Mastering Virtual Meetings with Melanie Fox, Founder, Speech Fox

Link to podcast found HERE

Transcript to podcast found below:

Bill : Hi and good morning Bill Kenny here from meet and this is the belly2belly podcast today we have a fantastic guest, Melanie Fox from Speech Fox, and Melanie, welcome today.

Melanie : Thank you so much. Good morning.

Bill : Good morning. And so you know one of the really interesting things about kind of where we are right now we’re you know, a year into roughly a year into this COVID crisis and you’re just so used to meeting online now but it it clearly, some are really good at it. Some are less good at it. And you’ve been working with folks about sort of optimizing their use of the Zoom platform, both from a technical standpoint, but also from a functional standpoint and what you know, what do they do and how do they do it? And, you know, I think this is a really interesting area to dive into, because we now have I mean, you see, you know, certainly there’s a lot less or almost no in-person meeting going on. Everything is virtualized, whether it’s trade shows, or people are doing more webinars and podcasts and all that, to try to find ways to interact. There are more virtual meetups, all different types of ways to use these virtual platforms. And but yet, you know, I think there’s still maybe it’s a variety of etiquette issues or, or, or technique issues that are opportunities for all of us that are using these platforms. So today, I’m hoping that we can talk through not just where the challenges are but maybe where some of the best practices are. Before we get into that, though, let’s take a minute and learn more about you. And do you want to just give us a few minutes on your background and your work and what you do at speech, Fox?

Melanie : Sure. So, again, I’m Melanie Fox. I founded Speech Fox, about 20 years ago, it a little bit informally at first and then more formally and my specialty is coaching speech. So I’m a speech coach, but I specialize in a few things, accent production for folks from all over the world, including folks with regional accents in the United States that they feel like might get in the way and then folks who are second language learners or maybe, maybe it’s their third or fourth language, so folks who speak English as a new language that they learned right away as a teenager or older and so English is not a native tongue for them. So folks that need work on their accents are one of the primary sectors of my client base. And another function of what I do with my clients is work on presentation skills, which now is heavily virtual. I help folks with their presentation skills both on site and online. But of course, due to COVID. My work currently is exclusively online for everyone’s safety and it’s a lot of fun to coach people to use this not so new medium anymore, to really do their best work and be really engaging. So that’s part of what I do some other facets of what I do. I am a dialect coach, so I help actors change their accent. Maybe they want to speak Standard American English and maybe they want to sound like they’re from somewhere else in the world. So I do that as well. And most recently, I started work with a company called Mango Languages. It’s the language app that I’ve loved the most for years. And I was a fan of it. I met some folks at a conference got so excited about their product that a few years later turned out I wound up trying to spread the love of world language learning. And they have a we have an app and also light language lessons. So I’m the coach for English accent reduction and when I meet people who need coaching on other languages, I do that through my partnership with Mango Languages. So that’s sort of what I do in a nutshell and it covers everything from communication in English to presenting online to communicating and presenting in another language on in any medium. So I hope that sums it up.

Bill : That’s fantastic. Now thank you so much, Melanie. So I’m thinking that it would be good for us to do it. Obviously there are a few different personas who are using the virtual platforms. And you know that maybe the first one that comes to mind is that person who’s hosting a webinar or some type of event like that, maybe an executive briefing or something of that nature. You know, let’s talk through some of the things that you’re seeing are important for that individual to consider maybe some of the challenges that you see people having in facilitating those types of meetings.

Melanie : Sure. So one of the first things if somebody can ask me for my help in consulting on a presentation, the first thing I usually ask is, how big is the audience? What’s the goal? And you know, what, what do you envision this meeting or presentation to look like? And what the reason I’m asking this is to make sure they’re choosing the right tool or a tool that works well for that type of that type of online meeting or event. For example, Zoom is, I think, far and away I would guess, the most popular these days. And there are different flavors of zoom. There’s the regular Zoom meeting like the one we’re on now, which I think is very conducive for you know, up to could be up to 50 100 people if you’re really really skilled at manipulating zoom. And if you’re having a town hall or an event that’s large, it has people coming and going maybe harder to monitor who’s coming but maybe you want to take very close attendance at who’s registered and who signed up and then you know, keep tight control over that meeting and not have a lot of audience participation. Zoom webinars, probably the better tool. So I was working recently with a client and again they were not they were good at participating in zoom meetings are comfortable that but not as familiar with running them. They’re going to have potentially 100 guests. They wanted to collect the names of the folks who were signing up, they didn’t know who they be, they might be posting a link, inviting people wanted to capture that registration and also wanted to make sure that people couldn’t just unmute themselves and or you know, preventing zoom bombings and things like that. To use some of the, you know, pandemic terms that have arisen. But um, one of the again, one of the recommendations right out of the gate was I think zoom webinar is the right tool there. So you could tightly control everybody without having to worry about muting. And in that type of tool you could promote people to panelists or assign people to be panelists and they could also share video and audio. But you don’t have to worry so much about the folks coming in and out on accidentally unmuting and sharing video and things like that. You could also in that type of case, have q&a in a separate tab than the chat. You could also have, you know, specific chats to the presenters, but not chats among all of the participants. So for example, Zoom webinar in that case would probably be my recommendation and the regular meetings on Zoom. If you are going to have a larger meeting, you want to assign someone to make sure they’re in charge of muting for example. I’ve been in so many zoom meetings where somebody goes somebody off of mute that probably isn’t supposed to be and then either is having a side conversation, of course probably a personal one. But they don’t need to be broadcasting potentially involving their spouse or children or pets. Even potentially taking the phone with them as they venture into other rooms including perhaps a restroom or bathroom. And the person who’s running the meeting is likely to yell can you mute yourself and that person is probably the last one who’s going to hear the request to mute themselves. They’ve obviously preoccupied and have abandon the meeting in some form. So you probably want to have someone assigned to muting folks. And you may have to make that person a co host depending on how you’ve set up the meeting. But somebody should definitely be in charge of muting in a meeting. That’s I’d say, you know, more than four or five people. I think it’s you want to know who’s available to quickly mute. If you’re having a PowerPoint presentation, you want to make sure that you have someone who is very tight eye who’s very well versed at PowerPoint and is also at a computer and not like a laptop or desktop and not using a mobile device. So if you have a presenter, you want the presenter to send the PowerPoint deck to this backup person or have that PowerPoint to that talented PowerPoint user to make sure that you don’t spend five minutes saying oh, I can’t share my slides. Can you see them? Can you see them? So so having someone adept at muting, having someone adept at PowerPoint, having both of those clutched people made co hosts and on a computer or you know desktop or laptop, not a mobile device, and somebody with reliable internet. And so just in case things happen all over the country, crazy things are happening to folks is electricity and things like that. So you probably also want to have a backup person for this. If it’s a large meeting and this way something goes wrong you know, doesn’t necessarily, it’s probably no one’s fault, but you have your second backup person and maybe even a third depending on how many, you know, meetings you have and people could, you know, be late or be sick or something like that and you want to make sure that you’ve got your team in place to cover all the basics and I’d say muting and sharing slides are two biggies. And one thing I’d like to add, if it’s a meeting where you have a lot of people doing short introductions, say you tell people okay, limit it to a minute, limit it to 30 seconds, or even limited to two minutes. Not everybody is that conscientious about their timing. So if there’s no timer on the screen, you may want to tell folks in advance to set expectations. Okay, everyone’s got one minute present. You know, we’re talking about yourselves or your businesses. But at that one minute mark, if you go over, I’m going to interrupt you by either saying thank you or I’m going to interrupt you by saying OK, next, or I’m going to interrupt you by muting you, but expect that and it’s okay if you go over but note that I will cut you off in some fashion and this way. Nobody feels you’re being rude or picking on them. But you can move the meeting along and it’s also hard to move the meeting along if people don’t have their expectations said it could you know quickly become a free for all in a long meeting. Because if someone breaks the rules, well then why can’t I break those rules? And then you know, why can I break those rules plus a few. So you know that I guess that would be a kind thing to do to your audience to set those expectations and move the meeting along? Because I’m sure most meetings have a cut off time.

