Watch Ken Haman discuss the challenges of adjusting to virtual client meetings.
Anyone who has conducted a conference call or teleconference meeting knows that virtual meetings are fundamentally different than live encounters. Our brains pick up hundreds of subtle indicators when we are face-to-face with another person and these signals provide a huge amount of information that goes missing in a virtual encounter. This means that virtual meetings aren’t just different, they’re harder to manage successfully.
Observations of many virtual meetings and interviews with dozens of professionals who are relying on virtual meetings during the COVID-19 pandemic have revealed 10 major dimensions built into the virtual experience that make executing it effectively more challenging.
1. The Client Has Greater Control Over the Engagement
When not in the same room with the presenter, the listener feels free to disengage from the meeting and to check emails or texts or multitask in some way. This sense of distance and freedom leads to far less discipline around paying attention and staying fully engaged; it’s likely the client will give herself permission to disengage from time to time.
2. The Client Has Less Social Obligation and Constraint
Separation liberates us from some of the social norms we’ve grown up with. This can manifest itself in something as simple as not paying attention or displaying rude behavior. Most of us won’t check emails or cell phone texts during a live conversation, but we feel free to multitask during a virtual meeting. In addition, the client often feels more comfortable disagreeing with the presenter, ignoring important information or cutting the meeting short.
3. Distractions Are Harder to Manage
It’s one thing to ask a spouse, friend or child to put down a cell phone. Think twice before asking a client or prospect to do so. Whether the other person is working from her home or office, outside distractions occur and are much more likely to disrupt the flow of a virtual meeting than an in-person one.
4. Screen and Sound Quality Is Limited
Cell phone screens, computer monitors and low-quality speakers diminish what we see and hear. Because of this, virtual meetings are less real and less likely to penetrate the other person’s attention filter.
5. Rapport and Nonverbal Communication Are Significantly Diminished
It’s much easier to establish rapport with someone when we are close to and facing him because of our instinct to match and pace him. Matching and pacing are instinctive signals that tell the other person, “I am a friend; I’m with you; there is no danger here.” A face on a screen diminishes the rapport that builds from being close to another person and makes it difficult to see changes in body language. Plus, it’s much harder to match and pace someone on a screen than when they are close by, full-scale and three-dimensional. Unconscious rapport between two people is a major source of influencing decisions and is significantly diminished in a virtual encounter.
6. The Presenter and the Listener Have Difficulty Staying in Sync
The previous challenges show that, overall, it’s harder to stay in sync with the other person in a virtual meeting. Most of us have experienced a time when the listener was trying to speak and couldn’t interrupt the presenter who was going on and on. Alternatively, everyone who has conducted a virtual meeting has been inadvertently spoken over or been interrupted by another person.
7. The Quality of the Message Becomes More Important
Because our normal social instincts are reduced, the focus must be on the message. While it takes more preparatory work, the quality and structure of the information as well as the illustrations become more important. Many professionals unconsciously rely on their experience to empower their sales skills and be spontaneous, but when the message and visuals become central, these old skills need to be upgraded or replaced.
8. Mastery of the Technology and Presentation Skills Is Needed
While the skills you need to close a new business deal or manage assets are completely different from those needed to run a virtual meeting, looking disorganized or inept is sure to hurt your overall credibility. At the very least, managing a virtual meeting effectively requires mastering the technology you’re using, which can be a challenge depending on the available platform.
9. Meetings Are Shorter and Require Tighter Presentation
Because there’s limited or no small talk, most virtual meetings are shorter and more direct. This is another area where preparation and mastering the message are key.
10. More Energy Is Necessary from Both the Presenter and the Listener
In a virtual meeting, the presenter must work hard to stay focused on the story he is telling while trying to look for subtle nonverbal cues from the listener. The listener also needs to stay focused and absorb the information that’s coming from a talking head on a small screen over poor-quality speakers. Both sides must work harder to get what they need out of the encounter. Maintaining this level of energy is a significant challenge, especially if you’re attending or conducting several meetings a day.
Some of these challenges may be more important than others to overcome, but all represent a vital new area of expertise to master. The prudent advisor recognizes that the rapid adoption of virtual meetings has leveled the field between the new player and the established elite. In our next series of blogs, we will explore five ways advisors can improve their skills at mastering this important new sales tool.
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The views expressed herein do not constitute research, investment advice or trade recommendations and do not necessarily represent the views of all AB portfolio-management teams.