How to Listen Better in Online Meetings
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Quick, name the top few things you do most in your online meetings with clients.
If you're like most advisors, your top few included talking face-to-face and sharing information on your screen. Those are fine ways to use technology, and they’re major reasons online meetings can perform better for clients then meeting by phone. In fact, sharing information online is advantageous for advisors who know how to do it right.
The problem with online meetings lies in trying to replicate in-person client conversations. Specifically, you can't replicate the feelings of empathy, caring and understanding that you communicate in person.
Why? Because most of your in-person communication is nonverbal. And in online meetings, your nonverbal communication is severely constrained. Even when they can see your face, clients can’t “feel” you listening over the internet in the same way – your body language is unintelligible. Clients wonder whether you understand what they’re saying and what they need.
Start with better questions
Listening more effectively in online meetings starts with asking better questions. Top advisors I’ve worked with employ three strategies to create a better listening opportunity.
Plan lines of questioning. This is something you probably weren’t taught in a CFP or IWI class: Subjecting clients to a checklist of discovery questions is less than pleasant for them. It’s hard to make a checklist conversational or enjoying.
In online meetings, your checklist of questions is even more of a rapport-killer than usual! Instead, prepare a progression of questions that help clients pursue a line of thinking that leads to new insights. Help them identify a problem or solution with your questions. Be intentional about using open-ended questions to discover and clarify, and closed-ended questions to validate and confirm.
Embed your questions. Put your most important questions on the screen. This helps your visual-learner clients (most of them!) understand the question and avoids the human tendency to substitute easier questions for hard ones.
Ask visual questions. If a picture tells a thousand words, a question in picture form helps clients get a thousand times clearer on the answer. One example (pictured): A simple t-chart is a way to visually ask the question, “How does one option compare to another?”
Those strategies put you in better position to listen.
Visual listening means better listening
The majority of your clients are visual learners – they learn best by seeing. Even for auditory (hearing) or kinesthetic (doing) learners, adding the visual channel to communication facilitates clarity.
This concept doesn’t just apply to delivering information – it also applies to receiving information. In person, clients “see” you listening. Top advisors take advantage of technology to listen in a different way than they do in person. Here is a step-by-step process for listening visually in your online meeting:
Before the meeting:
- Prepare to listen by creating a PowerPoint (or equivalent) deck for your meeting that includes your visual questions.
- Position yourself so you can see your screen and look at the webcam simultaneously – good listening starts with making as much eye contact as possible.
- Send the client an agenda with some key questions you’ll be discussing.
During the meeting:
- Share your screen to show your questions as you’re asking them. (Key: Don’t use PowerPoint in presentation mode – you’re not presenting, you’re listening!)
- Give clients time to absorb the question and formulate the response. Resist the urge to jump into the silence – they may just be thinking about it. Plus, your question is already in writing so you don’t need to ask it again!
- Take notes on their response in real time, either by typing or with a stylus if you’re touch-screen enabled. (This is why you want to stay out of presentation mode!)
- Listen in “buckets.” In other words, take notes in an organized way, preferably using a repeatable template that works for you. Now you’re helping clients organize their own thinking on an issue.
- Show clients your notes and ask for clarity and validation. Did you capture their words? Did you get the essence of what they’re telling you? Are you clear on what they need? This example (below) shows what’s possible with a simple PowerPoint slide and the ability to annotate.
- Listen for priorities and highlights. If you can show your notes, you can also ask questions that identify client value. What’s most important to them? What are first, second, and third priorities? How do options compare to each other?
Online meetings have changed the nature of nonverbal communication, particularly around listening. Fortunately, you have the tools to adapt and thrive! Use these strategies to help clients feel heard and understood, even at a distance.