Zoom In, Zoom Out

Video conferencing interface, no participant cameras on.I’m noticing there are two types of people in this world; those who when on Zoom calls (or Teams, etc.) turn their camera on, and those who prefer to leave the camera off.

With one of my clients – a large professional services firm –despite pleading and cajoling and shaming, I generally get only 30% of webinar participants to come on camera. With another client, it’s 100%.

What’s the difference between the two groups? More importantly, is one group more right than the other? Should you go on camera on Zoom calls? If so, when, and why? And what does this little issue have to do with creating trust in the 2020s?

First, the two groups. The first one (70% lurkers) is mainly made up of 30-something and 40-something midlevel professionals. The second is made up of college students.

It’s hard not to suspect a generational difference here. Gen Z’s are generally more comfortable with casual online exposure than are the Gen X’s and millennials of my professional services client. Or so goes the theory.

A related issue is the use of digital backgrounds on these calls, vs. the natural background of where your camera happens to be. One group finds the digital backgrounds more professional, while the other group considers the absence of artifice and the presence of coffee cups and keyboard-treading cats to be signs of authenticity.

So What–Why Do Zoom Behaviors Matter?

I think there’s a bigger issue here than online calls. There’s also the work-from-home-vs.-office debate. There’s also the attraction of AI to customer service and other functions. There’s also the approach of marketers and sales folk using impersonal techniques to mimic the sense of personal contact.

The larger picture is – how can emerging technologies help or hinder the creation of interpersonal trust relationships?

I have a bias on this issue: it is that these technologies are here to stay, and each of us has a choice to make about their use. Do we seek out technology to help build relationships, or do we hide behind it hoping that technology can substitute for personal relationships?

This admittedly artificial and binary distinction rests on one theme: risk-aversion. Most people would agree that in-person one-on-one contact is richer and better for creating personal relationships, while at the same time more risky, time consuming and messy.

A lot of work-from-home fans are motivated at least in part by a desire to avoid the messiness of interpersonal interactions.  I suspect it’s the same motive behind a desire to stay off-camera on Zoom calls. And, farther out on the limb of inferences, I suspect the same people are attracted by emerging digital approaches to lead generation and customer acquisition and customer service – “if we can just automate things, find the right algorithms, it’ll all go easier for everyone.”

The other side – full transparency, it’s my side – says we have not evolved in the last few decades out of our innate, human, emotional messiness. Technology will never substitute for human relationships; but technology can contribute to, or hinder, their furtherance.

The right choice is to let technology help. On your Zoom calls – get on camera for them, all the time. Eschew that Golden Gate Bridge green screen background. Lean into the camera, then lean out. Use voice modulation; use your words to convey things that body language might usually say. Let the dog lie in sight of the camera. Comment on other people’s backgrounds (“nice wall hanging; interesting vases on that table; what’s your dog’s name?”).

Don’t use LinkedIn to scrape names and then ruin it with messaging like “I’d like to connect.” (I’d like to win the lottery; so what? Tell me who you are an why we should meet, why you reached out, and how might we help each other?).

Hire more and better customer service staff. Stop lying to me (“our menu has recently changed”). Put “talk to an operator” at the top of your menu, not at the bottom. Treat customer service as a revenue center, or at least not just as a cost center. Use LinkedIn to find out about people, not just to categorize and target them with canned “marketing” messages.

We can use technology as an enabler, or as an excuse. I suggest the former.

Building Trust in the World of Zoom

Zoom and other virtual meeting spaces helped save personal and professional relationships across the globe during the COVID-19 pandemic. While we all adjusted to an explosion in the prevalence of virtual teams, which have since revolutionized the modern workplace, the challenges were — and still are, quite honestly — clear.

The lighting. The sound. The background. The Wi-Fi. The inadvertent interruptions from partners, kids, pets, and even unexpected doorbells. It all adds up to Zoom fatigue.

And that is not even half of it.

