3 Pain-Free Steps to Confidently Participate in a Virtual Business Meeting in English
Despite participating in plenty of business meetings in English, you’re not always comfortable with them. But you manage.
If you need, you can rely on support from your colleagues, whether it’s a quick chat beforehand, leaning over to ask them for clarification or reading people’s body language.
Now, though, you’re stuck at home with only a screen and a microphone to help you in that virtual business meeting (VBM). You’re on your own with your English. No quick chat, leaning over towards your colleague or clear body language.
Plus there are tech issues like knowing how to work the system, dealing with connection problems, people who switch their videos off and mute their microphones so they can do other things.
All this adds to your anxiety and, quite frankly, irritates you.
For the moment though, VBMs are your reality. In fact, they may become a permanent fixture in your daily professional life as companies realise that working from home could increase productivity.
If the sheer thought of this new reality terrifies you, fear not. Now’s the perfect time to get comfortable with VBMs and overcome your fear of your not-so-perfect English getting in the way of clear communication.
Contrary to what you may think, you don’t need more English words or better grammar to tame your fear of not communicating effectively in English.
All you need are a few key strategies you can rely on as and when you need to boost your confidence. And these strategies have nothing to do with vocabulary and grammar worksheets.
In fact, they have everything to do with using the English you already have. No need for scheduling precious time you don’t have for a 12-week English grammar programme.
In this blog post, I want to show you 3 pain-free steps to help you confidently participate in any VBM in English. The steps focus on reflection and planning.
The 3 steps are broken down into before, during and after. The key element running through all 3 steps is reflection. Reflection is the cornerstone of good communication and runs through all my programmes especially my Reflection Habit Programme.
3 Pain-Free Steps To Boost Your Confidence in Your Next VBM in English with the English You Have.
It’s amazing how a little preparation and planning can significantly ease your stress levels. And yet, it’s the part that’s often ignored because you’re too busy.
In an in-person meeting, you could get away with little preparation. But you don’t have that luxury with VBMs because they’re shorter. It’s very hard to stay concentrated for a long time. Consequently, you only have a short window to get and keep people’s attention.
That’s why forward planning is crucial.
Here are a few things you could try.
Find out who the other participants are in the meeting. International or monolingual speakers of English? Your team? Colleagues? Clients?
➜ Communication Style
If you’ve had meetings with them before, think about how they communicated. Were they easy or hard to follow? If they were hard, ask yourself why? Did they speak too fast? Was their accent unfamiliar to you?
If you can, ask the host if they can record the meeting or assign you the recording rights so that you can review the meeting later in case you missed anything.
➜ Giving Information
If you have to give information during the meeting, prepare and practise. In a VBM, it’s especially important to be crystal clear with your message.
Think through your what (message), who (audience), why (reason) and how (technical or plain language).
If you anticipate you’ll be asked questions, you could email the participants an outline of the content before and invite them to submit their questions. That way you have time to prepare your answers. (A lifesaver if you’re an introvert and hate communicating via video.)
➜ Asking Questions
If you’ve been given the agenda and have questions to ask during the meeting, you can prepare them by going through the same process of what (do you want/need to know), why (do you want to know), to whom (you want to ask the question).
Practise asking the questions. Speak slowly and don’t be afraid of pausing so that your questions are clearly heard. There are often connection issues or someone is distracted by background noise. Don’t assume they’ve heard you or that your English is not good.
This step requires implementing strategies and observing the response.
➜ Giving Information
Give your audience the time to digest your information. Bear in mind that people’s attention span is far shorter during a VBM, so if you can break down your content, do so.
Pause and ask people’s opinion as you go along. That way you can gauge if they’re paying attention and following you. “What do you think of this point?” “Could you see this working in your context?” “What questions would your customers have?”
Invite them to stop you if they don’t understand. However, if you want to avoid too many interruptions, pausing and asking (as above) would put you in control and reduce the risk of you losing your train of thought.
If you need them to take notes, give them time. Stop speaking. Don’t feel tempted to fill the silence with unhelpful chatter. Don’t be afraid of silence. It can feel strange in a virtual setting but silence is good.
➜ Asking Questions
Often people talk over and interrupt each other during a virtual meeting. This can cause people to miss key information or not listen to your question which is infuriating. This only adds to your stress of speaking English. One way of avoiding this is to suggest to the host or your colleagues that you all raise your hands before speaking or ask your questions in the chatbox.
