3 tips for successful video calls


What is the 7 %- 38 %- 55% communication rule? And how does it apply in times of video calls?

Video calls were nothing new when we started working from home in the earlier part of 2020, though it was more of a "nice to have" than a real necessity. Often the bandwidth was not great, videos froze or the audio suffered. A lot has changed about that in less than a year! But how has it affected the way we communicate with each other, how do we pick up the spoken and unspoken clues from our opposites?

Studies led Dr. Mehrabian to devise a "formula" in 1972 to describe how the mind determines meaning. He concluded that the interpretation of a message is 7 percent verbal, 38 percent vocal and 55 percent visual. The conclusion was that 93 percent of communication is "nonverbal" in nature.

This is scary at first sight, isn't it? We put so much effort into preparing WHAT we are saying and most of us put far less consideration into HOW we are conveying this message. While people speaking more regularly at meetings or conferences have been more aware now, things have changed with speaking in "2D". In stark contrast to an in-person meeting or presentation, we can only see a small part of our conversation partner, so gestures become less visible. Our voices being turned into electrons and zeros and ones before being audible at the other end of the line, surely changes our voice to a certain degree. And worst of all: Do I look at my camera, so I am perceived to be looking into the other's eyes without seeing them or do I look at there image, running the risk to be perceived to be looking somewhere different or being distracted.

So what does that mean now for the way we communicate effectively?

With now loads of video calls under my belt, I am still struggling getting this right, if there is such a thing as right.

Three things though I have decided for myself to maintain and focus on when speaking to somebody on Zoom or Teams:, so here my tips:

(1) Look at the camera as much as you can - it might make you feel a little awkward to start with but your conversation partner will (subconciously?) appreciate your full attention and what to them seems like eye contact. And as we all know, in conversations what truly matters it is what 'B' receives rather than what 'A' is sending...

(2) Do not bother using a fake background image - everybody knows you are at home! Rather select a non-distractive background or place something in the background that may trigger a conversation and serves as an ice-breaker. With fake backgrounds on any platform I have worked with, the edges around you get blurry, sometimes you merge into the background, your hands appear and disappear out of nowhere etc. THAT is really distractive and can severly disrupt the flow of a conversation.

(3) Be yourself - As easy or hard as it sounds, you are at your best when you do not have to constantly try to do something that is unnatural to you (apart from point (1) above!). Focus on the conversation, your opposite side and what you want and need to achieve together.

Having a conversation via video call is not and will possibly never be a replacement for a face-to-face conversation. We ARE social animals after all. There may though be a shift in our deep-routed perceptions and communication bahaviours in the long-term, should video calls remain a major part of our daily routines. But that is for another blog.