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June 27, 2018

This past Monday, I shared how virtual coaching is just as effective as face-to-face coaching, and I promised to followup with some pointers to make virtual calls the best that they can be.

Let me present my 6 must-have’s for quality virtual calls:

[ult_cornerbox color=”000000″ backgroundcolor=”FFFFFF” bordercolor=”000000″ borderwidth=”1″ borderstyle=”solid” icon=”” ]1. A Reasonably quiet space.[/ult_cornerbox]

Several months ago, I was asked to be on a virtual call which was a sort of thinktank of various leaders who were strategizing about various issues affecting the San Diego area.  The feature participant on the call was a well-known leadership guru that I highly regard and whose writing has personally impacted my leadership.

When guru leadership guy appeared on the screen 10 minutes into the call, he was noticeably in a hotel restaurant.  That part didn’t bug me so much.  Hey, I get it: he’s a busy guy!  But there was so much background noise in the form of clanging silverware, clinking glasses, and scooting charis, it was more than a little distracting to me.

I have no idea how much the group paid the guru (I’m sure it was a lot), and I don’t inflate my own sense of importance, but I couldn’t help but feel a little bit devalued.  I’m sure there was a quieter place somewhere in that building.  Would he have taken a little more thought about his surroundings if he would have been joining a group with household names and bigger bank accounts?

I don’t want to make assumptions about the guy, but I do think that all professionals have a responsibility to be self-aware about their presentation and to make sure that it’s done in a way that the client feels like they are valued.

A quiet space is where you start with that.  When I say quiet space, I don’t mean the room has to be sound proof, but it needs to be quiet enough that any background noise, including ambient noise, doesn’t distract or obscure your voice.

Bedrooms are often great spaces for virtual calls because they’re less echoey than a room like a kitchen, because there are pillows, curtains, and various materials to soak up the noise.

As a young coach, I had no personal space in my house, and my kids seemed to be everywhere.  One summer, I had a virtual call scheduled, and our upstairs bedroom was at least 90 degrees, so I actually did a virtual coaching session in our pantry!  The sound quality was superb, and it was only about 15 degrees cooler!

You don’t have to be fancy, but you do have to be creative and resourceful!

[ult_cornerbox color=”000000″ backgroundcolor=”FFFFFF” bordercolor=”000000″ borderwidth=”1″ borderstyle=”solid” icon=”” ]2. A Basic visual background.[/ult_cornerbox]

When you do virtual coaching, you don’t need a scenic countryside, a fireplace, or anything fancy behind you.  So take the pressure off!

I’d also encourage you to not do virtual coaching with a busy background where a lot of activity is going on.

Back to my story with guru leadership guy, I remember seeing hotel wait staff cleaning the table behind him.  A few minutes later, they were using a manual sweeper to clean under the table.

While he was talking, my old A.D.D. kicked in, and I was like, “I wonder what the wait staff is going to do next?”

Right then, someone walked to the table behind him and started putting out new plates, silverware, and glasses.

What I’m saying is, you want to steer clear of any activity going on behind you that includes people walking in and out of the room or beach scenes that are so picturesque that the client is looking past you.

One of the best investments I ever made was a collapsible white background that was maybe 5’x7.’  If I didn’t have a simple white wall available, it took 30 seconds to pop it out and prop it against something behind me.

[ult_cornerbox color=”000000″ backgroundcolor=”FFFFFF” bordercolor=”000000″ borderwidth=”1″ borderstyle=”solid” icon=”” ]3. Good lighting.[/ult_cornerbox]

I don’t think coaches have to go out and purchase fancy lighting.  In most cases, one light strategically placed near you will do the trick.  Natural light is also the best thing you can use for all video.

Just make sure that there is enough light so that your video isn’t grainy, but be careful in natural light settings because sometimes you can be too washed out that it’s impossible to see your face.

