Operating an in-person meeting became second nature for many bankers before the pandemic hit, but now the concept feels like it’s from a past life. Webinars, virtual conferences, and regular Zoom check-ins have become the new norm, and many have found there are unexpected challenges that come with it. For bankers, part of that is not only learning to overcome these challenges, but to be excellent with them by considering four measures to assure success.  

Setting 

One of the biggest changes as a result of virtual meetings is that we no longer share the same environment. Meeting rooms and conference halls have been replaced with virtual beach backgrounds and colleagues’ bedrooms. The downside of this is that it may seem there’s a lack of professionality. The upside is that it allows you to showcase just how professional you’re capable of being.  

“The background matters because you need to look like a professional,” said Matt Middendorp, owner and founder of Sales Math Consulting LLC. “It doesn’t need to be a professionally staged background by any means, but you need to think about the room you’re in and what’s behind you.” 

Middendorp’s advice: make it personal, make it professional, and make it deliberate. The easiest way to do this is to set up some books behind you, hang a photo on the wall, and make the background look like it has had thought put into it. Beyond that, the primary rule is to just be aware of it. 

“It’s not going to be a perfect setup, and it doesn’t have to be,” said Paul DiMarco, VP of organizational development at VGM Group, Inc. “There’s going to be a time where many of us will return to the office, but for now we have to do more than just make it work.” 

But determining how you decorate your new business setting is only a good step if your internet isn’t kicking you out every five minutes. For this, VGM Forbin Financial Sales Manager Donny Wilson recommended a few simple precautionary measures when dealing with things on the technological front.  

“With the kids at home, going online for school or watching videos, they’re also using the broadband and that’s going to bog down most home systems,” said Wilson. “You have to manage the use of your broadband during meetings so that you don’t time out and leave your participants stranded. Some people won’t have the same access to faster internet speeds as others do, and to a certain extent that’s just the limitations of the way things are.” 

Wilson said most people don’t need to invest any money in upgrading their modem; the best thing you can do is know what your internet speed is, check to make sure that’s the speed you’re getting, and work within those limitations.  

“Check with your provider to see what speeds you’re supposed to currently be getting and they’ll be able to direct you to a website that will do a speed test of your current hookup. That way you can actually see what it is.” 

And if all else fails, the best solution is to be prepared for anything. Have a backup plan that you communicate before the meeting starts, because we’ve learned that the internet is far from a perfect system. 

“I’ve been in the middle of meetings where my internet just crashed and I drop out,” said Middendorp. “It’s infuriating. But it’s even more infuriating if I didn’t communicate all the variables to my team ahead of time; there are a lot of things that could happen that didn’t used to be in play.  

He also noted that some bankers are working in rural areas and won’t have access to good broadband, so just letting other attendees know that they can dial in on their phone if their connection isn’t cooperating makes a major difference in the fluidity of the meeting.  

“Good preparation is having everyone come in with the same goal in mind, which is even more crucial under these circumstances,” Middendorp said. “Know the outcome that you want to reach and try to determine the steps to get to that outcome.” 

Sun 

Approaching your lighting in the right way is the difference between whether you’ll be figuratively and literally left in the dark. Home lighting can be great if it’s facing the proper direction, but it’s often the case that it’s too dim for the camera or projects light at the wrong angle. The good news is, there are plenty of other options. 

Are you using the sun as your light source instead? Consider whether it’s adequately lighting up your face and torso or if it’s casting your entire body in a shadow. The location of your windows will play a huge role in this, too.  

“Lighting is the biggest thing, and natural lighting is often the best solution,” said DiMarco. “But always make sure it’s in front of you, even if this means positioning your setup so that there’s not a window anywhere behind you. It could be as far as 20 or 30 feet away and out of view; it’s still enough to be a distraction.” 

Usually, it’s as simple as moving the location of your computer. But if there’s too much natural light or you’re not able to relocate your workstation, then block out as much light as you can and then consider how a small purchase can make a huge difference. 

“First, try to make natural lighting work as best you can,” said Middendorp, "but if you need to invest in something, then invest in a ring light. You can get one for $20, and the difference is remarkable.” 

These versatile light sources are exactly what they sound like – an LED ring that you place behind your camera to emit the perfect illumination to assure that all participants aren’t talking with a shadow for the entire meeting.  

“At the end of the day, the lighting doesn’t have to be perfect, but it shouldn’t be a distraction,” Middendorp said. “Avoid having the light on just one side of your face or appearing in the meeting as a silhouette.”  

