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Post-pandemic Communication: zooming back to in-person meetings

Think back to a year ago when “Zoom etiquette” and “Zoom fatigue” were all the rage and virtually everything was … virtual. We lived our lives largely behind doors and screens and although it was frustrating for most of us, we learned to pivot and adjust to the new norm. Working from home was (and still is) both a blessing and a hindrance for us all. Our dogs were barking in the background, people ate with no regard for the camera, and we all said “you’re on mute” more times than we could count — the list goes on and on. I know you’ve seen (and heard) some crazy things during these online meetings, am I right?

Well, as 2021 winds down, we’ve seen a very slow and cautious return to in-person meetings and many businesses are having employees return to their offices. There’s probably a layer of dust on my desk at the office, and my calendar still says March 2020, but it doesn’t bother me in the least because I’m one of the few people who loves working from home and found out how to make it work for me. But that’s an entirely different blog.

Today, I’d like to highlight some tips for returning to in-person meetings and things we should all be aware of to make the most of our interpersonal communication skills. Since turning off our camera will not be an option while sitting in a room with other people, here are four things to consider.

Eye contact is key!

Back when I was a communications professor at Kean University, I had my upper-level students read The Power of Eye Contact by Michael Ellsberg, and it is still one of my favorite books to recommend. In our culture and in business, eye contact communicates attention, respect, listening, and interest. When you resume in-person events, always remember to maintain eye contact with the person speaking. If you’re the presenter, be sure to scan the room to keep the audience engaged with you as you speak. Our attention spans are much shorter than they were before (which wasn’t much to begin with) so it’s critical that we embrace our best communication skills, including the ever-important non-verbal skill of eye contact.

Don’t pay attention to your phone!

This piggybacks on my previous point about the importance of eye contact. We’re glued to our phones more than ever, and I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that keeping our phones on silent and preferably out of reach is best during in-person meetings. We have all become so used to having our favorite device in hand that we often don’t realize we’re exhibiting poor manners using them when others are speaking. When we return to in-person events, let’s also return to using good manners and keep our phones out of our meetings. Even picking up your phone to glance at the time could communicate disinterest to the group, so it’s best keep it off the table and out of sight.

Remember the lack of ‘mute’

Let’s face it, the mute button has been convenient but unfortunately there’s no mute button for in-person meetings. You may be wishing there was a “leave” button you could click to “hop off” and go to your next virtual meeting of the day, but that isn’t an option when meetings are held in person. The virtual environment helped us control the order and function of meetings and kept us mindful that we should hit the “raise hand” button to speak. In person, all bets are off, and we need to remember that our best meeting etiquette should include knowing when to speak and when to listen.

Mind the time

Virtual meetings have also allowed us to be comfy cozy behind the screen — not only physically with our slippers on, but also comfortable with longer meetings. When meetings start late (and they usually do), we’re pushing back our time and likely to go over the scheduled meeting time. When in-person meetings resume, be sure to start and end on time to show respect for attendees and their workday. Time management is something we could all work on improving in our professional lives, so set a timer for when you have five or ten minutes left in a meeting so you know when to wrap it up. If I had a dollar for every minute a virtual meeting I attended ran overtime, I could probably buy a plane ticket to San Francisco and catch the next 49ers game at Levi Stadium – I wish!

So, there you have it — my four tips for a smooth transition back to in-person meetings. Our communication skills can always use improvements, right? I hope that this blog was helpful and will keep you mindful of your verbal and nonverbal etiquette the next time you’re back in the conference room with your colleagues. Although I haven’t stepped out from behind the door or the screen just yet, I do look forward to that sense of normalcy and being able to see my Stokes coworkers (and many valued clients) again soon, sans mute button.

Hi everyone! In my last blog, “Remote Control,” I offered some tips to adjust to the WFH life during the pandemic. Well, today I’ve got four tips to help zoom your way back to in-person life. Enjoy!

-Nicole Pace-Addeo, M.A.