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Podcast Episode 088: How to listen in a video meeting

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Today we will be discussing with Professor Sheryl Brahnam, from Missouri State University. Sheryl has focussed her research on the role of embodied conversational agents, computer abuse, critical theory, and virtual reality psychotherapy. In 2010 she became interested in how technology is changing the way we listen to each other which is why when the New York Times wrote an article called “why Zoom is terrible” they reached out to Sheryl for her decades long expertise in the role of technology and listening. 

This discussion is full of practical tips in getting the most from video conferences in the workplace especially how to use your face relative to your webcam to help reduce unintended interruption  

Sheryl explains that how video conferences can be the equivalent of junk food in the communications before most people aren’t aware of the ingredients for a video conference and how they are re-constituted

Transcript

Podcast Episode 088 – How to listen in a video meeting

What’s important here is that you have to recognize even when you’re having a conversation with two people, there’s a third. And that third is the machine itself. And the machine itself has its own mind and does its own things, interrupts in all kinds of crazy ways. The internet goes down where suddenly your face can just turn into a zombie as the signals tear it apart. I’m sure you’ve seen that happen before.

Oscar Trimboli:     

Deep listening, impact beyond words. Good day. I’m Oscar Trimboli and this is the Apple award-winning podcast, Deep Listening, designed to move you from a distracted listener to a deep and impactful leader. Did you know you spend 55% of your day listening yet only 2% of people have ever been taught how? In each episode, we explore the five levels of listening. Communication is 50% speaking and 50% listening, yet as a leader, you’re taught only the importance of communication from the perspective of how to speak. It’s critical you start to build some muscles for the next phase in how to listen. The cost of not listening, it’s confusion, it’s conflict, it’s projects running over schedule. It’s lost customers. It’s great employees that leave before they want to.

When you implement the strategies, the tips and tactics that you’ll hear, you’ll get four hours a week back in your schedule. I wonder what you could do with an extra four hours a week.

Good day. Today we will be discussing with Professor Sheryl Brahnam from Missouri State University, where she’s focused her research on the role of embodied conversational agents, computer abuse, critical theory, and virtual reality psychotherapy. In 2010, Professor Sheryl became interested in how technology is changing the way we listen to each other. And it was no surprise when the New York Times wrote an article called Why Is Zoom Terrible? They reached out to Professor Sheryl for her decades-long experience in the role of technology in listening. Today’s discussion, it’s full of practical tips and getting the most from video conferencing, especially how to use your face relative to your webcam to help reduce unintended interruptions.

Professor Sheryl explains how video conferences can be the equivalent of junk food when it comes to communication, because most people aren’t even aware of the ingredients that go into video conferences and how they’re reconstituted to create something you can listen to. Many of you have asked for more tailored and specific listening resources for video conferencing.

Bev Attfield

This is Bev Attfield from Jostle in Vancouver, Canada. Without some non-verbal visual cues that you have in face to face conversation, especially when participants have video turned off and sometimes poor audio connections, how do you ensure that you’ve really heard the other person?

Aden:  

This is Aden from Dublin, Ireland. What are three things you can quickly put in place to create a foundation for a better online listening and how do you expertly let a dominant voice know they’re taking too much airtime on a virtual call and they’re not allowing others to participate or get their voice into the room? Thank you.

Oscar Trimboli:

I’ve also asked previous guest experts from the Deep Listening Podcast to provide their top tips as it relates to video conferencing.

Hugh Forrest: 

Hey Oscar, this is Hugh Forrest from South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, USA. And from episode 46 where we discussed listening to your audience. My three tips for listening on video conferences as with any in real life conference, spend some time studying the schedule and the speakers before the event begins. Come up with a brief game plan of what you hope to achieve by participating in this video conference and how you hope to achieve it. Number two, allocate and devote a specific amount of undistracted time for the video conference even if it is just a short amount of undistracted time. By contrast, in my opinion, you aren’t going to get much out of the event if you just run the content as background audio while you are doing something else.

