Are high stakes meetings less unnerving when conducted remotely? While it might be tempting to think so, it’s hard to feel certain of that when you’re pacing your living room in your suit jacket and bunny slippers, waiting for your Zoom interview to start. While remote communications enable us to foster even the weightiest professional conversations from the relative comfort of home, it can be difficult to feel like we’re truly making the connection and impression we would be if we were physically meeting with our interviewers.
Certainly, showing up to an unfamiliar space unleashes a flurry of nervousness — the commute, the handshake, the beverage offer, but there’s also a calm that sets in once you settle into the space. You made it. You’re listening to the introduction, looking around and thinking “I could work here.” Then there are the physical affirmations that conversation invites: the warm wash of relief when the interviewer laughs at your joke or when you discover that you share a common interest.
Those moments seed confidence in high stakes meetings, giving you that cool sense of poise. Then you hear your own voice — not that tentative, high pitched voice — but your authoritative “I’ve got this” voice. While remote meetings spare us some of the stress and awkwardness of face-to-face meetings, they can make it harder to achieve that payoff our risk earns us — that authentic sense of connection.
Understanding the remote experience and preparing accordingly can help. Consider these tips for creating a comfortable, impressive presence for a remote context.
Refrain from sitting on a squeaky chair or a yoga ball. Secure your pets. Make sure your kids know that you’re busy or have a sitter to keep them occupied.
Prepare for whatever technology your meeting is set to use. Do a trial run and double-check that you’ve downloaded the required meeting app. Many require that you have an account before you can sign in. Establish this ahead of time so that you don’t run late. If you’re not familiar with the tech you’re using, experiment with it and read about it prior to your meeting, so that you know what to expect. Know whom to contact if you have trouble signing on. It’s helpful if you have text or slack access to that individual so that you can quickly alert him/her to any connection or access issues prior to your scheduled start time.
Consider investing in the tools that help you look and sound polished. Ita Olsen, speech coach, founder and CEO of the Convey Method recommends: “Get a selfie light or two. Not only does it make you look better, but people can see your face. That’s ultra-important for nuances in communicating. Get an external microphone. Being well lit and sounding crystal clear will make you appear more professional. Test your webcam and microphone beforehand. Make sure you’re sitting in the middle of the picture.”
Be aware, too, of your backdrop. Olsen recommends: “Situate yourself with your back to a wall with a picture or a plant. Or use a cool digital background. They are available all over the web. But you’ll need a solid wall behind you for them to work well.”
Authenticity in the Virtual Age
It takes some finessing to get comfortable with remote communication. It’s a filtered experience, and we’re all still learning how to socially engage remotely. It feels different. Expect that.
If you’re preparing for your first virtual interview or high stakes meeting, it’s a good strategy to practice first. Get comfortable with the technology, then rehearse with a friend who can give you candid feedback. Get accustomed to talking about yourself or your subject matter in a remote context.
The body language and speaking cues are different than in regular conversation. Olsen, points out that imagining a receptive audience can help seed the right mindset. She advises: “visualize them smiling and loving you… Build rapport at the beginning of the meeting. Tell a story that will encourage your interviewer to tell you one in reply. Lots of research suggests that when someone connects with you, they’re more likely to hire you. The time spent preparing essential messages and a story or two will be paid back in spades.”
When it comes to the speaking, it helps to get comfortable with pauses. Try to refrain from feeling the nervous urge to fill silence with chatter. Olsen explains:
“Leave more pauses in your speech. Sometimes the technology makes it so only one mic can work at a time, so leave a break after your communicative partner speaks. Regardless of the technology, be sure to leave a second or two before you speak.”
In the same way, it’s hard to be an active listener as you would if you were physically present. Olsen points out that nodding and smiling are our means to show that we understand what others are saying instead of vocal affirmations like “uhuh” or “I see.” But those cues are important. Be mindful of your body language when you’re not speaking, just as you would be in a face-to-face meeting. “It’s nice to let people know you understand them,” Olsen explains.
Finally, preparation is key. Olsen recommends “If doing a remote job interview, be sure to have some essential messages prepared. The awesome part of a webcam interview is that you can leave notes directly on your computer. As in life, make sure that the information that you need your future employer to know about you is well crafted and practiced. Keep a bullet point list on a post-it note or tuck it under your selfie light so you can look at your interviewer and see the note at the same time.”
Planning Your Pivot
Sometimes, the unexpected happens. A kid wanders in. A car alarm won’t stop sounding. A dog barks. A package arrives. This is life, and these things happen. Work through the inclination towards rigidity. You and whomever you are meeting are working hard to maintain business as usual during unusual times. We’re in this situation together.
Have a couple of go-to phrases in case something unexpected happened:
“Excuse me as I troubleshoot one of the many joys of pandemic living.”
“Oops — the toddler has broken through the firewall. Let me get him back to the sitter.”
Despite our best efforts to separate our worlds, disruptions happen. Think through gracious ways to pivot. It will make you feel better, which will come through in how you handle it.
Remember, these are your potential colleagues. They have kids and dogs and they get packages too. They’ve been locked down for months just like you and your family have. They get it. Don’t sweat it, finesse it.
While remote communications invite some new dimensions to high stakes meetings, you’ll find that much is familiar. Come prepared so that you can be your calm, authentic self, poised to impress. You’ve got this.