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Virtual Meeting Strain- Solutions for Your Body and Brain

Virtual Meeting Strain - Solutions for Your Body and Brain

There are many articles telling us about the mental and physical strain of virtual meetings.

Every consultant and business strategist is weighing in on how to have more effective meetings, keep teams effective and grow or pivot our businesses. As a body language expert, I too am pivoting my business to serve my clients on how to be the best communicator they can- through the screen.

The first few weeks of stay at home were all about how your body language is altered by the screen. You move from 3-D to 2-D and look “flat;” microfacial expressions are more prevalent; and our cues for who needs to talk and other signals are compromised. 

As one of 26 Certified Movement Pattern Analysts worldwide, I am trained to observe the nonverbal signals which signify our cognitive decision-making process. I assist individuals to use their decision-making patterns as a leadership advantage. Since our nonverbal signals are altered through the screen, how are virtual meetings / virtual interviews affecting this body-brain connection?

Some common complaints from my clients:

1. “We aren’t taking as much action. Meetings are less efficient.”

Why:  Virtual meetings force us to focus at a camera and look at heads all day. Focus is a component of information gathering, not action. Your team may be “stuck” sharing information rather than moving to action steps. Your colleagues aren’t seeing the subtle body language cues of agreement and moving forward. You will need to verbally state agreement and the action steps you expect to make sure it is clear. When your team is nodding in the screen, they may be giving a “keep talking” nod rather than a nod of agreement. These two nods will look the same through the screen. An agreement nod usually travels through the body and affects other body parts (which of course you aren’t observing).

Strain: Information mode can make meetings run on and on or cause the “talkers” to talk! Our brains strain from information overload and our backs and behinds ache from being sedentary.

One Solution: Timers! Pick a length of time for everyone to share their information and literally use a stopwatch for each person. This brings equality to the sharing and gives a natural reset of our focus onto someone else to help add variety which our brains crave. You also set a stopping point to decide whether you have enough information to make an informed decision.

Caution: Don’t use timers to inadvertently make meetings longer! Use timers to keep meetings shorter. A good rule is the 50-minute hour. If a meeting is scheduled for an hour, it should end at 50 minutes to leave time for a mental break between meetings. Get up and move your body, shake it out and hydrate before the next meeting. 

If you are interviewing- be your own timer. Keep question answers on the shorter side and wait for the interviewer to ask for more details.

2. “We are taking too long to make decisions.”

Why: We are feeling the conflict between needing to pivot quickly to shore up our businesses and being cautious to avoid a costly misstep. Besides being stuck in information mode, our teams can also delay decisions and have difficulty prioritizing because we don’t see pressure changes very well through the screen. When we think we are right about a decision or want to make importance clear to someone else, we often use pressure in our body language. Literally we “push” our agenda and priorities. Without the nonverbal cues, the team doesn’t feel unity to make a decision and stand behind it. (There is also more fear to be correct with our decisions. We don’t want to take the blame for something having a negative outcome.)

Strain: Mentally, we need the deliberation phase to travel from information to taking action. If our brains don’t go on this decision-making bridge, we feel frustrated and in limbo. We aren’t certain we can take action, but don’t want to be mired in information either. Sleep patterns may also be affected because the brain will keep trying to push to decision.

One solution: You can gesture higher. When you gesture at the chest or shoulder level, it becomes more emotional and takes on more importance for the viewer.

Caution: Be aware of the link to emotion with higher gestures. You don’t want to lose your temper or break down crying because your body movements are signaling emotion.

If you are interviewing- make sure your gestures can be seen by your interviewer. This will add some emphasis and life to your communication.

3. “I can’t get my team to take action.”

Why- During live meetings we literally stand up and move on. We take physical action and transition back to our workstations to start the action steps agreed upon. Obviously in the virtual world, this important mental and physical transition is missing. Further complicating action may be your teams’ culture. Collaborative teams who “put their heads together” in a meeting room and share computer screens, work on models and mark up printouts have found the shift to virtual to be most problematic. If you feed on the energy of others, #WFH is especially difficult.

Strain: Exhaustion. Mentally and physically we aren’t taking as many breaks. You literally need to relax your focus and move your body to be creative, problem solve and follow through.

One solution: Insert breaks into meetings with music, stretch breaks, funny memes, etc. 

You should also encourage people to stand up as they are signing off. Make it more like a real meeting where you gather your things and go! You are signaling your brain to transition rather than staying at the computer.

If you are interviewing- make sure to set what the next steps are and expectations the interviewer has for you. Stay smiling until the meeting has ended rather than standing up, which may confuse your interviewer without this article!

Virtual is here to stay!

If this article was informative, join author, Alison Henderson live on Tuesday, April 28th at noon CST for a CMP Complimentary Webinar. Register Below ⬇️⬇️.

Best Body Language & Communication: Practices for Virtual Meetings

Alison is CEO of Moving Image Consulting, a body language communication consultancy based in Chicago.