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Who Are You Really Talking To?

It’s an important question because, in virtual meetings, you may be making assumptions about your audience. That could be a big mistake because this could lead to you losing that all-important engagement and end up wasting everybody’s time.

Hopefully, we all want to create a great impression when we join an online meeting. When we want to communicate our message in a virtual environment, we want to be remembered for what we’ve said and not the bad lighting, inaudible sound or the washing up in the background.

There is a lot of advice available on how to create that right impression and you’ll find my top tips in an article I published a few months ago.

However, there is very little being said about our audiences and the first impressions they create for us as presenters. When we’re communicating online it’s harder to pick up on key signals from our online audiences. After all, this is all we see.

But this clearly isn’t the whole picture. If we want to connect with our audiences it should be more about them than it is about us as presenters, so we should make sure we understand more about the people we’re communicating with.

It’s important that we don’t start making assumptions about people from a small picture on our computer screens. We all know what happens with assumptions, which is why I like this quote by the American author David Handler, who puts it more politely:

According to the book 'Face Value: The Irresistible Influence of First Impressions’ Professor Alex Todorov, from Princeton University in New Jersey, claims the assumptions we make when seeing new people are based largely on their facial expressions and appearance. However, he says this rarely matches up to their personality which leads to misleading first impressions, because they are based on shallow assumptions about appearances.

For example, Professor Todorov suggests that faces that look happy, even if they're not smiling, are commonly rated as more trustworthy; but as he says this is a false misconception because there's no link between those who have an agreeable face and the ability for you to trust them.

When we’re looking at a screen full of faces, it’s useful to understand the importance of not making assumptions about our online audience.

In her TEDx talk, youth empowerment activist Quita Christison also refers to the problem of making first impressions.

Her acronym S.T.O.P. stands for See The Other Person. It’s under nine minutes and well worth looking at: Quita Christison TEDx Talk

The challenge with looking at people we see in our virtual meetings is that we don’t get to see the bigger picture, meaning we don’t really know who we’re talking to.

However, it’s worth taking the time to get to know your audience, and the best way to do that is to do some research and gain a greater understanding of them before you join that meeting. Here are three things, as a presenter, you should consider before a zoom meeting:

Local, national or international?

You should be aware of cultural differences and potential language barriers amongst your audience and adjust accordingly. Think about the speed and clarity of your delivery and make sure you use vocabulary that is easily understood, by everyone. For example, I was on a call recently with 6 different nationalities including people from the USA, France, Russia and Dubai so I had to make sure my content was universal.


How much does the audience already know about the subject I’m talking about? This is important so that you don’t make the presentation so complicated the audience won’t follow you, but not too simple that it will appear patronizing. Be aware of the Curse of Knowledge, which is a cognitive bias that occurs when communicating with others, when you unknowingly assume that they have the background and knowledge to understand.

WIIFM – (What’s In It For Me)

What does your audience need and want to know? Keeping people focused online is more challenging than in person, so keeping to the point is essential. Try and strip your presentation back to the basics and make sure you understand your audience’s WIIFM.

If you listen to your audience during the meeting (with interaction such as chat, Q&A, feedback, breakout rooms and polls), you’ll be able to understand them even better, so make sure you build in time and flexibility to respond to them.

By doing all of this and getting to really know who you’re talking to, your engagement will be more powerful and your message is more likely to be remembered.

To find out how we can help you deliver that brilliant speech, webinar or training workshop, give us a call on +44 (0) 203 633 1790 and we’ll create a bespoke programme to suit your needs.


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