Sight 

Your lighting can only do you as much good as your camera will allow it to. This doesn’t mean going out and spending hundreds of dollars on a high-quality computer camera, but the way you use your laptop’s recording feature can make or break a meeting for both the host and the participants. 

“The first thing is that you should have your cameras on,” said Wilson. “Not only does this allow them to be actively engaged as though it was in person; it allows everyone else to know that each person is participating and not reading a book or watching television.” 

Wilson noted that for hosts, a camera isn’t necessary 100% of the time. If your meeting consists primarily of showing charts or other infographics to those in attendance, then there’s not much of a need to get in the spotlight. But for an in-person scenario, he reminded that there’s no feature that can make you disappear in a physical meeting.  

Middendorp added that the only other critical thing is usually overlooked because it’s never an issue when you’re face to face with other people: the angle matters.  

“Have the camera at eye level or slightly above,” Middendorp suggested. “I was setting my laptop on a crockpot on a table, because it just got it to the perfect height.” 

“Sometimes you have to get creative,” DiMarco said. “A lot of times, this means putting your laptop on a stack of books so people aren’t looking up your nostrils when you’re on a video feed.” 

As Middendorp and DiMarco both affirm, any angle that’s too far above or below these suggestions creates the potential for a distraction. And to be safe, always make sure you have wipe cloths, so your camera is picking up crystal clear visuals.   

Sound 

You’re next to speak in a meeting: as you begin that introduction you confidently prepared for, you’re interrupted by a chorus of colleagues letting you know that you’re on mute. It’s an easy fix, but the unmute button is hit to reveal something far worse: poor sound quality.  

“If there’s one place where it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest money, it would be sound,” Middendorp said. “You want to be clear and you want to be heard. Most people I speak with in virtual meetings simply plug a set of headphones in and have their microphone on — that's perfect.” 

A basic pair of headphones with a built-in microphone is more than enough to assure necessary sound quality. This should by no means break the bank, but the recommendation is – at the very least – to avoid relying on your laptop’s sound system. 

“The goal of the previous three examples is to simply not let them be a distraction,” said Middendorp. “That doesn’t apply to this one, because you need to have good sound. If people can’t understand you, if you’re getting feedback or background noise, that eliminates every message you’re trying to convey.” 

Getting that message across is a critical part of any meeting. It’s become all too easy to lose focus in this new setting, especially when we recall how lively and productive these gatherings would be in front of our colleagues. Part of the host’s new responsibility is to make sure everyone is present and engaged, and the first step toward this engagement is presenting your best self so others follow suit.  

“This new platform has a lot to do with what the other people in the meeting are hearing and seeing, and not necessarily what might have worked best for you when this was all occurring in person,” DiMarco said. “We all need to adapt, and people follow by example.” 

Putting it Into Action 

All of these things working together are the keys to making a virtual meeting feel like you’ve never left the office. When it’s done well, people don’t give a second thought to being in an online setting. But allowing those distractions to be front and center can take away from your entire message. 

“The goal of properly hosting these online meetings is to make the agenda come to life using the tools that we’re currently limited to,” Middendorp said. “Going about it in the wrong way can often undermine what it is that you’re trying to accomplish.” 

Embracing this change will not only help you display your best self during these meetings, but it will help the content of the meetings be more efficient and effective. With many workers continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, it’s worth trying to understand the benefits that could come as a result of mastering this communication format.  

“This a continuously evolving dynamic,” said DiMarco. “People keep talking about the ‘new normal’ and I believe this is the reality of that new normal. Consider developing new meeting policies and ask yourself how this might further benefit your bank.” 

DiMarco noted that this platform is more than likely here to stay, whether it be through employees that continue to work from home or new forms of technology that allow for this virtual interaction. Understanding this and using it to your advantage is the difference between accepting change and embracing it.  

“Sometimes we’re slow to embrace the new tools that allow these things to be effective,” Middendorp said. “I would really urge the banking community – whether through internal meetings, prospecting sales, or growing the bank – to view these virtual opportunities right now as a good thing. Make them a bigger part of how you conduct business as a bank. Change is being forced upon us, so let’s not just make the most of it; let’s be excellent with it and find new ways to be successful.”  

Interested in learning more about topics like this? Matt Middendorp will be presenting at WBA’s upcoming BOLT Leadership Summit which will take place Nov. 16-17. He will also be instructing Cool Bankers Academy to help bankers master sales.