Number three, as a subset of that time allocation idea, I encourage you to keep notes about what is said during the portion of the conference that you are listening to. Keeping notes will force you to pay more attention to this video conference and get more solid takeaways from the event. Oscar, a question I have for you is what makes a virtual event a virtual experience? In other words, how do you take that virtual event, that video conference to the next level?

Christina:   

Hi Oscar, this is Christina from San Paulo, Brazil and episode eight when we discussed listening across languages and cultures. Here are my tips for listening before, during, and after a video conference. So I guess my one main tip is listen like everybody’s watching. It hasn’t exactly been easy adapting to an almost fully online life, it’s tiresome, hard to pick up on everyone’s energy. It’s not as easy to connect and engage, plus the technical mishaps here and there. So listening like everybody’s watching is not about being self-conscious, or feeling monitored, or anything of the like, but rather about acting as if you were in the person’s presence, to actually be there, be present, listen.

It’s really easy to get lost in everything that’s going on around you other than the video conferences or even other online activities. Also, make sure to tune out as many impulses as you can. Turn off instant messaging or email notifications, phones, and any other background noises. Help your body prepare for deep listening, find a place where you’re not as easily distracted and make a conscientious effort to actually connect. Taking three deep breaths before starting usually does the trick for me. So I do have a question for you. Do you feel that we will be able to achieve the same level per se of deep listening in the digital environment as we are able to train ourselves and achieve in real life? Is it actually possible to transfer all the skillsets required and the same level of presence, the same level of engagement that we have and experience in one-on-one conversation?

Oscar Trimboli: 

Because I’ve listened to you, I’ve created a dedicated page to bring all of these resources together. If you visit oscartrimboli.com/videoconference, that’s oscartrimboli.com/videoconference, we’ve brought all these resources together about how to listen during video conferences. These resources include articles, podcasts, videos, and the ultimate guide on how to listen during video conferences. In this ultimate guide, we break down before, during, and after the video conference from a listening perspective, whether you’re a participant or the host, with over 50 pages including detailed insights into how to set up intimate, interactive, and broadcast video conferences for success. That location again, oscartrimboli.com/videoconference, and we will continue to add resources over time so that you can make an impact beyond words when it comes to your video conference.

Let’s listen to Professor Sheryl deconstruct what takes place during a video conference from a technology and human perspective when it comes to your listening.

Sheryl Brahnam:  

Like many other computer scientists today, I’ve been concerned with technology and how it’s being used and how it’s changing the way people communicate. I started just investigating what happens when people try… I first started with people trying to express their traumas to one another. And how does that work? In the best of situations, when you have what I call a healing witness, somebody who’s able to really listen to what a person is attempting to say. And then what happens to that when we try to mediate it, whether we do it on television, then perhaps radio, the phone, and video conferencing? And so I got interested in those changes, what’s happening and most of my papers have been written more theoretically based on those kinds of questions.

Oscar Trimboli: 

One of the things you discuss in the papers you’ve published is the process by which the analog is converted to the digital. And you talk about a process that’s reduced to this phrase called codec, capturing and deconstructing both audio and video signals. Most people who participate in telephone calls, audio conferences, or video conferences aren’t aware what’s happening. What happens when I’m speaking to you right now and how it gets transmitted to you and what technology does to the analog signal coming out of my voice and eventually ending up in your ears?

Sheryl Brahnam:         

There’s a lot of digital fidgeting that goes on. It begins with your microphone signals. We convert from analog to digital, signals are converted, coded. There’s a certain bandwidth only that is presentable, that is captured. And then this is altered many, many times throughout the entire transmission process until it arrives. And then it’s decoded. Sometimes there’s missing bits, missing signals. And so what do you do with these missing signals? These are usually mapped to some sort of model of what ought to be there, not necessarily what is there. So what I think people don’t understand is that this is an extremely synthesized and processed package we’re receiving at the end. And I’ve compared it to packaged blueberry muffins.