Bill : So there are a few things that you talked about there in actually just sort of briefly mentioned that I think it would be interesting to maybe dive a little bit deeper into so you mentioned sort of the timing issue and keeping your anyone introducing themselves and whatnot sort of on time. And it’s always interesting, because, you know, I see lots and lots of people facilitate meetings and this is an area where people tend to struggle a lot because they don’t want to hurt somebody’s feelings. And it sounds to me like your focus is about how do we keep the audience happy and engaged. And the Yeah, we’re gonna we’re gonna work and we’re going to, you know, forecast for everybody who may be introducing themselves that this you know, we’re going to keep on schedule, and listen for me to say thank you or next or whatever. But it is in my understanding that right that as you’re developing an event like this, you need to be audience focused, not necessarily speaker favoring, but audience.

Melanie : I think a little of both and they go hand in hand. You want to make sure that your speaker knows that everybody will receive their full attention. You could do things like telling everyone please keep your video on, please keep yourself on mute or I might mute you. And, you know, please Don’t multitask during the meeting. We will keep it running, you know, efficiently and smoothly. But we want to make sure we have your attention. So it’s sort of a two way street. You want to make sure that the audience members are giving their full attention to whoever who’s ever presenting whether it’s a one minute pitch or presentation or a longer, you know, product or company presentation, but you want to or even, you know, some kind of talk so you want to make sure that the audience is engaged and that the presenter knows when it’s their turn to go. They will have you know, the optimal situation with people listening, no interrupting background noise or chaos. So it’s a bit of a two way street there but setting the expectations early on, I think is key and it’s it just sets up a as a zoom or other virtual room full of respect and attention. And you know, to that, to that point, you also want to make sure that you’re picking times you know, for the presentation for either short or long presentations. That makes sense and that you know, if it’s a very long meeting, maybe there is a short break. Breaks are a little bit tricky because once you give a break, not everybody comes back. But you certainly want to make sure that it’s well balanced. Maybe you have breakout rooms, you know, early on if folks are waiting around so that they’re actually engaged. Maybe you want to have a breakout room in the middle of a long presentation to keeping the audience as a whole engaged will wind up benefiting whoever speaking because they’ll have the audience’s full attention so it’s definitely a two way street there and you know, engagement and respect are two of the major factors. And also as just a another I don’t know if it’s a pro tip or just a common sense tip but asking people to wear headphones any kind of earbuds like I’m doing now or, you know, other types of devices, other than the computer speaker is really helpful because it cuts down on background noise and echoing. Doesn’t sound like you’re in a vortex of a million echoes. And it also helps the person hear you trying to potentially cut them off. Because if you’re using a speaker, usually those speakers are kind of one way. So if I’m talking to my speaker, and you’re saying thanks, Melanie, if time’s up next. I may not be hearing any of that because there’s sound coming out of my mouth going into those speakers. I may not hear your sound coming out. So having folks wear headphones is usually really helpful in making sure that you know you’re cutting down on the echo and are hearing your cues. So that could you know be another interesting tip if you’ve got especially a lot of return customers to your work or members to your meeting where you can say okay, everyone you know, best practices please wear a headset, it’s gonna help both you hear me and you know, cut down on the background noise when you speak so people will pay better attention to you so good two way street there as well.

Bill : Make sense? Makes sense. So let’s talk about for just a second. is, you know, thinking in the context that you know, a lot of people that are doing webinars as an example are doing it for business development or doing it for building client relations, identifying maybe prospects in the process. So you know, probably something where they’re going to be sort of very audience centered and want to build an amazing experience. What should the opening of that webinar be in that frame? Maybe the framing of the topic and things like that, what are some of the things that as a host I might want to make sure to do, as I’m welcoming people to my webinar, you mentioned some of the things in terms of sort of the functional parts of it, but are there some some things I’d want to do from a a host standpoint, besides this sort of rules of engagement, if you will?

