We have been going to virtual school for quite a long time now, however, it seems like students can hardly focus during online classes. Instead of focusing on changing the lesson format, let’s take a look at the fundamental reasons why online classes are boring, and what we should do to improve it. Nonetheless, we will not focus on the content of lessons, but rather the basic public speaking skills used during lessons.
1. No prosody
People who speak all on one note are really hard to listen to. It makes the lesson sound monotonic and dull, no energy or spirit. Instead of speaking with the same intonation throughout the entire class, we can add a little prosody, a little rhyme, a little change in volume and pace.
I understand it is hard to always maintain a high level of energy, especially if you are having a bad day. But think about it this way, there’s a reciprocal effect going around here. Once you start to speak enthusiastically, the people around you will start to pay attention to what you are saying. Then they will think you are confident and charismatic, so they start to speak like you. Now you get to enjoy an interesting and energetic class as well.
2. Word choice
Think about the first 10 words you say in every conversation. Most of the time, they are the most boring ten words of the entire conversation. For instance; hello, good morning, how are you, can you see the slides, can you hear me etc. The tendency here is that we think being professional means we have to keep our words short and crisp, but that just means we’ve removed all emotion and dopamine out of it. Instead, think about how you can add a little bit of spark?
In a study done by Journal of Personality and Social Psychology in 2009, researchers found that when the first 10 words someone reads are switched into achievement oriented words, their performance on subsequent tasks improves. Not only did it affect the participants behavior, it also doubled their desire to keep working on tasks.
If we use our words more purposefully, if we wake up our words, and if we add just a couple of more dopamine sparking words, we actually give people more motivation. What a gift we can give to our students, friends and teachers.
Here are some examples that you can use for your next virtual class:
Thanks for coming everyone –> Welcome everybody, today we are going to have an exciting class!
Hope you are doing good –> If you’re having a bad day, let me tell you a funny story.
Students, please focus –> if you focus in toady’s lesson, you’ll be able to learn how to solve trigonometric functions that will help you…(a real life example).
I do not want to repeat my words, turn on your camera –> If twenty students turn on their camera, I’ll tell a dad joke.
I’m anxious –> I’m excited!
3. No eye contact
Eye contact has always been a crucial part of public speaking. Despite the fact that we are in virtual school, research has found that we still produce oxytocin even through a webcam. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that not only helps us feel connected, but also increases trust interaction and social cognition. Social cognition is what helps you become more effective in interactions, it is the ability to share your ideas effortlessly and be able to decode and read facial expressions.
By just knowing that someone can see us, we experience an autonomic arousal response, in other words our emotions become stronger, we are more focused and emotionally invested in the video conference for instance. With this in mind, the next time you’re in a meeting, look neither the slides nor yourself, but the camera. The more you look into the camera, the more trust and oxytocin you are giving your peers.
4. Closed body language
We often think body language and hand gestures are only used during a speech or presentation. What we didn’t know is that these gestures impact our everyday conversations too. An open body gesture for instance, can make you feel and seem more confident. It shows that you are welcoming, relaxed and friendly.
One technique to achieve this is by showing your hands, palm facing upwards. It indicates that you are welcoming. Face your palm down when you need a little authority, as it is a power signal.
There are gestures that work, and gestures that do not work. Sometimes people gesture in a certain way that does not help them. For instance, loose or small gestures, where people’s elbows are stuck to their body, allowing them to move their hands only, not arm (like a t-rex). This makes you look skeptical and flimsy. Meanwhile, functional gestures are the ones that are distinct, defined, and powerful. Additionally, don’t be afraid to take up more space. Use big and open gestures, raise your arms if you can.
Above all, it seems pertinent to remember that gestures are used to illustrate a point you are speaking. Functional gestures are powerful only if they work in synchronization. Hence, use gestures that align with your points, where it can increase the value and clarity of what you are saying.
That said, place your camera further away the next time you join a virtual meeting. Make sure your hands are visible in the frame. Lastly, if you intentionally take certain positions and practice them, it will change how people perceive you and you will start to feel more confident. Remember, the more we are at our best selves, the more everyone else is at their best selves. This way, everybody wins.
Picture: Vanessa Van Edwards