You think you’ve got some blueberries here in your muffin, but really you don’t. You have a bunch of chemicals that look purple and taste really great. But what you see and what you hear is not necessarily what was there. There’s also the interjection of a lot of noise. There’s the noise that we make, our bodies make, our voices make, and that can become confused with the noise that’s interjected throughout the process. You can have echoes that can end all these things like echoes and maybe a feeling that you’re very far away. All of these can change the way in which we perceive the other person, our person perception changes. And it also can change what we hear and what we understand. And these are the things I’m very interested in. I’m very interested in the, I would call them artifacts, the things that get changed and transformed in the transmission process, and then how this gets mingled with our own noises, our desire noise, our communications, our breathing, et cetera. How this gets confused and how this changes our perceptions of people and our listening ability.

Oscar Trimboli:      

I love this analogy of the blueberry muffin with no blueberries in it. And you’ve deconstructed everything down to elements that when reconstructed don’t resemble the original ingredients.

Sheryl Brahnam:      

It’s even better than the original ingredients. Sometimes these artificial blueberries can taste even better than a real blueberry. And so things are heightened too, their colors are intensified. I call it derealization. It’s almost like the experience people have when they’re traumatized, where colors become intensified. This is an experience that’s possible. I’m not saying that it typically happens, but on the phone, your voice is very magnified now. It’s in my ear. It’s not the way it would be if you were sitting across the room from me.

Oscar Trimboli:    

What’s happening in the neural pathways, in the synaptic connections, in the mind while the mind is trying to reconstruct these components, whether that’s audio or video, or both?

Sheryl Brahnam: 

When you are dealing with virtual worlds, a different part of your brain is functioning than when you’re dealing live. So you are not exactly having the same mental processes taking place when you’re in a mediated environment versus a non-mediated environment. And if you think about it, that makes a lot of sense because we’ve involved in a world that’s just a buzz with all kinds of living noises. And we know how to read faces very quickly. Because if we don’t read faces accurately, well, we can end up dead. When we mediate these signals, they change. And so it causes more of a cognitive load. We have to interpret more. We have to put more effort into understanding what’s happening, what’s being said. More effort into reading people and so much more of our brain is now pushed in that direction. That’s why I think they’re seeing some of these differences in the brain regions.

Oscar Trimboli:    

I think one of the things this highlights is the role of the host, the leader of the conversation. And I’m curious what guidance you give. Given that we are using different parts of the brain through this mediated experience over a digital channel, what’s the role of the host or the leader in that conversation to create pause, create space because much like going to a gym, if you’re lifting really heavy weights for the first time, it’s draining, it’s fatiguing, and sounds like that’s what’s happening to the different part of the mind that you’re using. What role does the host play in creating areas for pause or rest, or delay, or silence, or the use of mutes to help the recipients catch up?

Sheryl Brahnam: 

You’ve seen it on TV now that a lot of people are using Zoom video. And there’s a lot of turn-taking problems where people are stepping on one another and they’re not able to orchestrate this turn-taking in a conversation. And part of the reason has to do with when we’re talking, sometimes we take a pause for a minute. We say something, and then a second or two later, we want to say something more. And so I think what’s really important is to allow for plenty of silence. There’s almost a fear of silence when we’re dealing with videos or even the telephone sometimes where, oh, if we’re silent, we must be disconnected or something must be wrong with our connection. And so we need to allow for the silence and accept that there will be delays.

One of the things that happens with technology, even the presence of technology, even when it’s turned off like your cell phone, let’s say you take a cell phone, it’s turned off, you put it on a table, is that people immediately get… they tense up. They don’t communicate as deeply as they would otherwise because they’re afraid of an interruption. And so the conversation becomes very shallow. And this is the problem with technology. It’s because of this fear of disconnect or whatever, we keep wanting to make sure, are you there? Are you there? Is the connection good? Can I see you? Yes. Okay. We tend to focus more on that level rather than allowing deeper levels. You work on deep listening, but there’s also deep talking and deep listening allows for deep talking.