Melanie : Sure. So I think depending on the type of meeting, how fast you start that meeting with sort of the guts of the meeting could be an interesting question. So for example, if it’s a company meeting, and you run the company and your employees are expected to show up on time because that’s when they’ll get the agenda and you’ll dive into the conversation. You could probably set clear expectations at that meeting starts running from minute one, but in a meeting where you’ve got potentially a lot of members coming in, maybe it’s a paid organization where they don’t you know, not everybody’s working for that, that this company, this is a you know, maybe a networking membership organization, or maybe it’s a maybe it’s a presentation where folks that don’t know you or are coming in, you may want to set that structure. So there’s a little bit of a buffer in the beginning for folks to come in and meet each other. So again, that idea of either having breakouts or some very organized type of conversation where a lot of people who want to participate can in the beginning, and then once you decide that you’re pulling the trigger, and that meeting officially starts. So maybe there’s a five to 15 minute buffer for some of those other types of meetings where you can’t force everyone to come in at the, you know, log in at the same time. Or again, encouraging people to log in earlier than the meeting could also be helpful, like the meeting, you know, officially start today, but we encourage folks to log in from, you know, at 7:45am to network a bit, something like that can be helpful, but then whatever time you’ve set for the real part of the meeting to start making sure that you you know, welcome folks in such a way that they know they’re in the right place. No to thank you for coming. We have folks are here, here, here, here, here. And today’s meeting will focus on X meeting. It’s a meeting of an hour or longer, you probably want to show an agenda or at least read an agenda to let everyone know what to expect for the timing of that meeting. When they are to participate or when they have the opportunity to participate. Maybe for the whole meeting when there might be breakout sessions. You know, it’s just a kind thing to do for your audience to make sure that they’re ready, that they’re engaged. And that they also you know, if there’s something out of their control, like you know, spouses, children, pets, that are you know, in their near near vicinity, at least they might be able to isolate themselves a little more sound wise and attention wise for the part where they’re going to be the focus. And again, as I said before, encouraging or asking everyone to keep their cameras on the entire just to keep their videos on the entire time. Of course, unless they must leave the computer is optimal so that whoever speaking gets their attention, so letting everyone know the ground rules when the meeting officially starts. And at least brief agenda with expectations I think is a good way to start that meeting and then having a very clear closing. Of course, if you have the ability to hang out and continue neck networking, that’s great, but letting people know Hey, okay, the official meeting is over. If you want to stick around that’s great, but it fading out and fading in doesn’t feel like a good way to to operate a inefficient online meeting with a lot of engagement. So hard stops, agendas and lots of setting expectations is again I think will generate engagement and respect among the participants and presenters.

Bill : So what I’m what I heard was a little bit of that old communication adage, tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them and then tell them what you told them. Yeah. Yeah. And one of the things I’ve seen and I’d love your reaction to this is with meetings that you know, it may be it’s a webinar or or that type of meeting that is your normally sort of fits in an hour. I’ve actually seen some hosts. Now saying it’s a 55 minute meeting, so that you have five minutes we’re going to end it 55 minutes so five minutes before the end of the hour, as a convenience or as a courtesy to allow you to transition to your next your next commitment. So you can hit the restroom or get a cup of coffee or whatever but yeah, are you seeing that as a good practice?

Melanie : I you know, I like that practice. I don’t know if you know, depending on how action factor meeting is. I think it’s a nice idea. You know, sometimes people will just end a little early and say I’ll give you back five minutes. So having that as maybe part of the plan, I think is is is very thoughtful. I don’t think it’s, you know, mandatory because if you’ve got an hour, you know, an hour is an hour and you know, they can start as long as you end when you say I think that okay, so I like that idea. But I think even more important is that you start an end when you say you will start an end and that folks need to come back to a meeting later on or another type of meeting that you host later on. They’ll know okay, this is a real hour, I’m going to block this hour. And I know that I can start something right away right after it. And I know that I must get there on time because they really start when they say they’re going to start I don’t just meander in and hope that they hit the good part at that time.

Bill : Sure, no, that makes sense. So let’s switch gears, let’s talk move away from talking about the person hosting a webinar or something like that to the person who is there in sales and they’re using the virtual platforms to have a sales meeting. Maybe they’re going to present a proposal. What are some of the things that they should consider when they’re when they’re using these platforms to successfully convey their message, their proposal and so on?

