Which product are you using?

Why Collaborative Leaders Choose Words Carefully in Virtual Meetings

Wednesday, August 9, 2017 - 12:00
Careful with Words in Meetings


“What is it about conducting business that makes human beings want to speak in confounding riddles?”
Cord Himelstein, Communications Executive and SmartBrief Contributor

Effective and Efficient Collaboration Requires Exacting Language

“Businesses today have a big problem with speaking in plain English,” writes marketing and communications executive Cord Himelstein in a column for SmartBrief on Leadership.

The issue, Himelstein says, is the English language is “so adaptable, so limitless in its potential to explain words with other words, it leaves the door wide open for abuse.” Prime examples of this linguistic misuse, he offers, are “jargon” and “buzzwords” – two categories of words that intend to narrow, rather than expand, understanding.

Himelstein concedes that jargon and buzzwords are alluring because they can “turn the mundane into the extraordinary.” Trouble is, he charges, that these types of words can be “alienating and demotivating to colleagues and customers when overused – or taken to the point of abuse.

We agree. Yes, jargon and buzzwords can act as a type of shorthand between people working in an industry or organization, a means of facilitating rapid communication between insiders. But when speakers toss around jargon and buzzwords with the goal of seeming hip or current – without truly being so – terms intended to lend clarity can obscure meaning instead.

Leading virtual meetings can be challenging enough as the global workforce becomes increasingly mobile. If research by Microsoft is correct, and the human attention span has shrunk to eight seconds in this age of digital transformation, collaborative leaders don’t have time for language that complicates understanding, especially when moderating meetings by audio, video, online or some combination of the three modes.

Moderating Virtual Meetings Demands Planning and Preparation from Collaborative Communicators

In his latest book, “You’ve Got 8 Seconds: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World,” Paul Hellman, whose advice columns appear in esteemed newspapers such as the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, offers three strategies – focus, variety and presence – for seizing people’s attention. Hellman believes his principles apply to any of kind business communication – from giving a speech to writing an email. And we feel his guidance is especially useful for moderating meetings in virtual settings.

How Moderators Can Use Tools to Facilitate Collaborative Communications in Virtual Meetings

We took Hellman’s direction – along with counsel from other communications gurus – and crafted these tips for using our moderation tools when planning and conducting virtual meetings:

Focus: Design Short, Strong Messages for Presentations

  • Share simple slides with participants that have few bullets (we recommend no more than five per slide) and crisp images at the highest resolution you can find (skip anything the least bit fuzzy around the edges.)
  • When reviewing slide text, delete all buzzwords and clichés. If you need help identifying these words, James Sudakow’s book “Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit… And Other Stupid Stuff We Say in the Corporate World” reads like a catalog of them.
  • Zoom for a closer look at charts and graphs.
  • Annotate statistics and other metrics to add your analysis.
  • Chat, rather than interrupt, to give your viewpoint while others present.
  • Poll participants to summarize key points into concise observations.

Variety: Animate Routine Information.

  • Instead of opting for slides every meeting, search for short videos that illustrate your points.
  • For optimal impact, try sharing videos to open or close meetings as a means of setting the tone or rousing enthusiasm.
  • Once a month, hold weekly update session by video conference.

Presence: Convey Confidence and Command Attention

Blogger Terry St. Marie feels much more economy and directness is needed in what he calls “leaderspeak.” So, he developed five classes of words to remove from your repertoire, if you wish to “talk like a leader” when moderating meetings.

Here’s our take on St. Marie’s categories:

  • Negation words – Sometimes the word “but” can cue listeners to ignore what came before. Be careful to use “but” for its actual purpose: Creating contrast between ideas, not refuting facts.
  • Half-Heart words – These are hedging words that lack forceful intent. For example, why say “Should our plan work…” when saying “Our plan will work, if the team follows specific steps…” is definitive and confident. So, in place of words like “should,” consider words such as “will,” “must” or “need to.”
  • “Run to the Dictionary” words –Moderators can tax attention spans with more distractions. So, if a dichotomy exists in your business situation, just tell teammates there are two points of view on the issue, not “a dichotomy of opinion.”
  • Absolute words – Does anyone “always” or “never” do anything? Then, why are so many of us so comfortable claiming absolute circumstances exist in abundance in our organizations? Drop absolutes from your meeting vocabulary for brevity and accuracy.
  • Unnecessary Emphasis words – Do collaborative leaders really need to underline their thoughts with words such as “really?” If moderators choose their words carefully when planning and preparing for virtual meetings, they should do really well without them.

Notice that sarcasm is not one of our word categories to avoid in virtual meetings. Of course, sarcasm can be misinterpreted in written emails and other correspondence, so use it carefully in those formats. Learn how to use sarcasm in business meetings here.

What to Read Next

Curiosity as a Business Tool

Collaborative Leadership

Leading Transformative Teams