Thus far, 2020 has been the longest decade we can remember. A global pandemic mandated sheltering in place, resulting in quarantines, business shutdowns, and caused a lot of stress, business disruption, and perhaps most importantly, a loss of client connection.
Travel to visit clients, customers, or patients is highly discouraged and left many small business owners scratching their heads, wondering what to do next to salvage their businesses. How can an SMB maintain the relationship with its customers? And how can they generate new clients?
Remember, maintaining and growing your Top of Mind Awareness, Brand Awareness, Credibility, and Influence is critical, so shoring up relationships with loyal customers is paramount. Make this a daily focus despite being faced with the “new normal.”
If you are feeling trapped in uncertainty, then it’s time to pivot. You must pivot in a big way.
Time to Take to the Screen with Teleconferencing!
There are many options for maintaining your marketing communications during this pandemic. We’ve written about the strategic and tactical use of email as a tool. And it is quite effective and should be part of every diversified marketing plan. In this post, I’d like to zero in on the use of teleconferencing, a process that used to be strictly for corporations with big budgets but have evolved and are now accessible to the small business owner.
Whether it’s via Zoom, WebEx, Skype, GoToMeeting, or UberConference, there are many options for sharing and communicating with clients and prospects today. Many offer free “basic” subscriptions, too.
There are some essential factors in the creation of an excellent teleconference:
- Studio/Office (what’s behind you?)
- Lighting (Avoid backlighting, side lighting, perhaps add a ring or modeling light)
- Image (camera resolution, zoom ratio, resolution)
- Sound (microphone)
- Appearance (choice of clothing, makeup, lack of haircut)
- Connection (the quality of your internet connection)
Photo Courtesy of CNN/Alisyn Camerota
Think like a newscaster
For the best results, think like a broadcaster. The photo above shows a CNN news anchor, Alisyn Camerota, who is broadcasting from an improvised studio set up in her home. Okay, improvised by a professional technician from CNN, but the approach taken for broadcast solves many of the issues found in SMB teleconferences. There are two LED light panels with barn doors, a camera elevated to the proper angle, a monitor directly below the camera, closed window blinds, a clean backdrop, even a laptop for sharing information between colleagues.
The bowl of oatmeal and fuzzy slippers are optional.
Remember, Alisyn is a professional. In no way should you have to spend tons of money to achieve great results. But identify these buckets and address each of them, and your results will be terrific.
What I see most often
Here are a few of the situations I run regularly across while participating in teleconferences. Perhaps some of them seem familiar to you? Share some of your stories or observations in the comments section at the bottom.
Does your face look like that?
Ever see a participant’s upper body and face that look distorted? They are probably using a laptop. Often the camera is built into the crown of the laptop screen, and the user is looking down into it because it’s on a low table. The solution is easy (and cheap). Use an external USB camera on a stand or tripod, or elevate the laptop with a laptop stand like this. Or, as Alisyn does, use a stack of books.
Many external cameras have a mic built-in, and many offer high-resolution optics, too. If not, consider improving your sound quality through the use of an external mic. Be warned, though; a good quality USB mic can be expensive. And avoid feedback that is a result of your mic capturing sounds projected from your speakers. Many presenters use earbuds to eliminate this possibility and to improve clarity.
Photo courtesy of The Business Referral Network of Hunterdon County. This bi-monthly Zoom conference is a group of local business people who have found Zoom an easy to use teleconferencing platform. Notice the variations in each persons appearance?
Can you see the details on their face?
Because of back- or side-lighting, often emanating from a window or sliding glass door, facial details are often too dark. A portrait photographer uses a strobe or main light to fill in faces when another light source is striking the subject. But proper room light can provide the necessary balance.
Look at the participants in this screenshot of a Zoom meeting. Notice the disparity in the facial detail? Good lighting is essential in every aspect of image capture, be it in a video or a portrait. Some rooms have sufficient lighting and won’t need a supplement; others not so much. For the latter consider investing in an LED panel or ring light.
Look behind you.
That is what your audience will see. An overly cluttered wall behind you will distract people from looking and hearing from you. Some presenters will use a photographic backdrop, a beautiful but costly touch, but only go this route if you have four to six feet between you and the backdrop.