Melanie : Sure. So I think first and often overlooked is the invitation. I think it’s very important if you are hosting a meeting and you’re you know you’ve got an objective the person is giving you their time because either you’re, you know, on this as a sales call or a potential pitch for a partnership or something else. But basically, you’re in the driver’s seat of setting this meeting. And that person is giving you their time. And it’s not exactly the same sort of two way street as one of the networking meetings where everyone sort of equal you. The burden is on you as the person inviting the other person to make sure you give them that you that you give your let’s say potential client, the easiest way into your meeting, you want to make sure that you set a calendar invitation and that that calendar invitation has the exact right time on it not just a block of to amorphous hours, but if you said it’s an hour that calendar invite to be an hour and a half hour. I’ve seen this happen a lot which it sounds counterintuitive, but I’ve seen a lot of people send me something for a half hour and say well, could you stay on longer? I’d say if you sent me an hour invite I could have but now I can’t. So making sure the invite is the right length and making sure the invite has the link in it in the usually location part of the invitation. And so if you have certain plugins, it could be easier. For example, Gmail has plugins for not only Google meet, but also zoom. And so doing that could save you time as someone creating the invite. But again, all I really want to push for this particular I guess answer to your question is to send an invite where the person can just see that it pops up at the time and they just click a link to get in and then this link I would assume would be to something that you feel that they can access. So if it’s zoom, you could probably assume that they have access to it if it’s Google meet, you know in the person has access to Gmail. I mean some I worked with a State Department of Education where at some point they did not really have the Google environment, I’d say. So depending on what type of what type of client or potential client you’re working with, you may want to just double check. Do you have this installed? For example, Microsoft Teams is a great tool, I think internally for teams, but I don’t think it’s necessarily as easy client facing if you’re not sure if your client, for example, has I mean, you can certainly use it on Apple devices, but it may not be installed. So again, you may just want to double check with your client do is it okay that we meet on this platform? Also. I had a meeting recently with one of the companies that makes a platform and it was not zoom. So I made sure I did not invite, for example, someone who worked at Google to a Zoom meeting or someone who worked at Microsoft to a Google meet. So you know, just be careful to make sure you’re not offending anyone with your platform choice. And that if it’s not one of the typical platforms that you ask the client if that’s okay, and that your meeting is very easy to click at the right time with the right link so that everybody’s in and there’s no struggle just to get on. If you have a platform that also allows a phone number dial in it’s great to put that in the notes or even in you know an alternative for the for the location. So you could put this link or dial this number. If you’re doing a heavily visual presentation, you probably want to make sure that they’re not just dialing in by phone. They could log in and then add the phone but if you if you if you expect them to visually see the presentation also setting that expectation would be good so you don’t say Oh, I have an entire demonstration and PowerPoint deck. It’s really visual. Too bad. You can’t see it on the phone. That might be a frustrating start. So making sure you’re choosing again, just as a large meeting what but it may be a little bit more sensitive. If it’s just you and the potential client, which platform are you choosing do they have automatic access to it? And are you sending a an accurate calendar invite with an easily clickable link? A lot of times with personal meetings, I’ll see someone asked me for a time and then send me an email with the Zoom information in it. And I usually say okay, I have to create my own invite. I have to take their zoom link, plop it in here and I’m already just slightly annoyed, not annoyed because I have to do extra work but annoyed because I would have done more for my potential client. So that’s, that’s just the setup. Then make sure if you’re doing a presentation that has screen sharing, that you pick a tool that can easily screen share. If you’re sharing video, and your tool doesn’t share video very well. That might not be a good choice. Oh, it’s all you know, the participant in the meeting or the potential client might say, Oh, I can’t really see it. It’s really choppy or Oh, are you are you trying to share me the audio I just hear echoing, right? You don’t want to have your speakers blasting. And that’s the audio you’re sharing. You want to make sure that you pick a tool that can share the audio and that’s one of the reasons that I think Zoom meeting is very popular because there are checkmarks and if you’re sharing audio and video you should know how to do this in advance. Hint there two boxes at the bottom left after you hit to share the screen. You want to pick just the screen you’re sharing not the whole desktop so they could see all the other stuff on your screen. You want to pick just the screen you’re sharing and you want to click to share audio and video on the bottom left. Zoom also came up with other tools. There are tabs you can click to show audio only. You can actually now click to share the video directly from a file. So there are a lot of other things to do. But make sure that you’re totally in control of your presentation. And to do this, if you’re not sure how it works, invite one of your other devices. If you’re alone and say, Well I don’t have another person to practice with. Well if you’ve got a computer and a phone and invite yourself, maybe hit your video and go in the other room with your you know your your your own participant and see if in the other room with your phone. If you logged into that meeting, can you hear and see clearly, you know or if do you have someone else in your household or a friend that might you know, just let you do a dry run of practice practice with them. So again, making sure you’ve got the right tools and that you know how to use those tools. So that’s just some bare bones to make sure you know get started and I do have some tips on the presentation itself as well if you if you’d like. Should I continue with that?

Bill : Yeah, that’d be great. 

Melanie : Okay, so I know that was a mouthful. One of the things I should say is make sure you engage your audience and let them talk. So well I should pause and you know as a speaker, make sure you know is this. Do you have questions about anything I said or is there something you’d like me to elaborate on before I walk over to presentation skills?

Bill : No, I think I think you’re you brought up some really good points I you know, a lot of our audience are international companies that are coming into the US so the idea of getting the calendar invite correct is really important, because there are different time zones as well. And so there’s a lot of that to consider. And making sure that you’re both showing up at the right time is is really key. So yeah, let’s talk about the presentation. So we’ve now gotten everybody there that it’s not we’re on time. We’ve gotten you know, whatever technology so that we can share our screen and so on. How do we most effectively use the virtual platform to make an effective presentation where we were so used to doing it in person now obviously we need to do it in a in a remote way.

Melanie : Sure. So, first, I’d say if you’re I’m assuming that the person is on video, you want to make sure that you’re well lit and that you have some kind of appropriate, aesthetically pleasing or plain background behind you. So as a presenter, I was actually encouraged by a networking buddy of mine. I’ll plug Tina Larson if she’s on. She got this really interesting like, it’s very, it’s flexible in its positioning. It’s also got an ability to adjust the amount of light coming out of it. So I realized I was not that well lit from the light fixture that was above me in my apartment. So I myself just recently upgraded my lighting system. And again, it could be just something at a desk that’s basically illuminating your face. If you sit with a window behind you, you will start to look like that shady figure of the person who has no profile on Facebook or on LinkedIn, you’ll just look like an outline of yourself and it’ll be a bit creepy. It might look like you’re, you know, in a basement somewhere so you definitely want to make sure that your face is lit and whatever’s behind you. It’s probably a not moving you know you want to make sure that you don’t have people walking back and forth behind you, you know, potentially not expecting to be on camera. You know, again, we’ll use not camera ready to equal you know, potentially someone in their underwear. So you want to make sure that you probably have a wall or backdrop behind you I have kind of a busy painting this painting is of New Orleans and the French Quarter it kind of makes me happy. You know my clients often enjoy the bright colors but if I was doing something, you know, a little bit more serious or somber maybe this would be a bad background for me and I’d want to either you know purchase a green screen and then use a virtual background but got to be careful with the virtual backgrounds. But also, I could just you know, try to find a white wall or something like that, but a wall of something appropriate that’s not moving around behind you. You don’t want to have any you know, accidental zoom appearances coming from your own camera. And virtual backgrounds are iffy. If you use a virtual background, you really should have a computer that is optimized for it. Some computers will tell you like the computer is not optimized for virtual background but you can still click it it’s pretty much telling you don’t click that button and it’ll probably be choppy and you know, cut off your ears or you know, something like that. Maybe your eyes will turn into you know, whatever color it’s trying to put on the back of your screen so your eyes will become clearer. You know if you have green eyes and it’s expecting a green screen you may have see through eyes at some point. So you certainly don’t want to overdo it with the virtual backgrounds. You also you know depending on your you know, if you’re giving a very serious presentation, and you’ve got the beach and the swaying palm trees in the background that might be sending mixed messages. If you have a really appropriate background that fits the tone, maybe it’s your company logo, maybe it’s just a plain color. And if you’ve got a plain wall or even better yet a green screen behind you, it will do a better job at framing your face and not cutting off you know pieces of you and if you you know are doing a lot of gesturing. It may you know kind of take away parts of your hands kind of like Back to the Future when you see the fingers fading. So careful with the virtual backgrounds really tested out. And I would say when in doubt don’t use a virtual background. And when you do use a virtual background, your computer your very plain or green screen backdrop. Need to be you know, well tested before before you use that with a client.