And that requires, like you’ve said very well, silences and a good way of handling them, especially when you’re dealing with video conferencing in the telephone.

Oscar Trimboli:

Are there any tips you would provide for the host of these conferences to help ameliorate interruption or turn-taking issues?

Sheryl Brahnam:   

I think one thing you can do is develop tolerance for disruptions and turn-taking issues. Mishap should be allowed and understood and not necessarily criticized as someone being maybe too aggressive. But then on the other hand, you also have to allow everyone an opportunity to speak fully. Your combination of methods where you say, well, okay, well, I’ll go around and talk or something, raise a hand. People get excited when they’re talking and they do want to state something. And so just allow for some messiness, I think. I’ve seen people upset because they’ve been talked over or they’ve been interrupted because of these delays. If maybe people could understand that it may not be an intentional interruption of you. It could be due to the delay. And if people can just sort of very politely get back into whatever’s being said. So handle it well, and be tolerant of mishaps that take place.

Oscar Trimboli: 

I think that very first choice that you make about, should this be audio only or video?

Sheryl Brahnam:  

I think the choice of audio is an excellent one. Audio only when you’re dealing, especially with two people, because the audio… Studies show that when we’re using video, we don’t really use the video channel that much. We situate things. Maybe we use the video channel to see a few expressions, but there’s a delay. And so that could get really mixed up. For example, studies show that if you have someone who’s saying something that’s very happy but they’re showing a, let’s say frightful face, the recipient will end up interpreting that a surprise. So it can be totally changed based on delays, what’s going on emotionally. So you can mangle any facial expressions you’re seeing as a person’s talking.

I’m talking about two things here. One being that we don’t use the video channel much except to locate people. Two, when we do, we can misread what’s being said. Most studies show that we pay attention and we focus mostly on the audio to begin with even with the video. Now, are there exceptions to this? Sure, when you’re doing YouTube videos, you talk very rapidly. Typically you’ve got a lot of graphics going on. You’re bombarded by all kinds of stimuli, but we’re talking about meetings here when you’re trying to communicate with another person.

So that’s number one. And the phone often is a better choice, like I said, with one-on-one because you can hear better and you can focus on what the person is saying. And turn-taking takes place pretty well. There are, of course, some issues even with the telephone with turn-taking. Now, when you have a whole group, the phone is much more difficult, I think without a visual channel helping a little bit. The visual channel in a group, you can see when a person maybe is moving, getting ready, you can tell they’re getting excited, ready to talk. So it gives you a little bit more information when a person is wanting to talk, or it gives you a little bit more information when a person is slowing down and ready to give the floor to someone else.

The audio is the most important. And then you have to recognize, and I have concerns with this when it comes to prisoners having remote sessions with a judge. You have to realize that camera angle makes a huge difference in credibility. Lighting makes a difference. You can judge a person as more or less spooky looking based on shadows. With my students, because sometimes I teach a course in face recognition and the problem of extracting illumination so that you can recognize these, regardless of the illumination, I show them a picture of one person in different lighting situations and people can’t recognize that it’s the same person. Lighting radically changes how you look. It can make you look feminine when you’re masculine or masculine when you’re feminine.

It can make you look criminal, or it can make you look very nice. Depending on the camera angle going up or down, it can make you look like you’re important if we’re looking up to you and it can make you look like you’re less important if we’re looking down. Directors use that all the time. You can also have issues with what we call fascism. Fascism is how much your face appears within the square. People who are upfront seem to be more important than people who are further back. So all these things can have an effect. Also, what can have an effect… And screen size has not been shown to have any effect whatsoever due to the audio channel, but I think it does affect the recipient. If I’m looking at you on my cell phone in my lap, I think unconsciously, there’s probably a diminution of you in some way because I’ve got you in my hand, I have you in my lap like my dog.

