Written by Higson

Video calls: How to overcome challenges and communicate expertly

19th August, 2020   •   4 min

Five ways to improve our communication over video and build relationships

Successful communication is essential for building relationships. Be it with our team, or with our clients.

In How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie tells us that to be likeable we need to listen, use body language, focus on others and be genuinely interested. The thing is, this can be a lot harder to do over video call than in person.

Can you relate to awkwardly blurting “no, no no, sorry, you talk first” when you misjudge and accidentally interrupt someone? To raising a point during a virtual meeting and being met with blank faces, radio silence and feeling, if not less confident, a bit put out? To being part of a virtual meeting, but scrolling through your emails in the background ‘on the sly’?

If so, you’re not alone.

Our client’s have highlighted these areas as key challenges with video calls:

  • Interrupting each other
  • Building rapport
  • Getting to know people
  • Progressing and building upon relationships

From running hundreds of hours of virtual training over the last few months at Higson, we know that video calls can be tricky. Since working remotely, we’ve had to transition quickly to communicate in a new context, one that requires an adjusted approach.

For example, in an in-person meeting, we read body language to gauge when the right moment is to make a comment. Virtually, we are limited to a small screen, often blurry and slightly delayed on time. We have limited opportunity to interpret body language correctly, meaning we end up interrupting and feeling awkward about it.

Video communication is a skill, and just like any skill, we can learn and improve.

So what adjustments do we have to make to overcome these virtual challenges? Here are five areas to consider.

1. Master your camera

Actually seeing the person you’re talking to is crucial.

In person, we rely heavily on body language to fully understand each other. As Merabrian discovered, 55% of the impact of your message is perceived through body language alone. That is more than tone (38%) and the words you say (7%) combined.

So, turn your camera on. If the others in your call have not, encourage them to. Lead by example.

Make sure to position your webcam in a way that makes you look confident and credible.

  • Elevate your camera so it is at eye level
  • Have light pointing onto your face, not behind
  • Be aware of your background

2. On video calls, turn on your mic

Don’t forget that verbal agreements – laughing, a quiet murmur of agreement – work to help progress your relationship. They create that positive atmosphere that is often lost in the virtual world. Of course, sometimes we have background noise… but sometimes we don’t, and we’re on mute anyway!

In smaller meetings, and one-to-one meetings especially, turn on your mic. It removes another barrier to building relationships.

Basically, act like they are in the room with you.

3. Don’t forget about body language

Remember that body language is 55% responsible for your message’s impact.

Alone in a room with our screens, it’s easy to forget to nod agreement, to smile in encouragement and to use hand gestures to emphasise our point. This has an impact on how you are perceived.

Various studies reveal that a simple smile can positively affect our impression of another person.

As Carnegie said, ‘A smile brightens the lives of all who see it.

4. Make eye contact

Research also emphasises eye contact as an important factor in relationship building. It is essential for building trust and rapport as well as making you appear confident and credible. But surely it’s impossible to make eye contact when we’re looking at the other person on the screen?

Well yes, it is.

However you can create the impression of making eye contact by flicking your eyes to the camera whilst you talk. It might sound strange and will certainly feel strange at first, but rest assured it looks confident and credible.

Think about experts in virtual communication, for example professional YouTube vloggers like Charlie McDonnell or Zoella – they use this technique to enhance their connection to their audience. Give it a go.

5. Become more comfortable with silence

Interrupting the other person, accidentally talking over each other, can be a real challenge with video calls. It can feel awkward, uncomfortable and derails the flow of the conversation. It also means we might not hear everything the other person has to say.

Have you ever experienced a time when you’ve left an extra beat after someone appears to have finished, and they add something else? Often, people have more to add and we cut them off. Particularly in the virtual world.

Interrupting is a common occurrence on both sides because of slight time delays, lags in the internet connection and our reduced ability to read body language.

Saying that, did you know on average in a conversation, we only leave 0.9 seconds before replying? This stems from the fact that anglophones tend to be uncomfortable with the idea of silence. And to reduce interruptions, what we need to do is become more comfortable with it.

So challenge yourself to leave that bit longer than you’re comfortable with before you reply. It may seem like a long time for you, but the reality is it’s a moment, a beat. This small technique can help prevent unnecessary interruptions. Also, crucially, it allows you to actively listen (,,read our blog for more) and focus on the person you are talking to.

Implementing these five strategies will help you become an expert in communicating over video. We would love to hear how you get on, get in touch to let us know.