Melanie : The next thing I’d say besides the lighting and the backdrop is the audio. So as I said before, you want to have some kind of headset, it could be a fancy headset. If you have one that you know makes you look like a DJ just make sure that’s okay with your persona. You may want to use ones that are more hidden and you may have a microphone. I actually have this plugged into a microphone that’s sitting next to me. The pros and cons of it is it definitely it definitely picks up my voice and sounds clearer but it picks up a lot of background noise. So earlier when we were prepping and my husband was using the microwave that we feel like I could hear that in my ears really clearly and prominently. So, you know if you use one of those mics that picks up a lot of noise, try to minimize the background noise. So the lighting, the video, the audio, the backdrop, just precursors, then the presence and the all that is just to make sure that you don’t add distractions and that you can present clearly when you present if you’re using a PowerPoint deck you don’t want this to be death by PowerPoint. I’ve stolen that phrase from I guess I don’t know the masses. I also heard and I could not find online the author to this but some people who use too much PowerPoint have neither power nor point. So make sure your PowerPoints don’t fall into that category. Use lots of visuals. Don’t write entire scripts on the screen for three bullets better for you could probably fit in for not more than four. No long wrapping lines. Don’t make columns to try to cheat the system. This would just be a guide for you to know what to speak about. If you needed people to have lots of text, you could always send it later after the presentation. But if anybody’s got lots of text on the screen, your viewers will stop listening to you and just read the screen or say that’s a lot of stuff. I’m going to go eat some snacks or read my emails. So try to use them to engage, try to use visuals. You can use animations lightly for things coming in, you know a couple of flurry animations if you’d like but the bare bones is don’t overload them with text if you’re using a PowerPoint it’s it’s not a nice experience for the for the for the participant and they will probably disengage in some fashion if you overload them with text. Also I neglected to say make sure you dress the part. You know if you’re doing a serious presentation and you’re in a T shirt, a baseball cap looked at look like it just rolled out of bed. This is not going to give a good impression to your speaker. You know if you’re representing a company and you have a shirt with a company logo, that’s fine. If you’re just wearing something plain and tasteful, you know button down shirt or whatever it is that’s work appropriate. Again, if you’re a personal trainer you shouldn’t have to dress in a three piece suit, but you know, just appropriate to the vibe of your client. I’ve heard debates over whether it’s okay to wear sweatpants or yoga pants on the bottom. I recently consulted with men’s personal stylist guy Tomlinson of Men of a Certain to ask him, what’s your opinion? He’s very much dressed head to toe like you’re going to meet that client in person because it sets your brain up to know what’s you know that you’re in a formal presentation mode. To me, the only thing I’d add is since you’ll likely be sitting during the presentation, just don’t wear something that is uncomfortable and cuts into for example your midsection and makes you want to you know move around and you know feel like you’re uncomfortable. So, you know if you were to get up during the meeting you want to have look head to toe like you meant to be on camera. But just don’t wear something that’s uncomfortable for your breathing because it could affect your ability to present. So if you can find a happy medium of a pair of pants that looks nice on camera but is also forgiving, or at least comfortable. I’d say that would be you know don’t wear something that’s uncomfortable and will affect your presentation negatively. But yes, a head to toe dress in a way that you know, greet your client with in person would be about the right thing.

Melanie : So then when it comes to creating that presentation, something that I feel like people forget to do is pick your perspective. Who are you and who is your audience? And so when you’re presenting to this audience, make sure it’s something that you know, they care about and they understand where you’re coming from. Just don’t dive into the presentation without introducing. You know who you are and why you’re making that presentation and what the goal of the presentation is. And that brings me into sort of the backward design of the content. What is the goal of what you’re presenting and make sure if you write that presentation, you probably write the outline first. And make sure that at the end you arrive at the thing that you meant to don’t just like unravel as you go and hope to get there you know on a runaway train a rollercoaster ride and hope you get to the end you know, really design that presentation. And backward design is sort of a you know, a term used in education as well to make sure that you get to the goal of what you’re trying to do. And you work backwards from that goal to the presentation. To things related to the delivery are speaking clearly and this affects my clients in accent reduction as well. And usually hand in hand with that is pacing. So especially if it’s virtual, especially if you’ve got technical content, slow down, slow down, breathe, pause, pace yourself. I myself am a sort of a you know, fall victim to getting overly excited and, you know, rushing my pace sometimes. Make sure the pace feels comfortable for you and your participant. You’re not overloading them with information so fast that they can’t digest it in bite sized pieces. Make sure you pause whether that pauses just, you know to breathe or to ask questions. Let the participant know in advance if they will have the opportunity to interrupt you and ask questions as you go. If those questions should be put in the chat, so then you can decide whether to you know, answer them right away. If it’s a bigger meeting of many potential clients, you may want to ask them if you have questions feel free to put them in the chat and I’ll try to answer every time we have a break or whether they are to hold the questions till the end. For a Q & A. I like a combination of both. I think you know if you want to say hey, if you’ve got a burning question, feel free to interrupt. Otherwise, maybe put it in the chat and just note I will try to take some relevant questions from the chat as we go and everything else. I will get to the q&a section at the end. I’ll look in the chat to see if there’s anything I didn’t cover and we’ll see if anybody else has a question. So setting that expectation and letting the audience participate and know how they’re supposed to participate is really helpful. And as I said, slowing down. A lot of times exudes confidence might climb sometimes fear if I slow down will people think that it’s because I don’t know how to speak English. I think slowing down shows confidence. It shows being thoughtful, it allows you to think of what you’re about to say especially when answering questions before the answer just leaps out of your mouth. So slowing down, pausing breathing every time you would have punctuation in the sentence. You know, giving that a bit of a pause or you know, commas, periods and new paragraphs, things like that they deserve some pauses. It also helps your again audience process what you just said. And I do think that gestures also come into play and gestures can also go along with emphasizing words. If you gesture every time you say any word it just seems like again I will date myself too. Crazy. Eddie did commercials and said our prices are insane and everything he said had flailing arms. But that was his brand. He was showing crazy. You don’t want to exude crazy you want to exude cool and confident and controlled. And so the gesture should go along with your emphasis and probably be you know something in the screen with your hands. So gesturing could be helpful, but don’t over gesture gesture is for emphasis if you emphasize everything you emphasize nothing. Engaging with questions at specific points in the meeting is a good idea if you have a long meeting.