There’s a sense of maybe more intimacy, I don’t know, versus if I’m seeing you on a television screen and now I’m completely immersed in your expressions and in your face. All of this impacts our perception of another individual. And we don’t think about it much, but sometimes these changes in our perceptions of people can impact, have big impacts, like well, a criminal and the judge’s view of a particular person.

Oscar Trimboli:    

How would lighting be best set up?

Sheryl Brahnam:    

Well, I have meetings often with a person who is hearing impaired and she’s taught me a lot about the importance of lighting. And you want lighting that’s more to your side and that shows your face fully because people might be relying on your lips to do some lip reading if they do have issues with the audio channel for whatever reason, could be a transmission problem. Most people should have the lighting to the side. You have to be very careful with your computer if you’re using your computer camera and you have a big white background in the back, or a lot of light in the back, it could fade you out. Or you have to be careful where the focus is. So you have to really observe how you look in the video, what’s the lighting doing to your face and adjust accordingly.

But definitely we need the face fully visible, fully illuminated. In case there’s any problems with the audio channel, it will help us figure out a little bit what’s being said. Again, we could misinterpret because of this missing information, or we could get the wrong idea, and people do. Studies have shown over and over that people think they’re communicating, they think they’re understanding using video channels and come to find out, and this was with micro analysis, they are not understanding one another. But accompanying this lack of understanding is usually a feeling of uneasiness or a feeling of eeriness. And when you have those feelings, you should ask yourself, is something going on here? Maybe ask a person to repeat themselves, try to adjust the situation a little bit because this could be a cue that there is something going on with the transmission that’s messing things up.

Oscar Trimboli:   

What guidance would you give us with regard to the positioning of the actual camera with regard to improving the quality of the conversation?

Sheryl Brahnam:

It is best to try to mimic having eye contact a little bit, putting your computer or your camera on books so that it’s eye level. And also maybe put the camera a little bit, not quite obstructing your vision of the other person, but just underneath maybe the other people so that it’s close to eye contact. It helps to have eye contact and distortions in the signal can accentuate this lack of eye contact, create feelings of uneasiness or not being listened to. So that’s a good idea, to try to get it as close as possible.

Oscar Trimboli:  

Are there any tips you’d provide around setting up an environment where it makes it easy for others to hear you?

Sheryl Brahnam:  

The first thing I would say would be counterintuitive, and that is noise is not bad. Background noise is extremely important. Research has shown that when you extract and we can with technology, we can extract all the background noise and just have the voices there, it causes huge problems in turn-taking. People can’t communicate very well, they become uneasy, there’s a whole field of engineering called comfort noise, which is the creation of artificial background noise. Background noise comforts us. It lets us know the person’s still there. It situates the person within the world.

Some of it is not so bad, the hum of a refrigerator, or a little bit of this or that. A child may be in the background playing is actually nice. What you don’t want, I’m assuming is these disruptive kinds of noise where you have somebody in the background mowing the lawn or something like that. And I think the only thing you can do is try to be, like you asked me to be, in a quiet place, turn off the damn phone, right? So it’s not beeping. Do the best you can, but we’re going to have unexpected invasions of the domestic into any kind of mediated communication. And personally, I think it’s refreshing. If you look at the news today, I love the fact I like it much better than that stilted, you’re all dressed up and you’re in a nice studio. It makes it real. Life is happening and I’m here, you’re there, we’re in an environment. Things happen. And I don’t know that it’s so bad that there is some noise now and again.

One thing that people aren’t aware of that’s important is that the video camera never moves. And when we watch movies, the camera’s always moving in some way. We follow the camera. The camera is leader. Our eyes go wherever the camera goes. Naturally, we don’t want a lot of camera busy-ness when we’re having in a video conference. But the fact that videos are stationary does make for a feeling of staring that can be a little unnerving. And I think that causes a little bit of, people complain about feeling fatigued. Well, you’re stared at all day long. And I think that’s part of that fatigue. What’s interesting about when we speak in person, on video we’re face-to-face and in person we’re not necessarily so face-to-face, we move around. I adjust my body position, you adjust yours, our heads move.

