I spend my days sharing the virtues of taking a minute to think. In fact, I wrote a book on the subject for which I spent 20 years refining the basic message: we must have permission to pause and think for our work to be brilliant and our work lives to be ones of calm and composure.
I joked for many years about how hard it was for folks to take a minute to think in a physical office. How, if we did take a minute at our desks to ponder, plan, muse, or mull, we then faced the constant threat of a supervisor interrupting us with a too-loud chorus of “What are you working on? What are you working on? So, we learned to think in secret or outside, hiding around the corner like the smokers.
Now, as we settle into our next, late-COVID-19 normal, a new challenge has appeared on the horizon of public thoughtfulness: How can we think on camera—in Zoom and Teams and WebEx? Despite the optimistic recent turns of the pandemic, we will never be completely free of the video call as a now-ingrained feature of professional life. And when we are on a video call, taking a minute to think becomes incredibly uncomfortable.
Try thinking on camera. It’s blisteringly hard. Everyone asks if you’re frozen or muted because they just don’t see it coming, and it’s certainly not the norm. We sense that no one will understand or tolerate an open moment on camera—so we just keep talking regardless of the price we pay for avoiding thoughtful silence. We use filler words and phrases like “like” and “you know,” we talk without a plan, and we wander in our point as we try to think while speaking.
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But we must learn. In the hot seat of the Zoom room, in front of everyone, we must learn to pause, think, and then talk.
Thinking in front of others can be impressive when done right. In my book, I chatted with nationally syndicated radio host and renowned interviewer Ken Coleman about a master of the practice.
When Coleman interviewed the phenomenal business leader Angela Ahrendts of Apple and Burberry, it was in an arena of 12,000 people. She would pause for two full seconds to ponder certain questions. “You could hear a pin drop,” Coleman said. “It was so impressive, and the audience was just entranced. They were watching her think, filter, and then speak. Which you rarely see.”
That’s why people who are brave enough to take a few seconds before talking win—because, Coleman said, “It’s not about your response time. It’s about your response.” Print that one out, and put it on your wall.
The key to making a similar impact and opening our virtual meeting thoughtfulness is for leaders and the boldest among us to take certain steps to make thinking on camera safe and comfortable.
1) Model and narrate
If you’re the leader of a group or have high confidence by nature, then it’s safe for you to initiate new behaviors in a way that no one else can. Use this leverage to put on-camera thinking on display. When it’s authentic and not just a show, stop after a question or moment of complexity in a meeting to think. Narrate your actions by saying, “Let me think about that,” or “Give me a minute on that one.” And then think for all to see. Just sit on camera and think, and let them all watch you and absorb the implied permission.
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2) Use cuing words and actions
If you audibly say “Hmmm” or a drawn out “Well . . .” right before you would like to take a minute to think, it will cue those around you that the pause you are about to take is not a technical malfunction but an intelligent choice. You can also try tapping your chin. I saw this one last week and just loved it. Maybe you can combine all three for a triple whammy!
- Narrate with a “Let me think about that.”
- Then tap your chin.
- Then say “Hmmmm.”
3) Turn the cameras off
New research is showing that audio-only virtual meetings or even good, old-fashioned phone calls raise the collective intelligence of the group compared to the exhausting and distracting environment of video. This throws certain leaders who have come to love the connective gains of being on camera, but humans can’t keep up that level of interaction hour after hour with good results. Thinking with the camera off will still require some of the indicator techniques above, such as cuing words or narration, but you will feel less exposed during your pause.
Learning to think on a video call is worth it. It calms your mind. It teaches younger team members that mindless talk is not of value, and it clarifies your own thoughts and makes the next thing you say smarter every time. Let me know in the comments how it goes for you!
This article was also published on Juliet Funt's LinkedIn
This article is also available in Chinese.
Now that you know how to think on camera, check out this media by Leaderonomics to know what are some of the best virtual communication practices while working from home.