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13 top tips for communicating online

Masha Gribova
12 June 2020
3 minute read

How to communicate better online

Online communication has never mattered more. Since daily life turned digital, many of us are emailing and video calling from morning ‘til night. So how do we take the pain out of online communication? We explore 13 top tips for communicating effectively online.

a smiling woman talking on the phone

Trim, ruthlessly

If you can (possibly) remove a word, (definitely) do it. A sentence filled with unnecessary words – elaborate descriptions and lengthy asides – obscures your meaning. Concise sentences get to the point.

And that includes adverbs

You may have ‘quickly’ replied, ‘happily’ confirmed or ‘gladly’ accepted, but your reader doesn’t need to know about it. Strip out adverbs to create focus.

Pause

When we rattle off quick replies in person, our body language does much of the talking for us. But online, our words stand on their own. Be wary of knee-jerk responses: wait five minutes then edit what you just wrote, hard.

Read aloud

That one hundred word sentence looked beautiful on paper, didn’t it? But try to read it out loud and you quickly run out of breath, or lose your train of thought. Reading aloud connects you with the rhythm and sound of your word choices, and helps you cut out paragraphs masquerading as sentences.

Active verbs

The difference between ‘a problem was solved’ and ‘I solved the problem’ is the difference between passive and active voice. Use active voice to energise your sentences and take ownership over your achievements.

An email subject line is an invitation

Action. Statements. What will your reader find out from your email? What can they do differently? Use strong verbs, exclamations, questions and jokes to entice your reader.

Does it have to be an email?

We all have 3,486,804 unread emails right now. Could your message be a quick phone call, a WhatsApp or an instant message?

Life in the age of videoconference

a man on his laptop

For many of us, life under lockdown means video conferences all day for work, followed by Zoom workout classes, FaceTime with family and HouseParty with friends. Video calls are more tiring than chatting in person. There’s even a name for it: ‘Zoom fatigue.’ So what can you do about it?

Cut out unnecessary calls

A meeting invite is not a court summons. If there’s a written agenda, figure out which sections you can genuinely contribute to. Ask the meeting organiser to move those to the beginning, so you can join only when it’s useful. For calls with friends and family, build in some video-free nights of the week, or limit them to under an hour.

Build your own rules

Group calls where everyone interrupts each other, carries on parallel conversations in the chat box as well as out loud, or leaves their microphones on while they’re doing the washing up? Exhausting. Set up simple ground rules at the start: use the chat box sparingly, mute yourself when you’re not talking, raise your hand on camera if you want to speak next. It only takes five minutes for everyone to contribute dos and don’ts as part of your group contract; it could save you an hour or more of discomfort.

Err on the side of politeness

In person, we read body language and draw on context. But in online meetings, we have so much less information to go on. We need to be more cautious. We need to be warmer, more friendly and more explicit. Save sarcasm and edgy jokes for your closest friends.

Turn off video

Whenever you’re looking for creativity, reflection or introspection, see if you can all turn off your video. When you’re not conscious of being looked at, you might free up more brainpower.

Hide self view

Tired of looking at your own face? You can hide your own face on Zoom, FaceTime and Microsoft Teams.

Bring in the body

Movement breaks, full-body stretches, even three minutes of dancing (you might want to turn off the camera!) can bring things to life. Or how about breaking up sections of your meetings with short meditations? When we’re feeling frantic, something as simple as meditating on a raisin can ground us. Endless video calls can be deadening, but a few moments of tasting, smelling, touching and tasting something as simple as a piece of fruit can bring our attention back to life.

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