Skip to main content


Recently, I had a meeting with a client who came in beaming, describing how he would  be using the latest technology to interview a big name. “I’m going to be a big hit! He’ll be  behind the screen, projected as a huge animated character of himself.”

“Really?” I said. “And what about you?”

“Oh, I’ll be at the podium, asking him the questions.”

“How small will you be?” I asked.

He looked at me dumbfounded. “I never thought about that. I never thought I’d  diminish myself. I just thought that the technology would make the conversation so  cool.”

Lately, we’re all getting swept up in the allures of virtual technology in a remote setting.  It was an initially exhilarating experience to see everyone, everywhere. But it’s  important to step back, get beyond the cosmetics of lighting and staring at ourselves in  the camera, and deal with some new questions. For instance, what is the impact of all  these new technologies on how we communicate? Specifically, I can think of three  fundamental changes in our virtual digital environments, changes we have to embrace  to keep our audiences engaged and keep our leadership presence strong.

Here are some of the changes I’ve noticed in virtual communication.


One of the changes you have to deal with is going from a 3D environment to a 2D  environment.

Yes, you feel the energy in the room. If you are telling your story effectively, you will feel  the audience cohesion, a unified feeling; no audience shuffling, no clicking of keys. You  will feel a unified flow of energy coming at you right away. You will feel the energy. You  will feel the emotion.

In your virtual environment, you can see, you can hear, but you can’t feel. You’re in a flat  environment. In movies, they compensate for the 2D by adding a soundtrack. The soundtrack stirs up the feelings associated with the visual.

So how do you add feeling to your virtual speaking without a soundtrack? You add  rhythm. In speaking, you add rhythm by speaking in the personal voice, and you add rhythm by having repetition. Here are some examples of rhythm.

• You say, “We made decisions.”

• You say, “We executed our plans.”

• You say, “We achieved results.”

By repeating “You say,” you are building in a rhythm. You are adding your soundtrack to  your 2D virtual meeting; you are adding your feelings to your 2D virtual meeting.


A noticeable change is the shift from speaking in a style of telling a whole story, to  fragments of your narrative. In an in-person meeting, you have people coming and going occasionally. So you usually can tell your story from the beginning through the  middle to the end, like reading a paper.

But in a virtual meeting, you have to deal with a fragmented presence. People are  coming and going, coming and going, putting up their pictures, popping in, popping out.  You have to tell your story in a more fragmented style. You have to build in redundancies to remind people of what you’re talking about. You have to get to the point immediately and over and over again. You can’t count on when your audience will be in  and when your audience will be out.

The best way to speak in today’s fragmented and virtual environment is to think of your  presentation as having a core message with planets of information connected to your  core message. You have to keep coming back to your core message, so you don’t fly off  into outer space.


Another change you have to deal with is instant messaging while you’re talking. Years  ago, I worked with the Home Shopping Network. When their salespeople were on the air  promoting their products, they were receiving real-time feedback about how their  products were selling. With a slow seller, move on fast; with fast sellers, stay on the  product.

In in-person meetings, you don’t get real-time feedback and messaging. No one slips  you information on a notepad or texts you while you’re speaking. Instead, you concentrate on looking at your people, feeling your engagement, and staying tuned in to  the pulse of the meeting. In a virtual meeting, you have a continuous flow of instant  messaging coming at you: comments, reactions, feedback, flowing publicly across the  screen. What do you concentrate on? Do you pause to address the questions? Do you get  distracted by the comments?

There are no rules of the game right now. What is polite? What is correct? How many  conversations are going on simultaneously? Are they all productive?

To improve your ability to tell your story in this virtual environment, you have to define  what you feel is right in your organization. You have to establish what your protocols  are. Do you have pauses to discuss key messages? Do you deal with text messages later?  Do you ignore the key messages and just concentrate on telling your story? To be  effective in today’s virtual environment, you have to establish the rules of etiquette, just  as you have rules in your real meetings.


Another one of the changes you have to deal with is projecting leadership presence. In  an in-person meeting, you can establish a leadership presence in many ways. You can  have a strong natural advantage if you’re big, if you move around frequently, and if you  occupy a lot of space with your gestures.

But in a virtual meeting, every speaker occupies the same screen size. So, how do you  project leadership presence? You have to gesture with intention. You have so little space,  so you can’t focus on big gestures. You have to focus on small, intentional gestures that  stay within the frame. The key to making small, intentional, and powerful gestures is to  move from your body. Think about using your body in fluid ways. Try to avoid flopping  out your arms to the sides, instead getting your whole self into your movement.

By delivering small gestures from your core, you can help build your leadership  presence, especially in today’s virtual environment.

Anett Grant is the CEO of Executive Speaking, Inc. and the author of multiple e-books on speaking.

Leave a Reply