We get up, we get down, we continue our conversation as I go maybe get you some coffee or you go get something. So there’s a lot of movement, a lot of activity, a lot of subtle variation in our positionings, which we don’t have as much of with the video transmissions. When we’re talking in a conference, we tend to just sit there and look at the other person’s chair. We move our head a bit. But what the other person sees is just that, it’s one camera angle, the camera itself is not moving. And so that’s where you get this idea of staring. And I think another reason for the fatigue has to do with the fact that when we’re with one another, that’s very exciting. We are programmed to pick up all kinds of chemistry, vibes from another person. The way they move is interesting. It’s exciting if I could be Freudian, there’s always the sexual elements everywhere.

And there’s an energy exchange, which I think is lost with video conferencing to some degree, not maybe entirely. And so I think that saps our energy as well. We don’t get the recharge from the other person.

Oscar Trimboli:

Would you like a checklist, some articles, and tips, and videos, or the ultimate guide to listening during a video conference? Visit oscartrimboli.com/videoconference and discover a range of resources from intimate, interactive, or broadcast video conference scenarios, whether you’re the participant or whether you’re the host. If you’d like to make an impact beyond words, visit oscartrimboli.com/videoconference. Given that this extended period of staring, this standard period of concentration that we struggle with, attention span research for video conferences ranges between seven to 13 minutes that you can hold attention and skillful pause will actually pause, change modalities, or even ask people to switch off the webcam or mute for two minutes so they can have a rest, so that their mind’s fatigues can catch up with what’s happening to their body. I’m curious about your observation for these techniques to help people rest during an extended period of conferencing.

Sheryl Brahnam:   

That’s great. When you have a host that allows for moments of just getting up, moving around, turning off the video, maybe listening to something rather than… I don’t even know if listening would be good. I think it might be best to just, yeah, take a break periodically and also maybe loosen up the conversation a bit. People like to chat. And have you noticed how difficult it is when you’re in a group but yet two people want to talk. And there’s nothing wrong with that. Everybody gets to listen in and sometimes they pipe in, but having moments where the group can just pretend like they’re at the water fountain and chit chat a little bit.

Oscar Trimboli:   

Some deliberate hosts, Sheryl, are very explicit about controlling the mute button. This create a power dynamic and that issue you mentioned earlier around background hum noise is important. As humans, we come to expect that, what’s the upside and the downside of being explicit about the use of the mute button during these conferences?

Sheryl Brahnam:   

You have to use the mute button because otherwise you have too much background noise and it interferes with anyone talking. It’s a bad situation. I don’t see any way out of not having people mute when they don’t. It’s very irritating for the people trying to listen to whomever speaking. It is a power thing if the host only controls it. It’s better if people just agree to turn it off and on themselves and on when they’re getting ready to speak, I think that’s a little bit better method. In some successful conferences I’ve been in, the host did not control the mute button except in an emergency. People would just simply turn it on when they’re ready to speak. And when they’re done, they would turn it off. And that’s another cue too that they’re ready for someone else to take the floor.

It’s another turn-taking cue when you see someone turn it on and turn it off, you know somebody is ready or you know somebody’s either ready to speak or ready to give up the floor.

Oscar Trimboli:           

In terms of turn-taking, I’ve seen some skillful hosts lighten it up and have some fun and basically say to the group, “We’re going to start with the person with the longest hair to the shortest hair. Or we’re going to start with the person whose birthday is at the beginning of the year versus the end of the year.” And making something light and joyful from the turn-taking experience.