Using technology and virtual meetings to communicate, nurture professional relationships, and increase revenue inherently leaves participants feeling disconnected. While the calls for employees to return to the office are being met with resistance, a structured hybrid approach is a resounding answer to encouraging a productive workspace.

This means Zoom meetings will remain a large part of the business culture.

So, how do we leverage virtual meeting platforms to remain connected to new hires, seasoned employees, upper management, prospective and existing clients, and vendors? How do we build trust with essential teams that rely on technology to communicate? We have answers.

Pre-Meeting Preparation & Communication

Before the meeting, create an agenda and provide participants with links, documents, and other reference materials to actively engage in the conversation.

When meeting organizers set well-defined objectives and clearly communicate the purpose of the meeting before it starts, participants are more likely to trust that their time is being valued and used productively.

Be Punctual & Prepared

Whether you are the organizer or participant, being punctual shows that you respect everyone else’s schedules and demonstrates that you are a positive addition to the conversation. If you were emailed meeting documents, read them before the meeting and have them available when it starts. When other participants feel others are unprepared (deservedly or otherwise), there is an immediate lack of trust.

Use Video & Active Nonverbal Cues

While appearing on video is not everyone’s favorite, it helps participants see facial expressions and body language, enhancing the sense of connection. Nonverbal cues, like nodding and smiling, show engagement and empathy.

Introduce Participants, Their Roles & Backgrounds

It is not uncommon to see unfamiliar faces in Zoom meetings. Immediately, this sends everyone scrambling for details about the participants, which takes their attention away from the forum.

Begin the meeting by making sure everyone’s role and background is clear, paying special attention to newcomers or infrequent attendees.  Ask participants to share something personal (even as simple as where they’re located) to help establish personal connections and foster a sense of belonging. Inclusivity helps build trust and respect.

Actively Listen and Encourage Openness

Actively listening to each person and thoughtfully responding to their comments encourages open dialogue and shows you value their input. Encourage participants to ask questions and address any concerns they might have. Share your thoughts, experiences, and challenges when relevant. If you aren’t sure if it’s appropriate (or don’t have the opportunity to) interject, use the visual response button or the meeting chat to show support and add to others’ messages. While engaging publicly may feel vulnerable, this vulnerability can encourage others to do the same, fostering a sense of authenticity and trust while demonstrating your willingness to be transparent and responsive.

Follow Agendas, Stay Focused & Manage Time Effectively

Demonstrate that you are organized and respect other participants’ commitments by sticking to the meeting agenda. Allocate time for each agenda item and stay on track. Reliable behavior and respecting participants’ time build trust in your ability to lead or participate in a productive meeting.

Align the Team Through Technology

Share meeting notes, action items, and next steps with participants and ensure consistency across all communication platforms using resources like shared calendars, collaboration channels, online filing systems, and project management tools. This demonstrates accountability and helps keep everyone on the same page. It can also encourage participants to provide feedback on the meeting format, content, and structure to reduce redundancies and improve processes while showing you value their input.


Building trust virtually requires all four elements of the Trust Equation, credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation, to facilitate meaningful interactions and collaborate effectively.


Trust-Based Resources to Maximize Your Team’s Potential:

How to Get Clients to Take Your Advice (Quickly and Willingly)

There are seemingly endless reasons our clients do not take our advice. Challenges like internal disagreements, budget constraints, and rotating decision-makers can cause countless proposals to be refused or ignored, regardless of how obvious the need may appear.

While clients may say they are hesitant to rely too heavily on vendor advice, have had negative past experiences, or even claim we lack understanding of the situation, all of these excuses may point to an overall lack of trust that can keep clients from believing your recommendation is the best solution.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, expertise is not the key to getting your advice heard and taken.

Getting clients to take your advice requires credibility, reliability, intimacy, and self-orientation, and while most of us are quick to emphasize the credibility and reliability of our solutions, we tend to overlook the importance of intimacy and self-orientation.

No matter how good your advice may be, your solutions are not the cornerstone of the relationship. Your client’s needs are.