Melanie : And I’d say think of what these questions should be in advance. Make sure they have the type of the question is worded such that you get the type of response you meant. If you ask somebody for their life story, expect it to go on for quite a while. If you just wanted a couple yes knows you could even put polling questions and if you have a larger audience, just to make sure that again, you’re engaging the audience when you can with well thought out questions that have answers that are probably the approximate size that you’re looking for. And at the end of your presentation should probably have some kind of call to action in there. If you expect that there’s another meeting, maybe you set that up during the end of the call or if you say I’ll send you an email with follow up information and then we can do XYZ or would you like me to send you a price quotation whatever it might be, the audience should and you should be on the same page. You should have some shared knowledge about you know what the next step is. And then finally, practice in advance so that you feel confident during this presentation with all the things we said do a real dress rehearsal in the type of you know, outfit or wear that you’re going to have. If you’re going to wear jewelry and there’s going to be dangly earrings making noise you want to find that out earlier and not wear those dangly earrings or pearls that are going to be jumping around and making noise so make sure that you know whatever you’re about to do for this important client, practice it in in the right wardrobe with the lighting and the you know, audio pieces with the backdrop and the deck and potentially invite yourself to that meeting. Record it. Watch it back. You can’t record your own zoom meetings and watch them back because they’re painful. Think of what your clients are going through or your potential clients. So I’d really you know do as much as you can to control the content and the in the delivery style by practicing inviting yourself and or you know, recording and watching those meetings back and make sure that you’re exuding the message. You’re delivering the message in the way that you mean to and your audience will recognize that and they’ll see the effort that you put in and appreciate it.

Bill : That’s great. So it you know the one thing that you mentioned that I think is interesting is you know when you’re you know again thinking in the context of somebody making a sales presentation or a proposal via the Virtual Media. What’s your recommendation? You know, sitting versus standing.

Melanie : I think it’s whatever makes you comfortable. Some people love standing desks and they’re helpful. I’d be there to help them healthy I’ve heard for you uh, you know, probably gets you. You know, I’m guessing that being sedentary for long hours for the time it’s probably not the most helpful but I have seen people that have standing desks doing a lot of swaying and moving and that’s distracting. So I would say you know, even if you have a standing desk for your general day, if you tend to be doing a lot of moving while standing in a distracting way you may want to sit for your presentation. However, if you’re really comfortable standing and you’re nice and still and it gives you extra mobility and the cameras placed well, then great. So I would say you know do what’s comfortable for that presentation. But again, I know standing desks desks are good for you. But see if it you know again, record yourself and see if having that standing desk is helping you project which could be great or if it’s causing you to do a lot of extra movement. If you can stand and stay still and project better standing then that’s great. That’s a great way to present but it’s not it’s not necessary. And unless you’re doing a lot of you know, demonstration that involves your full torso, you know, you don’t you don’t need to stand way back. I don’t need to see the full figure I’d rather see someone’s face and probably you know have a little space above their head and have maybe a little room under their shoulders. I actually may be a little bit too close. I may be a little bit of an extreme close up in my current position but if the standing is not distracting, then I think it’s a great idea. But if you’re not used to it, I wouldn’t say hey, go ahead and try standing for your presentation out of nowhere. It’s probably something that involves some practice and could be very good in again projecting because you’re not squishing your diaphragm by being seated. So that’s a great I do but not a not a must have been a great idea if it’s not causing distracting emotions during the presentation.


Bill : Sure. Okay, cool. Let’s flip to kind of the last persona we want to talk about and that’s someone who is participating in a meeting. So there let’s just imagine it as a, say a virtual meetup and they’re looking to make as many good connections and, and get to know the audiences as well as they can. What are you know, and let’s imagine that maybe at the at the top of the meeting, everybody gets, say, 30 seconds or so to introduce themselves? What is that? How does that person best leverage the virtual media to both make the impression that they want but also to make good connections?