Sheryl Brahnam: 

Do something like fascism when you’re ready to speak, move up closer to the camera. If indicating you would like to speak, move up closer to the camera. And when you’re ready to give up the floor, move further away from the camera. There’s lots of ways that you can do this gracefully. It’s just a relearning of conventions that… and I think this is what we’re attempting to do now. We’re attempting to understand how do we communicate well with these new technologies?

Oscar Trimboli:    

One of the things I’ll always say to my hosts, stop the meeting at five past the hour rather than on the hour or the half an hour to give people some pause, some rest bite in between the meetings.

Sheryl Brahnam: 

You shouldn’t judge yourself because of feeling fatigue. Because when we’re in ordinary conversations, we feel fatigue and what do we do? We get up, we move and the other person will move with us. We change the scene in some way, we provide something that enlivens us, we get coffee, et cetera. So we have many ways. If you think about it, just think about the next time you’re in a conversation with a person and you’re there with them face-to-face, notice all the different ways, all the different shifts that take place. When you’re feeling a little tired, something will happen. You’ll do something. And we can’t do that when we’re on Zoom or whatever. We’re stuck there. And so, yes, we’re going to get fatigue. And the worst thing about it is we have no way of relieving it.

Now, I’ve been in some places where people will turn off the camera and they’ll go ahead and just stand up and stretch a bit. And then they’ll come back down and turn the camera back on. And I don’t see that that’s necessarily a problem, or you could just stand up when people are there and stretch a minute, not turn off the camera and then sit back down. But people do need to have a change of position, a change of scene as it were. It saps your energy when you don’t have anything really changing. And that’s the problem, nothing’s changing.

Being observant and asking yourself, how did that go? How did this experience go? What could I have done better to make the meeting, let’s say, to run better, to listen better? Allow for pauses, be patient, allow for slowness. Again, silence, slowness are vital if you’re to have deep talking. If you’re really going to allow people to communicate, so don’t be impatient. Talking on Zoom is not the same as watching YouTube. You don’t want it necessarily so fast paced. I think reflections on what’s going on are all helpful. And your work I think is very important. You’re helping people understand how we’re to adjust in meaningful ways with the new technologies so that we can really communicate well. And this is a learning process and everybody should be engaged in trying to understand it.

Oscar Trimboli:                 I think you make a beautiful point about it’s a learning process. And one of the steps people miss in learning is the process of unlearning before they can learn a new skill.

Sheryl Brahnam: 

That’s true.

Oscar Trimboli:  

What would be an unlearning step when it relates to audio and video conferences that might be useful for those listening?

Sheryl Brahnam:        

You have to unlearn your normal reactions to what people are doing. When a person steps on you, they say something, they interrupt you in some way or something happens, you have to unlearn that immediate reaction of what a nasty person you are. You just interrupted me and instead recognize there’s a problem here with delays or communication and be graceful and offer an opportunity or work out very nicely as best you can the ability for people to regain their equilibrium in the conversation and continue on. I would say you have to unlearn interpreting human behavior. There will be people that are interruptive, but you have to also recognize that the technology itself is interruptive.

What’s important here is that you have to recognize even when you’re having a conversation with two people and there’s a third, and that third is the machine itself. And the machine itself has its own mind and does its own things, interrupts in all kinds of crazy ways. The internet goes down where suddenly your face can just turn into a zombie as the signals tear it apart, all kinds of things the machine itself does to interfere with our communication. And you have to recognize you’re not alone. It’s not just you, it’s not just you and five people, it’s you and five machines. And the machines themselves are a separate agency doing its thing. And quite frankly, the machine is a bit on the wild side and not exactly playing by our human rule book.

Recognize that the purpose of deep listening is really to allow for deep talking. I think we should have as much emphasis on deep talking as deep listening. And we have to understand how technology itself can interrupt both processes. That’s something I think needs to be stressed.

