Do you remember the last time you gave someone your undivided attention?

Working from home has welcomed an abundance of distractions that most of us are yet to overcome. Whether it be your dog begging for a walk, your child knocking on the office door, the neighbour mowing the lawn or countless email notifications, each distraction impacts our ability to genuinely communicate and connect.

Here are the strategies I use to combat distraction and bring myself into the present when communicating virtually.

Pre-meeting checklist

  1. Pre-game performance – Think about it, a professional athlete doesn’t just run out on the field without warming up. No matter which industry you work in, the better prepared you are, the better your performance will be.
  2. Check in – Self-awareness is a vital ingredient for impact. Pause and be curious about how you are feeling in the moment. The sensations in your body. If your mind is ruminating, stop and ask yourself, “ What am I feeling? Is this true” Interrupt your thought patterns to bring yourself back to presence. If you’re feeling flustered your concentration will be flustered. This will have a direct impact on the quality of your communications.
  3. Move – If your mind is not as clear as usual, take yourself away from your screen and go for a quick walk around the block. Focus on five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can hear, two things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
  4. Know your audience – Prepare yourself accordingly. Just because you have your office at your fingertips, doesn’t mean you should be spontaneous. Have the correct documents open, a clear agenda and an understanding of who you are meeting with.
  5. Notifications – Turn them off!
  6. Declutter – Clear your desk to help clear your mind. A decluttered mind raises your ability to communicate and engage at your best.
  7. Focus – Light your favourite scented candle and gaze into the flames as you breathe in for seven, hold for eight and out for nine. This will help to break ruminating thought patterns and reset your mind.

During your virtual meeting

  • Peak state – Enter your meeting in a peak state. Rick Hanson says “The fabric of your mind is woven by your body”. Utilise self-awareness tools to set yourself up for the best possible outcomes. Your body signals are telling you the truth. Observe them. Be aware of them. Use breathing, walking talking or silence techniques to settle them should they need settling and then enter your meeting in the best possible state. Eighty percent of information is lost when we are in fight flight mode.
  • Intention – Be clear on the intention/s you want to set and get out of the meeting.
  • Cultivate being unself-conscious – Being self-conscious can limit our ability to be present in the moment and express ourselves fully. Stop the inner critic by breaking the thought pattern with this simple technique. Ask two questions – 1. What is really going on here and 2. Is it true?
  • Eye Contact – For meaningful connections, make an effort to look into the eyes of the person or people you are talking to. There is a real temptation over Zoom to look at yourself, causing a reduction in concentration. According to a study published in The Royal Society, anywhere between 2 to 5 seconds is the optimal amount of time to make a meaningful connection without being intrusive.
  • Breathe – If you find your mind wandering, or your anxiety starts to heighten, bring your focus back to your breath.
  • Move – If you’ve planned a lengthy meeting, schedule short intermissions or suggest that everyone stands up, takes a step back, and continue the meeting standing up for a minute. If you can’t move, squeeze your fists as tight as you can, holding for 10 seconds then releasing.
  • Repeat – Listening is where effective communication begins. Could you repeat the last sentence your colleague said? Hold yourself accountable by recalling the last sentence as you continue the discussion.
  • Body language – Effective communication is more than language. Mirroring the body language of the person you’re meeting with is not only a great way to build rapport but it will keep you focused.
  • Be mindful – Place your feet solidly on the ground, or press your elbows hard into the desk. Do a body scan starting from your head, working your way to your feet. Can you notice any muscle twitches, areas of warmth, how does your clothing feel against your skin?
  • Have fun – With so many meetings happening on line, people are forgetting to bring some lightheartedness into their meetings. I recently heard of a company where everyone brought and shared their pets on the screen. Another group took turns in sharing funny videos at the start of one of their weekly meetings. Productivity increases when there is levity and assists with concentration by brining everyone’s attention back into the virtual room.

Remember that being present is a practice. To manage distractions, repeat and integrate these techniques to bring yourself back to presence. As Anthony Robbins says “Repetition is the mother of skill”.