Speaking of distance, use the camera’s software to adjust the zoom level of your camera. Allow for some background to “frame” you, but don’t be too close or too far away. Again, look at the screenshot above, and you’ll see the variations in the zoom level. Find the one you like best.
And while some modern teleconferencing platforms offer virtual backdrops, the fringing and chromatic aberration (that halo that appears around the user’s entire body) are distracting and should only be used if no other alternative is available.
Minimize your body movements
If you are the presenter (or have been granted the presenter screen view), sit still! Even subtle movement can cause camera focus blurring. And don’t lean in.
Is there anything more annoying than having your video image freeze in a meeting, or dropping off the meeting entirely? Consider your internet service provider and the bandwidth or speed your subscription provides (or is supposed to deliver). Teleconferencing is a hog on computer resources and requires a substantial contribution from your computer’s processor and video card, plus copious amounts of connectivity capacity. If you are uncertain you are getting all the bandwidth you are paying for, try the Ookla speed test. It’s easy to use and very accurate.
Dress to Impress
When I first met and worked with John Malloy, the author of the best selling book Dress for Success, I recognized his methodology was sound and his results statistically accurate. Initially written in 1975, Mr. Malloy’s premise is as true today as it was back then. So when preparing for your teleconference, it’s a good idea to consider how that large Hawaiian floral print shirt is going to take away from your audience’s attention to what you want to convey to them. And if your goal is to reinforce your credibility, consider your hair and eyeglass style as well.
For many people, teleconferencing helps avoid the daily commute (and who hates that?)
Evolve Your Proven Best Practices
One of our favorite business tactics is the all-important business lunch. As Keith Ferrazzi taught us in his book Never Eat Alone, opportunities to build top of mind awareness, enhance referral opportunities, and sometimes directly get new business get stimulated through a business lunch. You’ve got to eat anyway, so why not eat with someone who you can learn something from or have an impact on your business?
That isn’t easy to do with a shelter in place order.
Like the business lunch, another marketing tactic we have had to evolve is the practice of a lunch-and-learn. Before COVID-19, we routinely invite a select group of local business owners to join us for a catered lunch. While they enjoyed a great lunch, we would share some trends and information about small business marketing. We’d encourage everyone there to share information about their businesses, thus creating familiarity and garnering relationships. All of which leads to referrals if not directly doing business with each other.
Today, we are using a teleconferencing platform. Sometimes we use a food delivery service and sponsor lunch; other times, we merely ask them to bring their lunch of choice. In either situation, we still accomplish our long-term marketing goal of building thought leadership for our agency and bringing local business people together for peer-to-peer networking.
Virtual cocktails at 5:00 PM, anyone?
Have a Content Plan
You don’t have to plan your teleconferences as if the board of directors was going to be participating. But you need to do some thoughtful planning. Some things to consider include:
- What information is relevant to the audience I am inviting? What is the meeting focus? Personalize the meeting by soliciting needs, issues, news from the intended participants beforehand.
- What will make up the meeting agenda? How will your teleconference be respectful of time while conveying the information? The goal should be to minimize time and maximize value.
- How will I invite the targeted audience? How will I follow up to ensure a reasonable rate of attendance?
- Don’t forget to build time into your schedule for personal introductions.
- Remember the golden rule of presentation: create a change every 7 minutes (the typical attention span of most people). Switch from talking or showing, go to question-answer mode or show a brief video.
Success is related to the presenter’s ability to engage, present the subject matter, facilitate the meeting, and manage the tools.
How you adapt to real life crises will help you stand out (and get you 39,871,323 views)
Even an amateur with nothing more than a laptop can accomplish good results with the bare minimum of equipment, so don’t think you have to become a film producer with a fortune in high-tech gear. The important thing is to connect and communicate. Yes, try to keep the dog from barking. Yes, encourage the cat to not stroll across the desk in front of you. But also be yourself! Just remember people see you in Your Environment. Give it your best.
Pivoting to a teleconferencing platform to grow your business and enhance your customer, client, or patient relationship is paramount. This axiom will become the “new normal” for doing business. So, build your content plan and start sending out the invitations!