Don’t ever apologise for your English before asking your question. If you do that, you risk everyone focusing on your English and not your question. If you didn’t understand something, ask a checking question. “You mentioned that…could you tell us more about it?”, “What do you mean when you say…”, “If I understand correctly, you’re suggesting we…”. The responsibility is on the other person to confirm your understanding or to clarify.
If they’re talking too fast, again please don’t apologise for your English. Some people speak too fast and aren’t aware they’re doing that. You need to remind them that they need you to hear what they’re saying and for that, they need to slow down. One strategy you could use is to say that you’re going to make a note of what they’ve just said. “That’s an interesting point. I’d like to make a note of that/write that down, could you repeat that last bit?”
The best excuse for asking someone to repeat is to blame it on a bad connection. “Sorry, I just lost you there for a minute…”
➜ Taking questions
If your audience submitted their questions and you’ve prepared your answers beforehand, that’s a great help. Now you need them to listen to you. One strategy to get them to listen to your answer is to call out their name before answering. “Sergio, you asked me about…. It’s a valid observation…”.
If your audience asks you a question to which you have an unprepared answer, listen carefully and show them you’re listening by looking at them without fidgeting. Staring at someone in person can be intimidating but on video, it’s easier. Also, it’s the only way the person can know that they have your attention. You can also take notes but don’t keep your head down all the time.
If you didn’t understand their question, paraphrase. “If I understand correctly, what you’re asking is…” DON’T say “Sorry, my English isn’t that good”.
Post-meeting reflection is often overlooked by business professionals. There’s simply no time before the next meeting.
And yet, if you’re to become a more confident communicator in English, you need to take some time out to reflect on how you and others communicated. This is crucial also to stop you blaming your English for any miscommunication that might have occurred.
In my Reflection Habit Programme, I ask my clients to observe their meetings (Step #2) before reflecting on them. Observing an in-person meeting can be hard and that’s where a virtual meeting has an advantage especially if you’ve recorded it.
That’s why it is vital to ask for the meeting to be recorded. For your eyes only. I understand that if there are confidential issues, a recording might not be possible.
But supposing it is, here’s what you can do.
Watch the recording and …
➜ Focus on what worked
Was the information well-received? Did you answer the questions with ease? Did you ask the questions without fear? Were you able to successfully follow the meeting?
➜ Ask yourself why.
Start with YOU and reflect on why you communicated well. >> You paused; you gave your audience time to digest the information; you broke your content down; you used plain English; you paraphrased; you resisted the temptation to apologise for your English; you were well-prepared; you listened to understand.
Why did you ask the questions without fear? >> The person made you feel relaxed. How? You’re an expert in your field and the question was easy for you. You needed to know the answer and that need superseded your fear.
Why were you able to follow the meeting? >> The person was clear. They paused and checked for understanding. You knew the content. You had context.
➜ Focus on what DIDN’T work
Now reflect on what didn’t work as well as you’d have liked. The key is to be objective. Resist the temptation to be critical and assume that all miscommunication was because of you and your ‘bad’ English.
Go through the same approach as above and ask the opposite questions. >> The information wasn’t well-received, you found it difficult to answer the questions and so on.
➜ Ask yourself why
(The other person/people): Why couldn’t you follow them? It might be only one or two people who were hard to follow. >> They spoke too fast; you were distracted; they didn’t pause enough. Maybe they didn’t ask checking questions or used unfamiliar language.
(You): If you hesitated at one point, maybe it was because you lost your train of thought; didn’t know the answer or stumbled over the words. Don’t automatically assume the latter problem was about your English. It could have been a problem with the connection that distracted you.
➜ What could you do differently next time?
Some things are beyond your control in a virtual meeting. For example, the background noise from someone who has their microphone switched on while you’re speaking >>a bad connection causing the person’s voice to cut off while they’re speaking >> people switching their video off making it difficult to gauge their facial expressions.
In some situations, you can insist that people mute their microphones or switch their videos on. But in others, you can’t.
In which case, focus on what you can control and think about what you could do differently next time.
Here are some suggestions of what you could do to take back control.
- Lose your train of thought: You can pause and check your notes. Don’t be afraid of doing that.
- Go blank: Have some keywords with you to use as prompts, give examples or paraphrase.
- Difficulty answering a question: email the answer later.
Once you’re aware of how you communicate, you’ll soon realise that you have more than enough English to sail through that virtual business meeting.
That self-awareness comes with reflection and preparation.
Once you realise your English is more than good enough, your confidence will soar and you’ll become a fearless communicator in English. Not a vocabulary or grammar worksheet in sight!