Melanie : I think a lot of what we talked about in the presenter is applicable to the individual participants. Because again, if you want to make connections with your other participants, and potentially with that speaker, you want to make sure that you are you look professional, that you are engaged the whole time you do not have your camera off. You don’t look distracted. I mean as someone who does speaking if I see some of the audience members clearly working like they’re typing or multitasking or even on the phone, in the camera, I see that person if they reach out to me afterwards and say like, oh, you know, your presentation was engaging. I might remember that. I was like, Oh, well, it would have been great if you were really paying attention during the meeting, but I’m glad to continue the conversation now. Maybe we can, you know, connect a little bit better. And I’m just teasing with that example. I really haven’t had that happen to me recently. But I see it happening a lot of times in meetings and it certainly could. There could be someone that turn their camera off and is multitasking. So being you know, looking as I said well lit well audio backdrop professional, I’m really paying attention is key because even though you’re participating people can see you if you’re hiding by turning your camera off. It’s almost like you’re not there so you’re not an if you just all of a sudden pop on to do your you know 30 seconds or one minute spot and then pop off people will notice that you did that and they may be like ah that person was just out for themselves. You know, so people do make judgments, some of them are snap judgments and sometimes, you know, they make sense. So um you know, people will see your behavior, so exuding a supportive, engaged, respectful behavior as a participant is really important too. If there is a chat and overly chatting during the meeting, while somebody else is presenting could be rude if there’s an opportunity for you to put your contact information in. Right after you spoke. It’s a great time to do it. Like either, you know, the set, you know, maybe typed in the chat, then hit enter like right as you’re speaking or right after you’re speaking, but doing it during another time makes it seem like you’re not listening to what’s going on right now. You’re worried about your information and showing it therefore you’re not being respectful. So I would say just careful with a chat. If you do meet someone during the meeting, and you can private chat them and say hey, I’d love to chat offline here. Email. That’s a way to quickly reach out to someone and exchange information, but not be disruptive. If you are paying such great attention that you want to compliment someone who just spoke. That’s a great idea. If that’s welcome in the meeting, sometimes meetings like that, sometimes they don’t but if it’s Welcome to support other people and say that you thought what they just said was great. That’s wonderful. But again, make sure it’s well timed and not while someone else is speaking. So that it looks like you’re not paying attention. And then when you’re it’s your turn to speak. One thing I really stress is if you’ve got 30 seconds to a minute to talk about yourself. Don’t read. It makes it look like you don’t know your own name or your company’s name. Or what you do. If you have 30 to 60 seconds to introduce yourself. Be present. Look into the camera. Don’t look at the other people don’t look at your own picture. Look into the camera as if you’re speaking to the audience, and you know, have it organized in your mind. Maybe write yourself some bullet points. You can even if you want it to cheat, you could put those bullet points like really high at the top right under your camera. So it looks like you’re looking into the camera and you just have that magic feather there. In case you freeze and forget but don’t write up sentences. It will be very audible that you are reading and not speaking and people rather engage with a friendly human who seems excited about what they do. Then a perfect, you know, a perfectly structured sentence that lacks personality and sounds read. So when it’s your turn to participate, be present, be excited about what you do, have some idea of what you’re going to say, times into the 30-60 or you know, two minute segment and have a good ending. If you have a tagline about your business. If you have a you know if you don’t have a tagline you can repeat your name and your business name and maybe even the industry so people remember what it is that you do. So you sort of have a nice clean start, a nice kept off ending and some are in the middle that is not read off of a piece of paper. And if you need if you just have such Stagefright that you you know if first of all if you’re reading you’re probably looking down or sideways or have wrestling papers if you need something then either use a post it right underneath your camera with like a couple words in bullet points or a nicely notepad or Microsoft Word document. Small right underneath your camera. So you’d have it there in case to look down but you’re presenting yourself as you would in person shaking someone’s hand and telling them what you do. So being real, being present, being engaging and happy and excited, is a lot better than being perfect. So that’s what I would say there and making sure that you’re courteous to the time and that you don’t have to be muted by the host


Melanie : It’s a nice feeling that you’re in control your own mute button and that you know all of a sudden see you’ve been muted by the host like oh, I just annoy everyone by not needing I’m also just a really quick tip. I in one of my working group I made a slide about this. A lot of times when people know they’re up next, they will unmute themselves and then go and what happens is the person who is speaking who is on video if you’ve got the speaker view, it’s almost an eclipse by you clearly clearing your throat and revving yourself up to go and interrupting the last part of the other person’s presentation. So clear the throat first, shake it out, do whatever he needs to do and then unmute yourself. Not vice versa because it you know, it’s disruptive and you know people will probably chuckle at you just a little bit you know, it’s okay but not your best not not not your best first impression. For the throat clearing rather than you introduce yourself when you met too.


Bill : So, yeah, that was really helpful. One of the things you mentioned fairly quickly was the idea of not talking too long. And yeah, let’s just imagine we’re in, you know, 45 or 60 minute meetup type scenario where it’s probably fairly fast paced. And there is often that individual who, whether they speak in long blocks or they or they seem to be every other person in terms of their interest, in other words, they keep popping in to have a comment and, and, and not really allowing other people to speak. And obviously, there are really two issues, right. There’s that person who doesn’t speak at all, unless they’re called on and then there’s that person that sort of over speaks. How do people manage that because but both of those personas are challenging in that scenario, both in terms of how the audience sees them, but also what they’re going to get out of the process. Because if you don’t let someone else speak, you’ll never hear and learn about them. Right, right.

Melanie : I think a lot of that rests on good moderation of by the host. So you, you might you know, at first maybe there’s a you know, an open forum section where that might happen. And then maybe you realize that it’s dominated by the folks who are really outgoing and it’s, you know, and you’re not getting the benefit of maybe some people who are, you know, a little bit less trigger happy about speaking, but have a lot of maybe ideas that they just don’t feel comfortable putting in. So maybe at that point, you say, hey, you know, I want to make sure that everybody has a chance to speak. So let’s do this. Instead of unmuting yourself. Raise your virtual hand by going to reactions and raising your hand and I’m going to call on someone because I want to make sure everyone has a chance and not everybody’s as you know, quick to jump in. So I’d say not if you see that behavior happening, and it doesn’t always happen, but it could and may not, you know, one’s fault. And maybe you know, for example, I’m in New York or New Yorkers love to interrupt and jump in and do things like that. If you’ve got a you know, national or international forum. People may wait for silences. I was just on a virtual lecture by Deborah Tannen, who is a professor at Georgetown University where I studied linguistics. So anyway, Deborah Tannen did a whole study on how New Yorkers have different interrupting styles than others. They feel like it’s camaraderie when you button and talk over each other and you know, it’s kind of a a bit more of a, you know, a hands hands on sport, I guess of you know, having a conversation is it’s more of a contact sport, where you just jump in and and get it you know, being aggressive shows you’re you’re involved and being silent is bad, because it shows that people have disengaged. So as soon as their silence somebody jumps in and fills it, whereas folks from other places, for example, the folks in California and in her study may have been more laid back or folks overseas, maybe waiting for a longer silence in order to jump in on for example, maybe folks from for example, I have clients from China that mentioned to me that you know, you feel that it’s rude to interrupt because that’s just not you know, the etiquette is different, and it’s a lot more. I don’t want to say polite or impolite, but, you know, there’s a lot more emphasis on making sure that you’re not interrupting someone else and it’s your turn to go. So knowing that there may be people from different cultural backgrounds or you no linguistic backgrounds, you want to make sure that you give everyone a chance. So telling if you cache that behavior, even though the forum was maybe intended to be open, maybe as a moderator say, You know what, I want to make sure we hear from everyone. So let’s do this. And everyone click that. Either raise your physical hand or raise your virtual hands in the reactions. tab by or there are different depending on what kind of what kind of presentation you’re in or platform. There may be different things but usually there’s some kind of hand raised. And so if you have a hand raise or if you don’t physically put your hand up and then use a moderator on those people, if not, you could make some kind of other round robin or you know, I’ve heard some people refer to it as pop corning around. So just saying, Hey, we’re going to change modes and do something else to make sure we’ve got we get all the voices heard, is an okay thing to do to kind of wrangle it back a little as the moderator. And then


Bill : So what I’m hearing you say though, is it’s so I’m gonna use my interrupting. So what I’m hearing you say is you’re putting this responsibility on the moderator not on the participant. 


