How to build good business connections (and cut through the mansplainers) on Zoom: Louise Mahler

How to build good business connections (and cut through the mansplainers) on Zoom: Louise Mahler

With “manterruption” rife on Zoom, women are suffering. Public speaking expert Louise Mahler shares her thoughts on shifting the dial and reclaiming our voice.

Over the past 18 months, Australians have had to adapt to a new normal.

With more of us working from home, we’ve had to learn to navigate our personal lives and careers in the same space, and with restrictions still prohibiting us from meeting, socialising and networking in person, this has also led to a shift in the way we engage and communicate.

Of course, there have been some huge benefits to “Zoom life”: More flexibility, less travel, the option of wearing pants—to name a few. But there have also been some significant drawbacks. A new study in the Journal of Applied Psychology for instance, shows that most working professionals are experiencing ‘Zoom fatigue’ especially on days they’re expected to make more than one of these calls.

The researchers linked the feelings of fatigue to the “extra effort needed to make personal connections during videoconferences”.

This is a huge issue, according to public speaking expert Louise Mahler who sees a number of ways in which our new, predominantly virtual world, is having consequences on business success.

With people feeling fatigued in having to engage this way, it’s unlikely they’re forming meaningful connections. Leadership relies on human connection, collaboration and understanding. Nailing Zoom rapport therefore is no longer optional, it’s imperative.

Mahler sees this challenge as especially pertinent to women, who, although are regularly perceived as better communicators than men, face new gender barriers in the COVID work arena. One such barrier is the forcefulness of some men in virtual communication.

“The importance of voice is more weighted in digital communication” says Dr Mahler. “Women are getting interrupted more and it’s a challenge we need to overcome and can overcome” she tells me.

Mahler believes that Zoom fatigue is not only linked to the technology itself, but also the way in which men and women assert themselves across these channels.

“Because men’s voices have more power, the bigger voices are getting more airtime,” she says. “Many women are feeling isolated, more disconnected and more devoiced” she says, an observation backed by recent research showing a link between the decline in women’s mental health and having to communicate virtually. 

Having run professional speaking and coaching workshops for the past two decades, Mahler’s focus is on helping women overcome these new challenges and especially fight off the recent surge in “manterruption”. She believes our body and voice teamed with great communication structure is the way to get the voice out, feel heard and reclaim our space in a new virtual world.

Get professional on screen

Many of us are avoiding the key areas of lighting and backgrounds. “It is more important than you think,” says Dr Mahler. She suggests investing in a professional background or else setting your surroundings up accordingly. “It’s your brand and your place on screen is incredibly important for ease of the eye”.

Watch the unnecessary mannerisms and body positions that will undermine you

She recommends that everyone avoid touching their hair. “It distracts from your authority and message”. Hair pulling may be used as a subconscious way to initially alleviate feelings of anxiety, but it translates poorly on screen.

Also “try not to lean forward”, says Mahler. “Often, we make this move in a bid to appear caring and attentive, but it can actually come across as insecure or aggressive. Sitting up straight and back from the camera is good for your back, good for your vocal production and its good for your own mental state,” she says.

Know you still have hands

“If you have the right position on screen, your chest will be visible which is a visual sign of confidence, but it also importantly allows you to use your hands,” says Mahler. While many people are reluctant to gesture on screen, Mahler sees this as a vital component of good communication—no matter what the format. But there are a few handy tips to keep in mind.

“Everything you do has a placement in space and learning these places can bring both you are your message to life.” Gesturing in the right way can have three benefits:

  1. They reinforce your message
  2. They help your memory
  3. They free your body

You have a voice. Let it be heard.

There can be nothing more frustrating than not being heard and, with the added importance of vocal intonation on screen, Mahler urges people to avoid “uptalk”. Uptalk is the raising of vocal inflection at the end of sentences which turns everything you say into a question. It undermines authority. Try to keep your voice strong and consistent throughout these conversations, she says.

Be polished in your structure

“The digital environment does not suffer waffle”, says Mahler. We get so frustrated with ravings and rantings that go nowhere, have no engagement and show no empathy This doesn’t mean losing your creativity, but you need structure as the framework for everything you say. Make it clean, express it so we can hear it and listen well, so we can all be engaged and interested and regain our energised selves.

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