Web meetings can become a sales directors’ best friend given its vast possibilities. It facilitates quick and smooth collaboration when teams are geographically dispersed and, with the emergence of new software and technologies available, offer increasingly smarter solutions for online communication. But our digital horizon also brings challenges for your sales organisation to overcome, in terms of productivity and implementation.
Already in 2017, studies conducted at ProSales Institute (now Mercuri Research) pointed to that as much as 70% of B2B sales organisations use online web communication as a resource.1 Today, this number is probably closer to 100%. But web meetings comes with a number of challenges, and take some practice before becoming a reliable alternative.
Lid & Falkman (2014) compiled research from a number of studies and identified three common areas of difficulty most business leaders struggle with when jumping to a digital medium: 1) leading the web meeting, 2) getting participants to behave productively and 3) presenting properly.2 In this article, we discuss these challenges and offer advice on how to deal with them. You will also find three checklists, that can be used to support you and your team.
1. Leading a Web Meeting
Leadership is more than just dishing out orders. It’s about structure, oversight, enabling group cohesion and more. Above all, a good leader knows how to motivate their employees and always leads by example.
“Clearly, running a virtual meeting isn’t only about the technology. In fact, it can require even better speaking and meeting skills than an in-person meeting does.”David Strom, Baseline Magazine
During a web meeting, things can quickly spiral out of control if the leading party fails to establish proper routines and ground rules early on. This can include having a written agenda beforehand for staying on schedule to basic etiquette such as muting the microphone when not speaking.
Furthermore, a lack of physical interaction entails a lesser degree of body language and signaling with eye-contact. This is especially true during video conferences. You have to be overtly clear in addressing the participants verbally so that everyone gets a fair share of attention and can stay engaged in the discussion.
Depending on the software used, you’ll have a variety of digital tools at your disposal. Use them wisely. With polls, for example, you can invoke a “show of hands” and get a quick feedback on an enquiry. This shortens up the response time, increases interactivity and encourages participants to express stronger opinions when used anonymously.
The devil is in the details and following a proper procedure to ensure a smooth web meeting makes all the difference. And this includes identifying a proper procedure when leading a web meeting. Key questions include: what kind of etiquette should be established? What steps do I follow? What do I need to prioritize when directing a meeting? How do I open and end the meeting properly?
2. Engaging and getting participants to behave productively in a web meeting
It may seem harder to participate in an online meeting than in a physical one. But the truth is, it shouldn’t be. We simply lack practice. Understandably, it takes a healthy amount of trial and error before each participant becomes comfortable with the technology and is able to seamlessly interact with everyone else on the team.
One of the main issues is dealing with distractions. When working from home, keeping healthy routines and not straying too far from the habits we pick up at an office environment becomes important. Furthermore, most people become uncomfortable when being forced in front of a camera. During a live broadcast we tend to feel ‘under surveillance’.
That is why your main goal as a leader should be to instruct your team in the proper procedures and etiquette to overcome these hurdles and achieve group cohesion. This ensures that your web meetings stay on schedule and within a solid framework.
Engage your team by repeating simple routines, encouraging ‘best practice’ and actively engaging them in the conversation. To increase productivity, asses the many strengths and weaknesses with online communication. A good idea is to hand them clear instructions on etiquette beforehand, detailing what to think about when participating in a web meeting. Key questions include: How do I deal with noise and distractions when working from home? How do I get comfortable with the chosen software and/or equipment? How do I find a proper environment? How do I deal with multitasking?
3. Rhetorical devices & presenting properly
What has the wisdom of the ancient Greeks have to say about online web meetings? Plenty. Their timeless insights helped set the foundation for effective communication around 500-years BC, and their rock-solid principles of rhetoric and presentation still hold true to this day.
The medium is mostly irrelevant. Whether it be delivering a speech on the open city square or struggling behind a computer screen with headphones on and noisy kids in the background, the same rules tend to apply.
A model inspired from the father of rhetoric himself, Aristotle, can be of use as a framework of understanding. It withstands the test of time and has been used by notable public speakers for millennia. The model asserts there are three main types, or goals of communication:
- Building on trust aims at instilling a sense of credibility and authority
- Providing facts and statistics aim at informing the listener
- Using emotional arguments elicit an emotive response that leads to drastic change
The strongest of the above, according to rhetoric, is building trust and credibility. This type of communication is critical and should be underscored. Without an initial sense of trust, it becomes impossible to rely on the statistical and logical arguments that are attached to it. This fact gains a whole new significance in an online setting: the messenger is often obscured by the webcamera and it suddenly becomes difficult to communicate body language effectively at a distance.
Emotional arguments are almost as important when the purpose of the presentation is to generate change within an organisation or group. Facts and logic are often not enough to persuade people to act in a certain way. This becomes a challenge during online meetings since facial expressions are not as easily conveyed through the web. We are often compelled to make an extra effort to express and communicate with emotions.
Asses your presentation techniques as a leader and the use of rhetorical structure. There are many things to keep in mind. These include: What should I keep in mind before the presentation? What criteria should I use when setting up a framework? Is body language important? How should I structure the presentation?
Special kudos to Amaru Segura, for doing an amazing work preparing this article and connected content during his internship at ProSales Institute (Now Mercuri Research).
1 ProSales Consulting. (2017). Aware, But Not Ready. B2B Sales Marketing Digitalization Study 2017. Stockholm, Sweden: Pixton, T, Rönnblom, J, Ejenäs, M. s.81
2 Lid Falkman, L. Lid Falkman, T. (2014). Virtuella möten: effektiv gränslös kommunikation. (1. [uppl.]). Stockholm: Liber, s.86-100
3 Strom, David (2010), TechKnow: Getting the most out of virtual meetings, Baseline Magazine, juli/augusti