I loved the HBO show, The Sopranos. I’m a bit of a Mafia aficionado; I’ve been fascinated with that culture ever since my grandmother (!) gave me a book by Jimmy “The Weasel” Fratianno to read when I was 16. In an early episode of The Sopranos, James Gandolfini, playing Tony Soprano (the main character and the leader or “Don” of the Soprano mob) was hosting a barbecue in his back yard for other mobsters. Tony manned the grill while wearing Bermuda shorts, and this prompted a visit the next week.
As Gandolfini told the story, at a shoot the next week on location in New Jersey, he was approached by a man that was obviously a real-deal mobster. The man walked up to Gandolfini and said that he loved the show, “But Jimmy,” the man said, looking dead into James’ eyes, “Dons don’t wear shorts.” Gandolfini took it to heart, and Tony Soprano never wore shorts again in a Mob gathering. In fact, this became part of a Sopranos episode later when Tony was reproached by a boss for the shorts. What the mobster meant, of course, is that when you have that kind of a leadership position, you can’t afford to look too casual to those that you are supposed to be leading. It’s a lesson that’s often forgotten.
I thought about this recently when watching a Zoom sales meeting. Zoom has been a great tool that has enhanced the capabilities of managers and sales reps alike – but it’s also, in my opinion, contributed to a loosening of standards that isn’t healthy for sales managers or salespeople. In this meeting, the sales manager had 20 sales reps on the line, all were ready and able to hear what he had to say.
The problem was that the manager, attempting to be too cute by half, had employed one of those digital backgrounds on his screen. Those backgrounds suck up bandwidth, so instead of being a clear communicator, his image was pixelating, his voice was cutting in and out, and he was virtually unwatchable. In fact, the only clearly visible image was the background itself, and when the manager attempted to share his PowerPoint presentation on his screen, the entire screen locked up. What ensued was ten minutes of the manager attempting to get rid of the background, then logging off, and finally being able to get back onto the meeting – by which point he had lost his audience, in attention of not reality.
The manager forgot that Dons don’t wear shorts. He had important information to convey, but lost his chance to make it impactful because he was trying to take a too-cool, too-casual approach to the meeting. How often have you seen this since last year? I’ve experienced it myself, many times. During a Hiring Assistance program, there was the guy who logged onto a Zoom job interview for a sales position (he was the applicant) in a T-shirt and ball cap, for example.
Video calling is here to stay. I do not expect it to replace face-to-face selling (we human beings crave actual human contact), but the skills and technology will be part of our repertoire going forward, so we might as well do it right. The key to remember is that Zoom is merely another way to communicate messages – and your message should be the star, not the tech! Whether you’re a manager addressing your team, or a salesperson making a sales presentation, there are a few fundamental best practices you should employ:
- Forget the silly backgrounds. Yes, these platforms allow you to use a lot of cool backgrounds. When you use one, in many cases, the background itself becomes the star and you’re just in the way – or worse, the background eats up your bandwidth. Stick with a stationary background. Even a blank wall is fine, or your office, or whatever. If you want your company branding in it, make up a banner for a backdrop and use it, but the background should be a physical background and not an electronic one.
- Dress like a pro. Casualness is the enemy of persuasion; when you are presenting, you should look and dress the part. Dress and prep the same as you would for a live meeting or sales call.
- Get the camera at eye level. Looking down at the screen makes you look amateurish – whether you’re using a phone or a laptop, position it so that you are looking directly into the camera lens while looking straight ahead.
- Look into the camera lens, not the screen. This is the hardest to master, but very important. When you’re speaking, you should be looking at the camera lens – that means that you’re making eye contact with your recipient. Peripheral vision is a wonderful thing; you can always see their movements and expressions out of the corner of your eye even when you’re looking at the lens.
- Get good sound. If they can’t hear you, they can’t buy from you. Make sure that you have a good microphone setup, if your device doesn’t already have a good microphone. Lavaliere or USB microphones are less than $100, which is a cheap investment.
- The best way to get good at anything is to practice, and presentations are no different. Practice, practice, practice, until you know the tech, you know how to quickly share your screen without fumbling, and you are able to handle all other aspects of the technological platform you’re using.
Remember – you want your video presentation to be just as professional as, if not more so than, your live presentation. Dons don’t wear shorts. Be a Don.