And the key to understanding your client’s needs is effective communication. Here’s how to get there from here.

Listen to Show Empathy and Understanding

No matter the industry or your client’s role in the company, it is essential to recognize that most professionals are more knowledgeable than ever. With ever more information and solutions accessible in moments via the internet, an advisor’s value as an information provider is practically obsolete.

While our clients may hire us for our expertise, they also bring their own expertise to the table. And they want to know that you recognize what they bring and what’s at stake for them. Actively listening – to their feelings, emotions, needs, and preferences in addition to the problem they have – allows them to feel heard and understood.

Ask more and better questions about their goals, concerns, and challenges to show you are genuinely there to help provide real solutions that will contribute to their success. Emotional intelligence and listening skills demonstrate empathy, respect, and support that will enable them to overcome their fears and doubts, making them more likely to trust and act on your recommendations.

Focus on What It Means for Them

When providing in-depth solutions, beware of defaulting to showing off how much you know.

Instead, phrase your advice confidently by focusing on your client’s needs to:

  • Clarify complex concepts by using simpler, more straightforward ideas.
  • Make your advice easy to implement by breaking it down into smaller steps that can lead to gradual improvement.
  • Provide practical guidelines for proceeding with the next steps.
  • Be humble and willing to pivot the approach if/when their needs change.

Finally, anticipate, acknowledge, and address any concerns, doubts, or objections your clients might have, and give them space and time to think through your advice.

They will perceive greater value in your advice when the rationale behind your recommendations aligns with their goals and contributes to their success over time.

Provide Evidence to Support Your Advice

To communicate how your advice aligns with your client’s goals and needs, show evidence of how your recommendations can impact their performance, profitability, or reputation.

Share success stories, case studies, and client testimonials to illustrate your points and make them more relatable while demonstrating other positive outcomes that bolster credibility and help clients recognize potential benefits.

While charts and graphs can enhance understanding and make your advice more compelling, sharing real-life stories of how others have benefited from similar advice can inspire and encourage your clients to act.

Involve Your Clients in the Process

When developing and implementing recommendations for clients, it’s easy to forget that they also know what they are doing. After all, it’s their business. Show your clients that you value their experience and work as a partner, not an authority.

Involving them in the process, seeking their input and feedback, and incorporating their suggestions and preferences can increase their ownership and commitment to the solution and address any issues or objections in real time.

This ongoing engagement reinforces your commitment and helps overcome potential roadblocks while recognizing and celebrating the positive outcomes.

Reinforcing the value of your recommendations and encouraging future cooperation begins with effective communication, empathy, and understanding. Trustworthy relationships deliver value and increase clients’ likelihood of embracing your recommendations sooner and more efficiently.

At the end of the day, being right only matters if you’re being heard.

Trust-Based Resources to Maximize Your Team’s Potential:


The 80/20 rule for Virtual Relationships (Part I): Beware the Seductive View That “It’s Different Now”

This post was co-authored by Andrea P. Howe and Noelle Mykolenko.

Virtual, virtual, virtual. It’s all the rage now. Virtual meetings. Virtual teams. Virtual selling. There is no shortage of Google results boasting “11 Tips,” “5 Ways,” and “The One Thing You Need to Know.” Sales and relationship training providers are quick to tell you that you must, must, must adapt quickly to your new virtual reality or watch your revenues plummet. Providers of professional services seem especially quick to take the bait.

The problem is, that’s only 20% true.

Here’s our take:

Relationship-building and selling aren’t really different these days, in spite of what people who sell these things are trying to tell you, and in spite of what your own fears are whispering—or maybe shouting—in your ear. It’s anything but “business as usual” these days, that’s for sure. But beware the temptation to spend a lot of time and money on shiny “new” stuff that becomes an easy distraction from what really matters.

As Noelle so aptly said in a recent interview, “Human nature hasn’t changed.” Now is the time for 80% focus on our relationship EQ and 20% focus on improving our virtual IQ. Not the other way around.

