The Covid19 crisis has brought about the single biggest change in working practice in a hundred years. With it, the world suddenly and unexpectedly accelerated almost entirely into the digital realm. Even today now that we are emerging from the pandemic, this presents real challenges for modern leaders, executives and professionals, not least of which being how to reach out to build their executive presence, to build trust at a distance to create new stakeholder relationships or influence and manage their teams remotely.
There is a further element to this in that the crisis has also accelerated the adoption of AI (or artificial intelligence) in the workplace. AI is already replacing transactional management practices and can carry out the monitoring of staff performance remotely now that everybody is tied to a screen.
What it cannot replace (at least not yet) is the need for leaders and professionals who can project their presence, build empathy and trust with others, inspire performance, motivation, creativity, synergy and success. People who don’t just lead from a position of expertise but from a position of influence and service. People who act as highly trusted and influential advisors.
To put it simply, to succeed in this new digital and increasingly AI-enabled world then professionals, managers and leaders need to be strategic, creative and relational and not transactional and therefore replaceable.
In this longer blog I want to cover some simple tips and ideas about to how to network, how to approach meetings, how to run meetings and how to follow-up on meetings to ensure that executives and professionals can build and maintain an effective personal brand and high levels of trust with their colleagues and key stakeholders in the new digital world of AI.
Learn to Network in any environment whether live or online.
Networking is the single most powerful tool when it comes to building influence and presence. While during Covid many events had become virtual there are still techniques that are relevant in both the live and online world that are worth learning.
LinkedIn is the largest professional social network in the world, period. If you’re not on it you need to be. Here’s why. Trust in a world where social distancing and isolation is the norm means that trust is now built entirely online. If you do not have a professional profile on LinkedIn it means you don’t exist in the new digital world.
When people know we they to meet someone new our default is now to check out their profile on LI. What conclusion would you say people make about us when they 1.They can’t find any profile of us on LI 2. We have an incomplete profile 3. We have no connections on
our profile 4. We have no photograph on our profile or a personal rather than a business photo or 5. We have no recommendations or testimonials on our profile?
Would you say that it’s likely that they are making judgements about who we are as a person right now and they’re probably not positive.
To build influence the ability to retain the attention of a key management stakeholder is critical. Staying ‘front of mind’ so that they are thinking of us when it comes to their needs is crucial. Today, ‘share of attention equals share of influence’.
To help with this it is useful to create a ‘contact strategy’ or a strategy that ensures that the person we are looking to influence receives some communication of value from us on a regular basis. An email with a relevant report attached, an introduction to someone of value to them, a link to an industry or company report or a ‘virtual’ or real coffee meeting.
It’s worth defining a list our key stakeholders, identifying the areas of most value to them and then creating a proactive contact strategy to ensure that our ‘brand’ with clients and stakeholders remains strong.
In addition then create a ‘credibility bank’ or be a source of useful information to the people on your contact list. Create interesting posts or emails or share articles, reports, videos and podcasts that might be of interest to our contacts (think team members, colleagues and key stakeholders).
On platforms like LinkedIn (or inhouse networks) ‘Like’ or ideally comment on
posts created or shared by these same connections, indicating to them that we are engaging with their interests.
In addition, we should consider presenting at any of the numerous digital events or increasing live events that may be happening within the firm or offer to be a host or a member of an expert panel for our client firms, industry or professional associations.
If we’re not comfortable presenting then perhaps offer to host or facilitate a breakout or discussion room at the virtual conference or live event.
Any of these activities can help to raise your brand, build trust and influence through demonstrating your expertise and in the new digital world where people do not have a chance to interact personally, seeing a person’s expertise demonstrated is reassuring and builds confidence.
The digital world is a less formal world than the office so when we speak in this medium think ‘conversation rather than presentation’. Since Covid this is also the case at live and ‘in person’ events.
Remove a lot of the formality of presentations and focus instead on having a conversation. Minimise the length of our slide decks, make sure we focus on the camera on the laptop (positioned at eye level with the right lighting) and not on the image on the screen.
Presenting and engaging in the digital world is more like TV presenting than live pitching and looking at the camera gives the other person the perspective that we are looking directly at and addressing them. Looking at their image rather than the camera lens however means that our eye contact appears poor and poor eye contact never helps with building rapport and trust.
Try to speak at a medium pace as this is more suited to a digital presentation and be aware of our dress and appearance. Dress is more relaxed in the digital world but should always be smart business casual (at least from the waist up!) and if we are in a meeting keep our camera on. It sends a poor message around our level of engagement in a meeting if people cannot get any feedback because we’re not on screen.
Either live or online always encourage other people to do the talking as it helps them to relax and engage more readily with us.
On a virtual call do allow a short pause when people finish speaking to ensure that they have indeed finished and it’s not just a lag on the line. Also learn to become more comfortable with asking questions and suggesting ideas rather than directing the conversation as the person asking the questions is the real person in charge of the meeting.
Encourage others to speak, to volunteer ideas, to make suggestions to solve problems. Ask them to clarify and specify their responses so there is no confusion between all the parties.
Get comfortable with facilitating rather than directing conversations, people will value a leader who is seen to support and serve rather than command in this new world. The new definition of leadership is to create the environment in which others can excel. In this new world of remote working teams this is especially true.
Facilitate, make suggestions rather than statements and try to avoid arguments. Trust is hard to build in the digital space and easy to lose. Be an advisor rather than a seller.
Operating in the digital world is operating in a 2D world and not a 3D world. Much of what we unconsciously pick up when we are assessing people and making a decision about whether we trust them or not is absent in a 2D world. Our ‘Spidey senses’ don’t work so well when we’re on Zoom or Teams.
Therefore to build that trust that comes before influence there are some simple things that we can do. The first is as I’ve already mentioned look at the camera lens and not the image. This gives the impression that we are addressing the person directly and making good eye contact. Good eye contact is essential to building trust and appearing sincere to others.
Secondly, when we’re speaking be a little more animated in our gestures and show our hands. When people can see our hands on screen it helps to build rapport. Being overly formal and stiff can often create resistance from others.
Lastly, Paraphrase (“let me just see if I understand what you’re saying”), Summarise (“so what we’ve on agreed is”) and use simple language that matches the language that the other person is using. This clearly demonstrates to the other person that we are actively listening and engaged in the meeting and are fully present. This keeps the other person’s attention focused on you, allowing you to exert more influence in the meeting.
Here’s a check list of things to also be aware of online:
Bear in mind that not everyone sees the world the same way. In fact, we all have a different way of viewing the world depending on our unique personality profiles. Get familiar with a 4 colour model that helps you to identify the different behavioural types people have and then learn to flex your behaviour to work more effectively with them.
You might need to slow your normal pace of speech to people who are more reflective and process-oriented, or even speed up your pace of speech for people who are more auditory or visual in how they process information.
Remember, you may not be entirely comfortable shifting out of your comfort zone when you communicate but by doing so you help others get more comfortable and build trust with you faster.
After any digital or live meeting, follow-up immediately. Out of sight is out of mind in the world today so make sure that you deliver what you promised as close to the call or virtual meeting as possible to remain relevant.
If it’s a report or documents then offer a follow-up virtual call when you ‘walk them through’ the data.
Building your executive presence is an essential activity for managers and leaders. It develops our brand, opens doors and helps us get the attention of key players in our organisations and industries.
Hopefully the tips above will serve as a guide to how to build and promote your presence in the ‘blended’ live and online world of today.