understand a lot of corporate IT departments have conditioned people to turn off their webcams to avoid straining their networks, but the human touch is essential to bringing virtual communication to life.
  • When speaking, look at the camera lens, not the screen.
  • Crank up the energy. That means being mentally, emotionally and physically in the game. Speak up, lean in and stay connected to your content and audience.
  • Maintain a deliberate, steady, forward-moving pace, free of hesitation, stops and starts and side trips.
  • Show aspects of your personality, with humor, humility and personal insights.

If nothing else, remember this

Bear in mind the essential lesson from the classic film “This is Spinal Tap:” put everything on “11.” That means sharper focus, better preparation, higher energy, more engagement, and added visual excitement.

Take care of these things and your leaders will come across as more confident, persuasive and authoritative every time they step into the virtual spotlight.

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Rob Biesenbach
Rob Biesenbach helps leaders break free from Death by PowerPoint, tell their story, and communicate like humans should. He’s an in-demand professional speaker, workshop leader and bestselling author who has recently developed a free virtual presentation crash course.

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