Book Club: Julie Hansen on How to Build Meaningful Relationships on Camera

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Olivia Fuller: Hi, and welcome to Book Club, a Sales Enablement PRO podcast. I’m Olivia Fuller. Sales enablement is a constantly evolving space and we’re here to help professionals stay up to date on the latest trends and best practices, so they can be more effective in their jobs.

Creating relationships and memorable experiences for customers in a virtual environment is fundamentally different than how we connect in person. To truly communicate with credibility and influence, salespeople need to build their on-camera confidence. In her latest book, “Look Me In The Eye”, Julie Hanson shares best practices for engaging with an audience on screen. I’m so excited to have Julie, who is also a returning guest of the show, back to talk to us a little bit about her new book. With that, Julie, I would love if you could introduce yourself to our audience and tell us a little bit about the book.

Julie Hansen: Absolutely. It is great to be back, Olivia. We’ve kind of come full circle here. I am a sales trainer, sales coach, I work with a lot of sales teams on presentation skills, demo skills, and those customer-facing conversations. I started in sales and then I added on a second career as an actor. I’ve had kind of those two career paths most of my life. I really kept that up until I got to be a manager and I realized as I was working with new salespeople that I really used a lot of the skills that I learned as an actor and they were very well received — and I ended up starting my own business.

The book really evolved because I did that for many years and then the pandemic struck and suddenly, I see everybody racing to be on camera. I’m thinking, “oh my gosh.” We’re throwing tools and technology at these salespeople and they don’t know how to talk to a camera. Nobody knows that. I realized that those are the skills I learned as an actor that we don’t have in business. You don’t even have them naturally as an actor, you take classes to do that. I recognized we’re missing this really vital step. Out of that came a video course, my “Selling on Video Masterclass”, and also the book, which was really a combination of working with a thousand salespeople over the course of the pandemic and just addressing the challenges and questions they had about being on video. I really tried to make it a guide to bridge that gap of knowledge about the second.

OF: That’s fantastic. I think one of the things that really stood out to me while reading the book is that there’s actually a lot of science behind building relationships and having an effective interaction with a customer. You break down some of the differences between building relationships on video versus in person in the book. I’d really like to dive into that a little bit to start. I’m hoping that you can tell us maybe a little bit about what is really missing in these video conversations today and how that impacts how people really are able to connect and develop relationships online.

JH: Yeah, it’s a very important question that we seem to have skipped and we started with, “okay. Let’s just turn on the camera and can you see me? Can you hear me? Great. Let’s go.” And we’ve forgotten the certain qualities that are necessary for a relationship to develop, whether it’s face-to-face or virtually, and those qualities are things like being credible, being authentic. We like to think the other person is interested in us beyond a transaction. They listened to us well, they’re empathetic. We take those for granted because most good salespeople have been honing these skills, their entire life. What we don’t realize is that once you’re on camera, a lot of those qualities are either unobservable or miscommunicated, or the seller is engaging in behavior that is incongruent with those qualities.

I’ll just give you an example, for instance, in order to make someone feel like you’re interested and you’re actively listening to them, what do we usually do?

OF: Yeah. You’ll, you’ll respond to them.

JH: Yeah. You respond to them and you’ll be looking at them. If someone was pouring their heart out to you, you would rarely be looking at your phone. Or if you would, they would call you out and go, “Hey, I don’t think you’re paying attention.” And yet this is the type of behavior that we’ve deemed acceptable in business because it’s just easier to do that because we want to connect with that screen, but it doesn’t read to your customer that you’re interested in them, that you care about them, and that you’re listening. That’s just one example of the ways that things are, are miscommunicated on video.

Another thing is that when we are face to face, we actually have science on our side because there’s a chemical that helps us form a relationship. It’s a hormone called oxytocin, and you may have heard it called the love hormone, which seems a little intense for sales. But it’s something that makes people feel good in your presence and comfortable with you and able to open up. The hormone is actually released when someone makes direct eye contact with us or through physical communication, or even just seeing someone’s hands can sometime make us feel more trusting. And as we know, there’s so little eye contact taking place on video that it’s very hard for these relationships to develop. We are forcing our words, our language to do all the work for us. That’s just not practical because relationships are built on emotions, not logic.

