The norm of meeting clients in your office or gathering staff and agents together in a conference room has changed. The pandemic has forced real estate pros to depend on videoconferencing tools for many interactions.
But some find the constant online communication a little off-putting or even unnatural. That’s because a significant portion of our communication is nonverbal, through our body language and facial expressions—even through our eyes, says Jane Dutton, Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor Emerita of Business Administration and Psychology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.
And when the stakes are high in an in-person meeting, all parties can clearly see how one another feels based on their body language. Meanwhile, it can be hard to interpret all the things going on in someone’s world through a webcam.
But no one knows how long social distancing will be needed in the U.S., so Zoom, GoToMeeting, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and other video meeting platforms will need to suffice to keep business moving along.
There are ways that real estate leaders can make videoconference calls more meaningful—and maybe even more fun and inviting—for all who attend.
“I truly believe you can create a Zoom environment as interesting and impactful as an in-person meeting,” says Stacey Hanke, owner of Stacey Hanke Inc. in Chicago. She is an expert in executive presence and influence and is a communication skills coach.
Here are five consideration real estate professionals should take when they are on a conference call.
1. Stay Focused
“Some people can easily communicate on screen that they would rather have a root canal than be on a Zoom meeting,” Hanke says.
On videoconference calls, people can see when others are distracted, whether they’re reading emails, eating, or talking with someone off-camera.
“I find you have to work harder to focus in the moment because you are seeing multiple screens and seeing yourself,” she says. “You have to push your energy level high. People aren’t used to that.”
Everyone on a video call should put in their best effort to pay attention and avoid distractions to show respect for everyone attending the meeting.
2. Include Everyone
Participants should also have roles and know what their responsibilities are before the meeting begins. For instance, on a team conference call, there should be a moderator who invites and cues each person to talk. Someone else can monitor the chat function. Rotate your leaders in each virtual meeting for variety and different points of view, Hanke suggests.
“I’ve been in too many meetings with people talking over each other,” Dutton says.
While meetings should be organized, they should also be interactive. One way to do this is by encouraging people to ask questions or by having the moderator ask questions of the group, Hanke says.
“You need to make sure everyone has a say in these meetings and that the topics apply to everyone involved,” she adds.
If participants go off on a tangent, the facilitator needs to say, “Let’s come back to this topic.”
3. Make People Feel Comfortable
Hanke, who conducts a lot of trainings online, says her sweet spot for a good session is about 10 people. “We can then do a lot of interaction, and the purpose is to give the greatest value,” she says.
When meetings include more than 25 people, attendees start falling through the cracks. “They are less likely to interact and will start to drift.”
Dutton has led a Zoom call with more than 70 attendees but admits that it’s a lot. To get them engaged, she asked them to write one word in the chat area about what they were feeling right then. She got every reaction from hopeful and stressed to depressed and nervous.
“You need to get personal,” she says. “In those first few minutes, people need to trust you, and if they don’t know you, they won’t trust you.”
Research shows that the more you know about someone, especially personal information, the better the interpersonal reactions will be, Dutton says. People think they have to be so professional, but the research shows that people want openness.
So, when you’re leading a meeting, help people get to know who you are, not just your credentials. And get to know your meeting attendees by asking a question that will allow people to convey something meaningful about themselves, she says.
4. Show You Care
Hanke emphasizes that you don’t know what challenges or situations people are dealing with personally, financially, and professionally.
“One of my clients told me he had just lost his aunt and a brother to COVID-19. If I hadn’t asked him about his life, it would have seemed like I didn’t care about him,” she says. “Empathy is not sympathy. It’s figuring out where they are at and putting yourself in their shoes. “
If you hear something during the conference call that concerns you, reach out immediately to that particular person after the call, Hanke adds.
Dutton believes there are four types of questions that can build high-quality connections, even over conference calls. These questions convey genuine interest, inject positivity, offer help and assistance, and uncover common ground. For instance, asking someone “What gives you joy at work?” can open up someone’s mind.
“Positive emotion expands our capacity to think and builds resources in the interaction and beyond,” she says.
Here are a few examples of questions to build better relationships and connections during your Zoom meeting:
- Where are you right now, and what I can do on my end to help?
- What is your favorite hobby or activity outside of work?
- What have you learned about yourself at work?
- Where have you traveled that you most enjoyed?
- What have others done at work for you that you have found most helpful?
- What makes you feel valued here?
- What are your biggest needs (at work) right now?
5. Look Professional on Camera
Hanke and Dutton have both participated in many virtual meetings—the good, the bad, and the ugly—in the past and now during the pandemic. There are a few simple ways to make sure participants can best see and hear you.
Set your camera or laptop at least waist high, that way people in the meeting can see your hands. If they can’t see your hands, it’s a distraction, Hanke says.
Don’t look too far down or up at your camera. Your face should be dead on, she says. Also, sitting up straight brings energy to your body.
Make sure your built-in computer microphone has decent audio or invest in a high-quality microphone that you can plug into your computer. A good set of Bluetooth headphones can make it easier for you to hear and for people to hear you.
Conduct your video meeting from a well-lit location. If your home office is dark, consider adding a ring light behind your webcam.
Having a strong internet connection is also critical for avoiding choppiness or delays in your video feed. If you’re working from home, consider investing in a Wi-Fi mesh system, which broadcasts your signal more evenly throughout the home and optimizes your device’s point of connection based on your location in the house.