Before I had my own office or studio, I bought a cheapie little LED light from Home Depot like this one:

I simply pointed the light at the wall in front of me, and it would bounce back the perfect amount of light onto my face.  Besides being cost-effective, LED lights don’t put off heat, so you’re not sweating and glistening on the call.

And, yes, that has actually happened to me before!

[ult_cornerbox color=”000000″ backgroundcolor=”FFFFFF” bordercolor=”000000″ borderwidth=”1″ borderstyle=”solid” icon=”” ]4. A well-positioned webcam.[/ult_cornerbox]

I don’t think you have to go crazy buying an expensive webcam, but you do need to position it properly and get comfortable with looking into the lens the majority of the time.

I can’t believe how many people post videos to social media or do video calls with the camera pointed at their Adam’s apple.

It’s okay if use the webcam on your laptop, just elevate your laptop so that your eyes are looking straight across at the lens.

[ult_cornerbox color=”000000″ backgroundcolor=”FFFFFF” bordercolor=”000000″ borderwidth=”1″ borderstyle=”solid” icon=”” ]5. A good microphone.[/ult_cornerbox]

If you’re using your laptop, please don’t use the microphone that’s built-it. It nearly always sounds terrible and picks up every bit of background noise in the room including every echo.

Don’t use the speaker on your phone for the exact same reason.  Additionally, the speaker on your phone makes your client think that the whole world can hear them.

I recommend getting a headset microphone that is noise-cancelling for a couple of reasons:

1) It’s much better to use the headset speakers than the speakers on your computer because if the speakers on your computer are too loud, your client will hear an echo of their own voice everytime they speak.

2) If the microphone is noise cancelling, you’ll eliminate even ambient noise, as well as most random background noise that you’re not expecting (like the garbageman, doorbells, and lower sounds of dogs barking).

There are a lot of headset options, most of which are between $25-50.  Just make sure they say “noise cancelling.”

[ult_cornerbox color=”000000″ backgroundcolor=”FFFFFF” bordercolor=”000000″ borderwidth=”1″ borderstyle=”solid” icon=”” ]6. Reliable Internet Connection Speed[/ult_cornerbox]

Nothing hurts a virtual call more than an unreliable internet connection.  One minute you’re having an amazing breakthrough moment, the next minute, the client gets a little grainy, and their voice starts sounding like a robot.

When it comes to internet connection speed, I don’t think you can take a chance by going with the cheapest internet possible.   But some people get a little confused with they talk about connection speeds, because they talk about how fast they can download something.

Well, there are two parts of internet speed: downstream and upstream.

Downstream is all about what you download like: a webpage, a picture, a video, etc.  When you’re on a virtual call with a client, downstream is what allows you to see and hear the client.

Upstream is what most people don’t understand when they’re purchasing internet service.  When you are sending your own audio or video to a client, you use the upstream number.

Here’s an example of what it looks like whenever you do a speed test:

The minimum upstream for doing a virtual call is about 1.5 megabits per second (mbps). When I say minimum, I mean that you technically can connect, but it’s really a close call.  And, I’d say this is true for Skype, Google Hangouts, and GoToMeeting and others.

If you’re using WiFi, you need to know that if you’re at the minimum, you are likely going to have an unreliable connection.  Also, if you’re planning on going virtual using a public connection, that speed is going to vary based on the number of users on it at the same time.

If I know I have to go live over public WiFi on a virtual call, I always open up to ensure that I’ve got the speed to do it.  One click of the GO button, and it tells me everything I need to know. And I check the speed at least 5 times before committing to doing the call there, because speed can vary a lot over a 5 minute period.

If I’m stuck somewhere, and the connection isn’t that great, I’ll at least turn off video.  Streaming audio doesn’t take nearly as much connection speed, whereas video is a monster.

Let me conclude by saying that the client hearing your voice is much more important than their seeing your face.  If incorporating video is taxing your ability to have clear audio, then it’s best to eliminate video altogether.  As I said in this week’s Mentor Monday, there’s more than enough data available in verbal communication an individual to be effectively coached.

When all else fails, get in a quiet room and coach by phone.


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