Tips and tricks have never saved you before and they won’t save you now. Perfecting your office lighting is seductive, in the same way it’s always been tempting to tinker with a deck that contains far too much content to begin with. It’s easy to default to technical answers for non-technical problems. It’s more challenging—and considerably less soothing—to work on improving our own relationship liabilities and deficits.

True, the medium has changed for many of us; it’s at least become more dominantly virtual. And there are some really helpful and important things we all can and should practice to be more effective as a result. But we can and should do that while we focus most of our time and attention on trust-building mastery.

Our collective virtual work conditions (and selling/relationship circumstances) are a byproduct of our global situation; losing sight of that creates big relationship risks. Front and center for us all are the massive global and local challenges we’re facing—even if we momentarily forget or aren’t always present to the ways we are walking around unsettled and uncertain. Sure, we’re getting used to our “new normal.” Sort of. But let’s get real: we’re still only just beginning to grapple with it all—just ask a parent who’s navigating the new school year right now. And on top of everything, some businesses are in serious trouble.

If you’re wondering why your long-standing client is not replying to the email you sent asking for 30 minutes to brief them on your new offering, take a step back and consider that they just might be dealing with some serious sh** of their own right now–consciously or otherwise. The good intentions and solid logic that suggest they need what you’re selling more than ever don’t change that. Adding a standard, “Hope you and your loved ones are doing OK under the circumstances” at the beginning of your emails isn’t nearly enough. Conducting more engaging Zoom meetings isn’t enough, either.

Anyone whose success depends of the quality of their relationships should be laser focused on being of greater service to clients, starting with relating to them as businesspeople, yes, but also simply as people. There is an unprecedented opportunity to do right and do good (#silverlining) by taking our relationships deeper and broader.

If a trusted advisor is a safe haven for tough issues, consider how many more tough issues there are to be safe havens for right now. Our current environment is a weirdly helpful backdrop for doing that, and faster than ever before. We’ve all been physically and emotionally disconnected for months; people are craving connection. Plus, things that weren’t previously possible or the norm before are becoming commonplace. One example: Thanks to the shared impact of COVID on our loved ones, it suddenly seems more relevant to talk about our families and home situations even in our “business” conversations. Another example: That new possible client who, before COVID, would never turn her camera on in Zoom? Now it’s her default.

And therein lies the extraordinary opportunity to make more meaningful and lasting connections, provided that we lead with our caring, not with our spit-polished “virtual selling” techniques.

The biggest trust de-railer for us all right now is the same as it has always been, only amplified x 10: it’s fear.  There’s the fear of not making our numbers, of losing our jobs, of losing a family member, and more. Uncertainty is the word of the day, and our human brains are fighting ambiguity at every turn. Fear triggers our basest instincts: we default to protecting ourselves, obsessing about stuff, and avoiding relationship risks (or any risks, for that matter). This in turn affects our ability to really tune in to and be of service to others. Plus, we add to the cacophony when we don’t manage our own “stuff.”

Your results will be seriously compromised—in some cases, indelibly—unless and until you (1) recognize your fear and (2) deal with it effectively,

The only thing worse than a hammer looking for a nail is a fear-based hammer looking for a nail.

Your pre-pandemic relationship liabilities haven’t mysteriously disappeared. To quote Warren Buffett, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” When things are going well, it’s easy to ignore mediocre relationship skills because you’re successfully getting the next sale or getting the job done.

Now is the time to do some serious personal work so that you can get seriously focused on how to make a difference for your clients and other people who matter to you.

The bottom line …

True trusted advisorship demands that we find ways to make choices from our higher selves, not from our baser instincts, and not from our bag of virtual tricks. Our current reality is a call to lead with time-tested relationship principles (80%) and shore them up with virtual best practices (20%) to form everlasting client bonds and deep, unshakable loyalty.

In Part II, we’ll show you how to use the trust equation as a framework to do exactly that.