An excerpt from ‘All The World’s A Stage: A Personal Branding Story’, by Ambi Parameswaran.

‘We spoke about executive presence and executive voice. But digital technology is changing the way we work. Many companies are offering their employees the flexibility to work from home or, in fact, from anywhere. And this trend grew exponentially during the pandemic. Where does all this presence and voice go in that scenario?’ Shankar had a great poser for the three of us.

Kunal decided to chime in with his additional query, ‘Well, many financial institutions too are examining how to make work more modular, so that people can have greater work-life flexibility. What Shankar is asking is quite pertinent. I know a company that has been having even board meetings where directors join virtually from several countries. I am also wondering if there is a need to relook at all the executive presence and executive voice gyan we discussed a few minutes ago.’

‘Virtual meetings are definitely becoming more and more common, but that does not mean that we need to throw out what we know about building personal brands through executive presence and voice,’ Rita said.

I knew that this was a new domain and we all knew very little about how this would shape up in the years to come. There were many contradictory thoughts going through my mind. But I decided to wade in with a question. ‘Well, Shankar, what are the key principles of executive presence and executive voice?’

‘We just went over that. Make sure you look smart and speak well. And be consistent. Shankar repeated what we had discussed earlier. He, however, followed it up with a question. ‘But when doing a virtual meeting, you are reduced to a little box, and sometimes it’s just audio. All your executive presence is nothing in a small box, no?’ Shankar asked.

‘Shankar, even in a small window you can appear like a ghost or a smart executive. I know some managers hold meetings with a brightly lit window right behind them. If they only flipped directions and faced the light, they would look much better and not ghost-like. Or look at the way you dress for a virtual meeting. Some executives are dressed in t-shirts when the rest of the attendees are formally dressed,’ I replied.

Rita jumped in with her suggestions on what works in virtual meetings. ‘I read somewhere that there are a few key principles of running a good virtual meeting. And those will help you build your executive presence.’

‘What are those principles, Rita?’ Shankar was now curious. Clearly, he was getting ready to implement some of these best practices for his virtual meetings.

‘Some of the principles are simple. When doing a virtual meeting always face the light. Don’t have the brightest light in the room behind you. And just because it is a virtual meeting that you are attending from home, you cannot dress inappropriately. Always dress right. Ensure that you find a place in your home that is tidy and will not distract the other attendees. As far as possible, find a room that is quiet or keep putting yourself on mute when you’re not talking. Background household noise can’t be helped but can be disturbing. Even if you’re in your office, you’ll be surprised how bothersome white noise can be in virtual meetings. Then there is the nostril problem,’ Rita stopped for effect.

‘What nostril problem are you talking about? Are you once again making fun of my big nose?’ Kunal asked with a half-smile.

‘No, not your nose, silly. I have attended meetings where the attendee is showing off his nasal hair. The simple rule is to ensure that the camera of your laptop or your webcam is at eye level,’ Rita added.

‘Wow, Rita, you are the expert,’ I complimented her on the simple hacks she had suggested. ‘In addition to these key things, I think you must also ensure that you test the system and the bandwidth so that you don’t end up freezing all the time. I always have a backup network to go to and keep doing speed tests to ensure that my internet speed is good.’

‘Everything you’re saying makes sense. But how can everyone ensure all of the above? Many people live in small apartments. How can they fulfil these conditions?’ Shankar wanted to know.

‘Shankar, if people are going to attend meetings from home, then they have to find a corner that is well lit and quiet. And investing in a good internet connection and a backup internet dongle aren’t big asks,’ Rita fired back.

‘I think all that we discussed about executive presence and executive voice applies to virtual meetings too. You need to arrive in time and should be able to join the meeting without any technical glitches. You should have done your homework and not be distracted or looking at your mobile phone when the meeting is in progress. Mute your mic when not speaking. Minimise body movements so it does
not distract the others. Pay attention and participate. In fact, virtual meetings give us an opportunity to put up our hands or send questions and comments in the chat box. All these can help improve the quality of meetings and our personal effectiveness,’ I added.

‘I get it now. Some of these are simple things but we may not pay attention to them,’ Shankar was nodding in agreement. ‘Yes, Shankar. In fact, going forward for a company like yours, that deals with global customers, virtual meetings may be a blessing. And if you run them well, they can improve your effectiveness,’ Rita said.

‘Absolutely, Rita. I think the virtual world is rapidly changing the way we do business. And those of us who understand these new rules of the game can get ahead of the pack,’ Kunal added. Kunal had been doing virtual meeting with global investors.

‘One thing that you have to agree on is that these virtual meetings are a damn sight better than those boring teleconferences we used to have earlier,’ I added.

‘Oh yes! Some of these routine telecalls in my previous job were a waste of time. They used to run for hours and we used to put the call on speakerphone and get on with our work. Only to say “great initiative” or “good point” every fifteen minutes,’ Kunal laughed as he said that.

‘You know that a lot of what we discussed here may sound basic, but you will be surprised to know how often these simple rules are violated or even forgotten. I often spend time coaching executives on the norms of digital meetings,’ Rita explained.

‘I think well-run virtual meetings can be a big help. They can save some valuable resources. And from what you guys are saying, the rules we discussed earlier for personal branding and executive presence are applicable to the virtual world too, right?’ Shankar seemed to have seen the light. Shankar’s next question was something I had expected much earlier. ‘Guys, you have been schooling me about personal branding, but I think we are missing out on one important area—digital and social media. Aren’t those essential for personal branding in this day and age? I’m hoping to hear a no, because I hate social media of any kind,’ Shankar said. And we had another topic to unravel.

Feature Image Credit: Illustration from the book 


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