OF: Yeah, definitely. I’d like to dig into that eye contact piece a little bit more. I mean, obviously that is the title of the book. It’s all about how you’re able to actually overcome those challenges that you mentioned and create that connection on screen. But creating eye contact on camera often means you’re looking directly into your camera or you’re looking at your computer screen. That can feel a little awkward for people. I’d like to learn maybe what are some of the challenges that people might be experiencing in maintaining that eye contact over video and what are some of your best practices for actually being able to overcome that?

JH: Yeah, it’s one of the most counterintuitive things. There’s a lot of counterintuitive things about communicating on camera and that is making eye contact. The truth of the matter is, whatever we tell ourselves to be true, the truth is that your customer will not feel like you see them hear them or care about them if you’re not looking at the camera, not your screen, not your notes, not their ear. They’ll look at their eyes through the camera. If you’re not looking at the camera, There’s a disconnect going on because when we’re in person, if you and I were sitting across from each other face to face and you happen to glance down or glance at your hands or glance at my hands, I know you’re still engaged because we have a shared environment.

When you break connection with that camera, your customer doesn’t know what you’re looking at and they’re not going to assign the best motives to you, right? They’re not your mother. They’re not going to say, “oh, well, she’s probably looking at my screen.” It’s going to feel like you’re being inattentive. It’s very important. It’s a very challenging skill. I think we have made very light of it and we’ve done a disservice to salespeople by just saying, “just go and get on camera and talk to people.” It’s not a simple skill. I took weeks of on-camera acting classes to learn how to do it. There’s a whole process and I break it down in the book about being able to see that person in the camera. Being able to visualize them, talk to them, because when you’re an actor, oftentimes you’re on a set and you’re supposed to be having this dialogue with your scene partner who isn’t even on the set that day. You’re just having it with the camera, and it has to be dynamic and real, and you have to be in the moment and thinking about talking to that person. There is a way to see that person in your mind’s eye, project them into the camera, and have that type of conversation.

Now, the challenge is that we want to read that body language, right. That’s what keeps drawing us down. Certainly, there are ways to try to line up your camera as close to that person’s image as possible, which likely it’s not going to be a perfect fit and to start to rely on some of your other skills. One of the most underrated skills that we don’t take advantage of is our peripheral vision. For example, when I’m looking at the camera, I can see with my peripheral vision just a few moments ago that you’re nodding. If you’re moving your head or if there’s some major change in expression, I don’t have to break eye contact with the camera every time, every two seconds. Learning to use your peripheral vision more consciously is something I also talk about in the book, because we’ve just relied on it when we’re in traffic or something, it just kind of comes to the rescue once in a while. But it’s actually a skill that we have. It’s something that we can call into play. That means we don’t have to check in as much as we think we do. Once you start to release yourself from relying so much on reading that body language by just looking at your screen, you’re going to be a lot freer on camera and you’re going to make your customer feel more connected.

One thing I think that also is keeping people from really looking at the camera and using these other skills is that we think we’re going to see something on screen that’s really going to tell us something. I challenge everyone to get on your next virtual meeting, look around at the audience, and tell me what their faces say to you. Because 99% of the time, they will have this very plain, what I call “RBS” — resting business face. It doesn’t give away an ounce of intention or meaning or feeling. We’re trying to read something that is not there. As I explained in the book, we’re trying to read body language in the same way we read it in face-to-face interactions, but the truth is people have very different behavior when they’re in front of a screen. We have recall on-screen behavior. We’ve been trained when we get in front of a screen to be passive, “just give me the popcorn and I’ll watch.” Right? People are not as expressive. They’re very closed. Occasionally, if somebody that’s way more expressive, you can catch that with your peripheral vision if it’s meaningful.

