Sandy Keeter is a Professor in the Information Technology Department at Seminole State College in Florida.
Much of our current communication is happening online, whether it’s with family, friends, students or colleagues.
Communicating “virtually” doesn’t mean anything goes, just because you’re not face to face. On the contrary, it’s more important than ever to present yourself professionally so whoever you’re communicating with will take you seriously.
As the world shifts to virtual communication, being able to express yourself online is a necessary skill; there are certain “netiquette” rules and standards that should be followed, along with some basic online communication tips.
How you speak to friends or family is most likely not how you speak to colleagues, faculty, co-workers or supervisors. It’s important to know your audience and be aware of your communication context.
Read on for five tips for efficient online communications, no matter who you’re talking to.
Tip 1: Prepare and Practice Your Content
Whether you’re presenting for school or for work, it’s important to know your content, to make it clear and concise and to convey the proper tone. Be sure to practice beforehand to organize your thoughts or ideas.
Also be aware of your tone and persona in virtual meetings by videotaping yourself to see how you look and sound. Professors should prepare for online lectures just as they would on campus and try to find ways to liven them up even more online.
Pause often to be sure everyone understands what you have presented and ask if there are any questions. Poll your students or do an icebreaker to ensure everyone’s following along and staying engaged.
Students should also be prepared by knowing the professor’s expectations. By reviewing the content ahead of time, they can understand the material and stay focused.
Tip 2: Stay in Control
There are certain levels of environmental control to be aware of during your virtual conversations. Depending on your audience, you should present as formally as suggested by the circumstances and assuming they can see everything, unless you have turned your camera off. If communicating with family or friends, perhaps this won’t matter as much, but it’s good to remember.
Consider muting the audience if you’re the main speaker, otherwise mute yourself to keep background noise to a minimum while others are talking. While video chatting has helped us get closer to face-to-face interaction, it isn’t perfect. We often aren’t as attuned to the non-verbal communication that occurs during a conversation.
Set your phone somewhere out of sight, so you aren’t distracted by it and be aware of your hand movements and facial expressions to avoid making odd movements or gestures. Controlling your non-verbal cues helps keep the attention on you and your message. It also helps show you’re engaged with your audience.
Again, practicing ahead of time and checking in with your audience often will help keep things flowing and give you good control of the meeting.
Tip 3: Consider Your Clothing
Whether you’re presenting in person or online, your credibility depends, in part, on your appearance, especially in a professional meeting.
If you’re chatting with friends or family, you can wear athleisure or PJs. But, if you’re talking to your students, teachers, colleagues or employer, consider your clothing a bit further.
Putting effort into your presentation and appearance shows your dedication and respect for your audience. Your entire outfit, from head to toe, should still appear professional because you can never be sure what others may see on the other end. Decide before the meeting what would be appropriate (casual, conservative, classy) and dress for success!
Tip 4: Clear Out the Clutter
It’s important to be aware of your surroundings when setting up a live presentation or call. Find a place that’s quiet, comfortable and has good lighting and a simple background. Not only will your audience be less distracted, but you’ll be more focused as well.
Although we all see animals appearing in Zoom meetings periodically, barking dogs or tweeting birds or other distractions can impede a good presentation or meeting. In any type of communication, you want to be able to focus on both form and content.
Put animals in another room and alert household members that you’re not to be disturbed so there will be fewer unwanted interruptions. If your meeting place is visually unappealing or looks too chaotic, change the location or choose a virtual background as your setting.
Tip 5: Recap & Discuss in Your Closing
Online or virtual communications don’t have to be impersonal or robotic. One of your primary goals as an online instructor should be to build a sense of community within your online class.
Communicating with students (or others) in an online environment requires a little more thought and planning than communicating in person. Keep in mind that less is more (no one likes sitting in a meeting for hours!) and follow the tips above to make virtual communications more efficient.
At the end of your meeting, offer a brief recap of what was discussed, when you’ll meet again and how they should prepare.
Looking for simple tweaks you can make to improve your online instruction? Check out our webinar, “Life Hacks” to Enhance Your Online Course Today.