Melanie : Yeah, 


Bill : In other words, how do I moderate myself? That was my question. So I always made sure I because I’m in because  I’m in a group of people that I want to impress right. 


Melanie : Right. 


Bill : And so should I rely on the moderator to help me do that, or should I be able to moderate myself?


Melanie : Great. Question. So I think that the theoretically you’d want the moderator to be skilled and to do this, but you may be in a situation where the moderator does not do this, and now you’re responsible for your own behavior. Well, you’re always responsible, but you’re actually responsible for your participation style switch you could do if you feel like you’re over participating, but if you don’t, nobody else will go. You could either type in the chat like, I have a comment that I don’t want to hog the meeting. So does anyone else have an idea before I jump in? Or you could say, you know, I have another comment, but you know, I wanted someone else to jump in first. So I don’t, you could, you know, say out loud what you’re thinking you, you want to be respectful, because you want everyone to participate. But if, you know, if you’re the only one that has, you know, something to add in that category, you’re happy to do so. And again, you can use the chat to say, you know, I have an idea but I want to make sure everyone gets to speak before I go again. You could you could jump in sort of as a make yourself a co moderator at that point and say, you know, I’ve got an idea, but does anyone want to go first vocally, so but if you’re feeling if you’re feeling that you’re over participating, maybe it’s okay to say, Alright, I know what questions are coming. I’m going to prioritize the ones that I really want to get out there. And if there’s ones where I’m just filling filling the gaps, I don’t need to I don’t need to save the meeting by filling the gaps the the moderator at that point, got the signal that they need to change the question or so so I think asking that question means you’re already very aware and conscientious, so you’re probably doing the right thing already. But again, using the chat and asking others to participate or maybe even saying, hey, tagging the end of your participation with Hey, does anybody else have a client who does this? Or does anybody else work in this industry? Maybe you can encourage other people to follow your comment by inviting them to answer a question that you’ve now added to the mix.


Bill : Got it? Oh, that no, I think that makes a lot of sense. I like the idea of and I think, at least my observation is many folks and it’s usually you know, every few meetups that I do, or meetings like that, where they’re, you know, where there’s an expectation of conversation. And, and interaction. They’re invariably there’s sort of that loudest person in the room and, and at least my experience has been they don’t have a lot of self awareness. But that but that idea of being able to say, you know, you know, hear my thoughts, who you know, but I’d like to hear what everybody else thinks or that idea that you know, yeah, I have an idea but can you know, does someone else want to go first? I think it’s really fun.


Melanie : Even inviting someone to disagree or say Did anyone have the opposite experience? I’d love to hear? No, is that just me? Because I think what’s even more overbearing, that was constantly participating is someone who states their opinions as facts. And then it actually kind of on invites people from expressing the opinion they had because it’s counter to yours. So if it’s something that was an experience that you shared, or an opinion, something to say, you know, in my experience, I found this, this and this, you know, because anybody had the same a similar or maybe even the opposite experience. I’d love to hear what others have found. So, again, if someone asked you for a factual answer, if that’s different, but if again, if you’re sharing opinions, to leave it open so that other folks can share theirs without feeling like they’re contradicting you, because it might be uninviting, not, how not how you spoke. You know, not the passion with which you spoke or not the quantity of information you shared, but maybe the tone somehow or the structure of what you said, kind of made it like this is the answer. You don’t need others and maybe that’s deterring people from from answering because you were the know it all so again, especially if it’s an opinion, or sharing an experience, encouraging the audience to show theirs which might be the same or different could be a good way to make sure you’re not cutting off people from from sharing their experience because either it repeated yours, but you’re asking does anyone have a similar experience? Or maybe even opposite? And so then it’s encouraging the other, you know, other types of answers to join in. So it’s not just you, you know, singing a solo


Bill : Sure. So, Melanie, this has been great and I know there’ll be people that are excited to learn more about what you do is we’ll certainly put your contact info in the description, but is there a favorite way for people to reach out to you?


Melanie : Sure. So my website is a great way to reach out to me on there. You can book an appointment or you can contact me through that website. So that’s probably the easiest way and then if anything I mentioned including Mango Languages of interest, just contact me there. That’s my kind of catch all pleased to get messages. And again, whether you’re interested in speaking about you know, Asians and writing a maybe your quick elevator pitch or tagline working on accent. If an actor has listened and wants to work on dialect or if anyone’s interested in learning other languages. Just write you know, find me there and then I can make sure to you know, to, to write your back either, you know, email or set up a phone call or set up a zoom call with all these all these features that we mentioned as part of that call. And I will make sure if I send you an invite, it will have all the information, right timing.


Bill : That’s right. Well, I better have the right link in it. Well, this has been fabulous and really appreciate your time, and all the wisdom that you shared. I want to encourage everybody that’s watching to also make sure to like and subscribe to the channel so that you can keep up to date with all the great tips that are coming out and any updates. But thank you again, Melanie. I hope you enjoy the rest of your day.


Melanie : Thank you Bill and you are wonderful hope because I have been at your softland meetings and our Softland partners meetings and you run them very, very well using all of these types of techniques. So if anyone wants to catch a meeting that runs really well with a great involve moderator who makes sure everyone has a chance and the timing is precise, then you’re a great example.

Bill : Thank you so much. It’s very common. That’s the nicest thing anyone said to me all day. So this is

Melanie : And it’s only 9.17 am Eastern 

Bill : Exactly thank you!


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