Thompson Rivers University

Conference call confidence: overcoming virtual stage fright

  Posted on: May 4, 2020

Woman smiling

Rachel Cantin, Learning Strategist, Orientation and Transitions, collaborated with Career & Experiential Learning to discuss ways to succeed in virtual meetings.

Transitioning from student life to a professional career requires a period of adjustment. Professional growth takes mentorship, experience and the passage of time. There will be a lot of learning, a lot of questions, and a lot of mistake-making before you eventually develop a sense of confidence about your proficiency and performance. That confidence won’t occur overnight or arrive like magic on the first day. It’s going to take weeks, months, even years before you understand all the intricacies and rhythms of your role.

So, imagine me, four weeks into my post-graduation career path, when a global pandemic drove us into makeshift home offices. I mourned the change, the disruption, the cancellations and then I did my best to move forward. To increase organization and motivation in my role as learning strategist, orientation and transitions, I developed a plan that included to-do lists, a support system and an efficient workspace.

Shortly after settling into my new remote work life, I attended my first virtual team meeting. I experienced some anticipatory anxiety, but the rapport with my colleagues still resonated on this new platform, which set me at ease. Still, navigating these virtual platforms filled me with dread. Each experience was overwhelming and distracting; it’s difficult to read body language and the natural flow of conversation is stilted. Every meeting felt awkward and uncomfortable, and I struggled to engage in a way that felt natural to me.

During a more populated virtual meeting, my anxiety hit a fever pitch. My overly critical, irrational monologue spiralled into a state of shame and self-doubt. “What should I say? Should I say that? Does it sound professional? No, that sounds silly. This is as stressful as stage fright. How can I calm down? Picture everyone in their jammies? Ugh, how is that a solution? Where should I look? There are so many faces – why do I keep looking at my reflection? Clearly I’m not qualified for this position.

The anticipation and the pressure, in conjunction with my self-doubt spiral, intensified my anxiety. When it was my turn to present, I pre-empted my contribution by exposing my nervousness, which led to an outpouring of support, encouragement and collaboration from my colleagues. I connected with Career and Experiential Learning, and with the help of Career Services Co-ordinator Mitch Clingo and Accessibility Experiential Learning Co-ordinator Jenn Mei, I identified the source of my anxiety, developed strategies and implemented those solutions into my work, which led to a surge in confidence.

Problem: Technology is intimidating

Solution: It’s OK to not know how to use the tech or be a pro at videoconferencing at first. Learning takes time. Start small. Familiarize yourself with one modality. Have fun with the process and play around with the features. Watch YouTube videos or try Google searches to learn more.

Problem: Lack of familiarity with other conference call attendees

Solution: Same as networking face-to-face, research is critical when making a connection. Read their bios, explore their LinkedIn page or check out their social platforms to get a sense of their interests. Also, don’t forget, every professional was once the new kid at the meeting.

Problem: Impossible self-expectations

Solution: Connect with your supervisor to set goals that improve your performance. Foster a growth mindset, be open to learning new things, and challenge yourself to step outside of your comfort zone.

Problem: Anticipatory anxiety

Solution: Calm your nerves with a quick breathing exercise and/or grounding techniques. Write a positive affirmation on a sticky note and leave it on the computer screen. Jenn Mei’s tip to help ease the pressure of speaking is to send your questions and speaking points to the co-ordinator ahead of time. This way, you don’t have to start the conversation, but still allows you to participate.

Problem: Lacking the confidence to connect

Solution: Prepare in any way that makes you look and feel like a professional. Log on early to ease yourself in. Chat with the people that show up first or mute your microphone and video to get a feel of the meeting and how many attendees. Listen closely and learn from the seasoned professionals in the meeting. Follow up via email if you have additional thoughts and reflections you’d like to share.

Problem: Not knowing how and when to contribute

Solution: Ask for the meeting agenda and then prepare detailed notes in advance. Connect with your supervisor to ensure that you’re covering all necessary information. Jot your thoughts down during the meeting. When it’s your turn to present, take a deep breath, speak slowly and refer to notes. If you are unsure when to jump into conversation, Jenn Mei recommends using the chat feature to queue for the discussion point or if you have your video on and can be seen raise your hand to show you have something to contribute.

Problem: Feeling awkward and uncomfortable makes you act awkward and uncomfortable.

Solution: Practice and have fun with your friends and family virtually to get used to the platform. Consider your conference call a performance and rehearse the process. Meet with a colleague beforehand to warm up with some informal dialogue and have them provide feedback. The more you connect and communicate in this new way, the more comfortable you will feel over time.

Career and Experiential Learning is here to help. Click the link for more information or to book an appointment.