Work is now anywhere: home, the office, airports, coffee shops — you name it. To stay connected with colleagues and customers, regardless of location, you need to master the art of hybrid collaboration.
Our Building Forward webinar featured renowned body language and virtual communication expert Mark Bowden — both in 2021 and 2022 — who provided advice on how you can make the most of your hybrid meetings. Inspiring, energetic, engaging, and entertaining, Bowden leads memorable talks and training programs designed to not only educate but also help people and organizations grow across all industries and sectors.
Here are Bowden’s 12 tips and tricks for standing out, winning trust, and gaining credibility in meetings.
1. Build bite-sized content
Meeting participants have a world of distractions right at their fingertips, so keeping their focus can be difficult for even the most seasoned presenter.
As Bowden stated, “After 15 to 20 minutes, engagement drops off. It’s not because they’re bored or don’t like you, it’s because their brain is always seeking something new. And if you’re not giving them that difference, that texture to the meeting, presentation, or conversation you’re having, they will go and seek it elsewhere.”
You need to create short moments, chunks of content that hold your audience’s interest. That’s precisely why Bowden strategically breaks his content up into bite-sized principles.
2. Encourage active participation
It’s one thing to get people to attend your meeting — getting them to stay engaged and present is a whole different challenge. Create a welcoming environment and enrich your content with stimulating visuals and persistent engagement opportunities. Doing so will shake people out of passivity and inspire them to be active meeting participants. As Bowden says, “the brain just needs significant change” to want to engage in an ongoing experience.
3. Keep it conversational
“A new voice, a new attitude, a new face and background — if only for a few moments — helps make something new and different happen.”
Hybrid meetings can complicate the social element that comes with traditional face-to-face interaction. By turning a presentation into more of a conversation, you regain that social element without losing the convenience of a hybrid setting. Try to find a partner with whom you can interact with during the meeting, opening up a dialogue that helps make the experience feel informal and comfortable.
If you can’t find another person to interact with, Bowden says, “change tonality slightly, change pitch slightly, refer to something physical that you can highlight in your environment” to create a sense of dialogue or a refreshing new piece in the conversation.
4. Create connection through eye contact
Eye contact is essential for any connection, whether it’s made physically or virtually.
“If I get strong eye contact and get close proximity with you, and you’re in a safe place such as your home, your brain produces a neurochemical called dopamine. It’s the neurochemical of positive expectation and optimism,” Bowden said. To facilitate that feeling, he recommends you move the camera up to eye level, lean forward, and bring your gestures into the frame.
During the Q&A session, an audience member asked Bowden an important question — how do you maintain eye contact if you’re taking or reading off notes? His advice: open up two separate screens on your desktop, placing them side by side so your eyes remain in one general direction.
5. Let your background speak to who you are
Many of us will continue to work from home in some capacity post-pandemic — treat it as an opportunity to build bonds over similar interests, even if in a virtual sense. “The principle is to let them see more: Signals, icons, elements that help them understand what you value and think are important,” Bowden said.
Whether you’re using a virtual background or real background, tailor your environment to reflect your passions and interests, showing personal photos or favorite objects. For example, Bowden placed a photo of his children in the foreground of his video to show his audience a little about his personal life.
With these visuals, you let participants see a little more of who you are without having to verbally communicate it.
6. Establish clear, reliable audio
You don’t need professional lighting or cameras to make a meeting engaging, but you do need quality audio. With choppy sound, a meeting immediately becomes uninteresting to the audience. “People will check out immediately if the sound is bad.”
A laptop mic isn’t always adequate and reliable, so test how comfortably you can be heard, and if your sound is lacking, equip yourself with an external mic and earpiece, as well as a stable internet connection to protect the sound quality. In addition, it’s a great idea to test your microphone before you hop on a call.
To support your audio, you should also consider adding in relevant hand gestures. As Bowden illustrated, “I’m adding to the sound with what we call baton gestures — the gestures that conduct the sense of what I’m saying along to the rhythm of my speech.”
7. Be comfortable with silence
It can be hard to know when to talk in a hybrid meeting, as we miss many subtle cues that exist in face-to-face interactions. That means we need to be comfortable with silence. By embracing silence, you create a safe space for others to provide comments or questions, fostering a more engaging dialogue overall.
“Don’t fear the silence. It takes time for people to compute and come back with an answer.” Bowden reminds the audience. By taking the time to let your audience respond, “You can find out what’s really going on with people across the planet in real-time — it’s a modern miracle.”
8. Use your resources wisely
With hybrid work, it’s important to “manage risk versus resources,” Bowden said. One of our biggest resources is body language, which may be instinctively biased toward someone. If you’re in-person, remain mindful of over-indexing your resources on in-office participants so you don’t risk isolating those that are remote. Simply set up an environment that respects and involves the virtual environment more — start by putting in signs and physical reminders to look at the camera more.
9. Adjust mannerisms and tone accordingly
Tailor your mannerisms and tone to ensure there’s no participant left behind. You can animate your actions to better engage remote participants, while also calming your tone for when you speak in person. A simple way to make either party feel more involved? Say their name, as Bowden states, “Use a name if you can, because it credits that person and literally engages their brain.”
10. Keep checking in
You can help regulate meetings by keeping an eye out for gestures that suggest sentiment, as these help participants express their needs and give them space to jump in. You can also use technology to your advantage to keep checking in with your attendees. Bowden’s tip: simply ask people to put thoughts and questions into the chat.
11. Expand the visual
The right visual is a key ingredient to making a hybrid meeting successful. When a meeting has visuals via quality video, “it will go much quicker and we’re all going to understand each other so much better,” Bowden said. While you can’t force anyone to turn their camera on, you can remind them that the environment is more engaging and inclusive with the extra visual. Another Bowden tip: “Wheel in the biggest screen you possibly can.”
12. Be an advocate
In-person meeting participants have a new role in a hybrid environment: advocate. With more barriers in front of remote participants, in-person participants will need to serve as their advocates in the room. “Look after those people on purpose,” Bowden notes. Whether you establish a designated moderator or set a precedent for all attendees, be intentional about involving remote attendees and advocate on their behalf during the call so they feel empowered to speak up.
Maximize the potential of your meetings
A hybrid meeting isn’t a limitation, it’s an opportunity. By bringing Bowden’s simple tactics to your next call, you’ll create an environment that fosters open communication and collaboration. With this engaging approach, you can maximize the potential of your meetings to ultimately get more done — building real connections, no matter where you are.
Stay up to date on the latest thought leadership on the hybrid workforce — check out upcoming events in our Building Forward webinar series.