Building business relationships online can be exhausting! We tend to approach them as face-to-face relationships but in reality, it can be difficult for our brains to adapt. How to engage people at online meetings and what mistakes to avoid? This was the topic of our latest Powerful Business Talks episode with Annette Kramer. Here are the key takeaways from the interview. PS! Find the full recording at the end of the post.
Building relationships online, for example at a networking event, is a bit more challenging, because you don't see physical bodies. It means that what you have is a screen-to-screen relationship, which you try to reverse-engineer into a body-to-body relationship. We tend to anthropomorphize the non-human, which a computer is: we take the most human aspects of that, which is your image, your voice and then we assume that that is what the relationship is.
This process requires a lot of effort from our brain which is part of the reason that we're so tired at the end of the day. It's not just that we've been looking at a screen, but we have been relating to a screen. We have not really been relating to people!
Online relationships also require a lot more attention because if your body is in a room, there's a level of relaxation: you can assume about the other person. You see their posture, their gaze and it indicates to you whether they are thinking along or they are distracted. But these movements become even more meaningful on a screen-to-screen setting. Because if I don't look at you, it looks like I'm not paying attention. It has a different meaning than if I swivel in my chair and we're talking and I'm still talking to you, but I'm turning around. You can see the context. You can see whatever it is that's happening. And it doesn't necessarily mean I'm not paying attention to you.
We usually unconsciously understand what the other party’s body language is saying but it’s much harder to understand it online. It requires more effort to decode what is happening on the other side of the screen, and it is made even more difficult if there's more than one person on the screen.
Hosting online events and meetings requires a tremendous effort to make people feel welcomed and to make them feel heard. When people tune in, you should make an effort to name them by name and ask them a question or mention something about them. This creates a sense of belonging immediately. Being heard, being recognized, being seen is a huge for people. It doesn't matter if you're on-screen or off-screen.
Make sure to acknowledge either in the chat or in-person when someone said something interesting. Also, when you notice that someone isn't speaking at all, take a moment and call them out, saying something along the lines of: “I know that you’re really interested in this topic, do you think any of what we discussed might be relevant for your business as well?” Give them also an option to say no. So that you're not putting them on the spot, but you put it in such a way that invites them to contribute. And sometimes that will allow them to feel comfortable contributing further, or sometimes that's just enough.
Another thing is to have a high level of energy – it is contagious and creates an uplifting environment. When you smile, others smile! Make sure to keep it light. In general, maintain a good balance of listening, speaking and making sure other people are included in the conversation.
Don’t multitask – it is actually very obvious to others when you’re not paying attention and it makes other people in the meeting feel not heard, not seen and not important enough.
Don’t hide yourself – keeping your camera on creates trust because it offers visual acknowledgement. It allows you to be recognized as somebody who is listening and then you are generally recognized as someone who has value to other people. If it is not possible for you to turn your camera on due to connectivity issues, make sure to say it to others in the meeting, so they won’t feel like you are hiding.
Don’t be disengaged – make an effort to demonstrate that you are engaged (e.g. nodding along or commenting on the topic in the chat) to make others feel heard and seen.
Bear in mind the most important thing about any communication: it is not about information delivery but about starting a conversation that listeners want to continue to build relationships. Because businesses are based on relationships! If you can change your attitude about why you're communicating, how you communicate will also change. People are always working with people, not with companies.
With a PhD and a wealth of commercial experience, Annette Kramer uses practical techniques to help individuals translate the value of what they do to build high value relationships. She is an expert strategist and problem solver, particularly in joining the dots with what initially look like disparate resources.