Understanding that there are a lot of differences on what matters and what we need to pay attention to on video is very important. I mean, certainly you want to check in when you start to see things in your peripheral vision that maybe are concerning, like if someone keeps looking distracted. But we don’t want to start glancing down all the time because that type of eye contact reads being guilty or suspicious. That does not help your credibility.

OF: Absolutely. You mentioned a few really important things there. I think one of them is this notion of authenticity and really making sure that we’re comfortable being genuine on screen and not kind of becoming a passive as you mentioned, or acting differently than we would in a face-to-face conversation.

But you mentioned also that you’ve taken a lot of training on how to talk on camera and that can feel unnatural for a lot of salespeople still today. I’m curious what some of your advice would be for how people can really build their confidence so that they can show up to these virtual meetings and be their authentic selves.

JH: Yeah, that’s a great question. First of all, speaking to a camera is an unnatural act. There is nothing natural about it. Nothing has really prepared us for this and to approach it like it’s no big deal and you don’t have to change anything, it’s sort of foolhardy because we are in a new medium. We’re in an artificial environment and to communicate naturally in an artificial environment is a challenge. There are certain things we have to “cheat for the camera” on. One of those cheats is making eye contact and then another cheat is learning to keep your movements within the frame. You don’t continually remind people you’re in this artificial environment or move too fast and it doesn’t read well or it makes you look nervous because it doesn’t feel natural at first.

People don’t think, “well, I don’t want to, I want to be myself. I want to be natural,” but there are a lot of ways we’ve cheated for our audience in person. For instance, when we’re presenting, we might turn ourselves a certain way so that people can also see the slide that doesn’t feel terribly natural, right. I have to be bigger because I’ve got a bigger audience. I get that it’s new, but it’s not like we haven’t learned new things before. We really need to learn these new behaviors in order to make our customer’s experience a positive one and memorable and stand out. One of the things that I coach people on, because you mentioned that word being comfortable. We want to be comfortable on camera. I want people to not confuse being comfortable with being natural. Comfortable is like, “I’m going to get kind of comfy. I’m sitting back. This is me. I’m natural.” Our energy goes down and our face gets very blank, and their voice gets very monotone that does not read on well because the camera already takes away a percentage of your energy.

We have to actually bring more energy to the camera. If you start focusing on being comfortable, you are taking off another chunk of energy and that’s not how you’re going to connect with people. I don’t mean you have to be uncomfortable on camera, but you have to understand what’s appropriate for this environment. It is kind of you at a heightened state. It’s getting to that state of, I can’t wait to talk to this person. I’m really excited to be here and meet them and share this. That’s the type of energy we need to bring.

Then, you need to learn how to speak in the confines of this frame. All that energy, all that meaning, that expression that you used to bring with your whole body when you were in person, it has to be conducted and conveyed in this small frame that we have. That takes practice. That takes practice on the body language, that takes practice on the eye contact. You need to develop some muscle memory around what you don’t want to be talking to the customer. You certainly don’t want to be checking your own image. Right? All these things take practice and they’re all kind of separate skills. I see people struggle to do them all at once and then they get frustrated.

In the book, I tell people to master this first and then move on to that. It’s really relearning some of the things we thought we knew for this virtual world. They’re important skills and the people that learn those and start to embrace them are the ones that are really going to stand out and make those connections, especially as we go into hybrid world and suddenly salespeople are competing with vendors who are maybe getting face-to-face with their customers. You have to think, how can my virtual skills stand up to that?

OF: That is a fantastic point. You mentioned a lot throughout that last response about the customer experience and thinking about the energy that you’re bringing to that conversation to keep them really engaged. I think that’s a great point that if you’re also matching that up against people who might be having in-person conversations, how do you show up and be able to create a memorable experience over a virtual environment as well?