Oscar Trimboli:    

What will you take away from today? For me, it’s the role of my face relative to the webcam. I’ll be deliberately moving in towards the video camera when I want to make a point and move away when I signal that I’ve finished. That way, it will signal my listening intent, not just for me, for those who I’m speaking directly to, but also for those who are listening while I’m speaking on a video conference. To me, it’s a simple yet powerful way to help the speaker and other listeners understand my listening intention. The topic of listening during a video conference is a hot topic for everyone. And that’s why I’ve created a range of resources to help improve your listening during video conferences, whether you want to checklist, articles, podcasts, videos, or the ultimate user’s guide to video conferences for small, medium, or large broadcast meetings.

Whether that’s from a participant’s perspective or a host perspective, this guide will help you make an impact beyond words. I’m Oscar Trimboli and I’m on a quest to create 100 million deep listeners in the world. And you’ve given me the greatest gift of all, you have listened to me. Thanks for listening.

Johnny:

Hey Oscar, it’s Johnny here, your sound engineer. Here are a bunch of really quick tips from me on how to get your setup best with your video and audio for best listening during a video conference. Number one, pop on a set of headphones or AirPods or something similar. It helps minimize the chance of getting some feedback, the sound of other people talking that goes back into your microphone and creates an awful sound that disrupts the whole meeting. And wearing headphones puts the voice of the people that you’re listening to right in your ear quite literally. Tip number two is a super simple one, but just take two minutes before your call to test your equipment. Make sure that the Bluetooth is connected to your headphones, make sure that the microphone is the right one, that the camera is the right one, and it’s all looking and sounding good.

This will get you off to a great start when your call begins, when your conversation begins. And it means that you can have some of that more casual, small talk at the beginning of the conversation rather than that awkward connection difficulties, sets you up in the best possible way to listen. Tip number three, I’d love to reiterate Sheryl’s point about positioning the conference window, the video conference window on your screen as close to the webcam as you can. And that way, when you’re looking at the other people that you’re listening to, your eyes are looking down the barrel of the camera.

Tip number four, make sure that the light source that’s illuminating you is in front of you and never behind you. A big window, as nice as that might illuminate your computer screen and your desk is a bit of a no-no when you’re on a video conference because people can’t see you. Find a lamp, pop it on the desk so that your face is nice and bright. Failing that, you can even open up a blank Word document on your screen and turn the screen brightness right up and it kind of acts as a nice light that lights up your face and that way people can see you. Tip number five, when sound is super critical, find some pillows or cushions and arrange them, prop them up on your desk. It eliminates some of those harsh echoes that makes you hard to hear. And when sound is really critical, try stepping into your bedroom or your wardrobe to have your conversation. There’s lots of lovely soft surfaces in there that make the sound nice and clear.

Tip number six, buying a microphone. An external microphone is a great investment these days. And people don’t mind seeing a microphone sitting on your desk if you’re sounding top notch. You don’t even have to splurge for a particularly expensive one with a mixer or an audio interface or anything like that. A USB microphone, getting that microphone nice and close to your face really makes a big difference. Tip number seven, if you’ve got an iPhone, FaceTime audio is a really sneaky, great alternative to a regular phone call. The audio quality is loads better, especially if you’re on wifi. Tip number eight, Zoom has some echo suppression software in the settings. Having this turned on is great. But at the time of this podcast, Zoom’s noise cancellation setting is not so great. So turn on echo suppression, but probably turn off noise cancellation.

My final tip is a bit of a sneaky one, but I find it really helps me if I’m in a bit of a longer meeting, helps me stay focused. If you’re wearing headphones, you can quietly play some chilled music. I choose jazz, Miles Davis or some background noise, or even some white noise through the headphones. And it just helps me concentrate on what’s being said, makes things feel a little bit more natural and you just have that playing really, really quietly so it doesn’t get in the way of the voice of the people that are speaking. But it just helps me stay a bit more present. Obviously with this one, use it wisely. Don’t go playing some heavy metal when you’re trying to listen. Pick something soothing, some rain sound is another great one. Those are a bunch of my audio and video set up tips. Thanks Oscar.

 

 

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