Digging into that piece a little bit more, I think the last time that we had a chance to connect was kind of at the beginning of this whole move toward virtual selling last year. In the last year and a half, something that I know we’ve all become familiar with is this concept Zoom fatigue or video conferencing fatigue. I think that’s something many of us can resonate with, but it’s also something that we can overcome and that we can do something about to be able to create those memorable experiences. I’m curious, from the perspective of maybe having a customer that is experiencing a little bit of that fatigue, maybe they have their video off or something along those lines, what’s your advice for how, as a seller, you’re able to really create that connection and keep people engaged in those virtual conversations?

JH: Yeah, that is one of the biggest challenges that came out of my work with salespeople virtually was like, “gosh, people are so passive. How do I get them to engage with me?” And many of them aren’t on camera anymore, like you said, and that is sadly a function of how awkward and uncomfortable video calls and meetings have been. People don’t want to show up and let it show in their face that they’re not interested or paying attention. That’s the mindset people are coming to virtual meetings with. You have to think about that, what that means. Certainly, when people don’t have their camera on, it shouldn’t impact our energy and you have to let it not impact your energy. It’s not going to impact their experience. Don’t worry, that does not affect their experience because they know that you’re on and they’ll feel engaged if you’re engaged, if you feel engaged with them.

You have to let go of this idea that you need to physically see your customer to be engaged with them. That is a very specific skillset. Understanding that and then knowing also that people come to these meetings in a very passive mindset that’s been repeated over and over by hundreds of salespeople. What we need to do is understand that that’s the expectation and not be so freaked out by it because salespeople are like, “oh my gosh, they’re so passive.” We instantly think they hate me. They’re bored. They want to be off this call. We go to the worst possible place instead of understanding, “okay, people are going to be passive. What can I do to break that pattern?”

The first thing I tell people is you need to, first of all, drop the wishful thinking. Which is, “Hey, I want this to be interactive. So please, ask questions as we go,” because that’s just white noise to customers. They won’t ask one. That means you have to take control of it. You have to be responsible, and you have to plan that interaction and you have to break that pattern that they’re coming to the call with, which is “I’m going to just sit back and listen and let you put on your show.” I have to get them engaged right away because I am training my audience for how I expect them to interact with me. If I don’t engage for seven to 10 minutes, I’m going to have a hard time getting anything out of them. I also have to understand that just because I can’t see them doesn’t mean that they’re not engaged.

What I see salespeople do over and over is because people are more passive, we just keep talking. You see it, you hear these long monologues on sales calls because we’re so afraid to stop because we know nobody’s going to answer. It’s going to be really uncomfortable and awkward, so we keep going and we just create the self-fulfilling prophecy where people are like, “oh my gosh, this is horrible.”

You have to get in the mindset that just because I can’t see someone doesn’t mean they aren’t listening, smiling, nodding their head, and that’s an acting technique. This is as close to acting as you will get when your customer’s not on camera — you have to see them, respond, act as if they have responded in a way that’s most appropriate. If I say something funny, I’m going to assume that they’re smiling or going, “oh, that’s silly” or whatever. Most people are going to have normal reactions, right? Most of the things we’re saying aren’t going to be so inflammatory or controversial that they could go one way or the other. Allow space for that reaction, even though you can’t see it. Visualize it. Imagine somebody going, “that’s interesting.” That gives you the energy to continue: “Another thing we can do that I think you’d find interesting as well is X, Y, and Z.”

What we’re doing is we’re creating a dynamic conversation. That’s one of the things that’s also missing in video in virtual conversations is that traditional communication loop where we say something, our listener receives it, and they respond and then we feed off that response and we get this constant train of information. Well, when your customer is in on video or is particularly passive, you don’t get any response. That is when panic sets in and we start to throw out a bunch of stuff or we jump ahead or we keep checking in over and over and drive people crazy. It’s very important to have these skills for those types of moments because they happen all the time. Right now, people really aren’t prepared for them unless they toughen themselves up and go, “okay, I’ll just ignore it.” But they may not be responding in a way that encourages their customer to engage with them.

OF: Absolutely. I think you brought up some great points about overcoming some of our own assumptions about how people are reacting and responding to things. That is fantastic advice. Julie, my last question for you, I know no one has a crystal ball by any means, especially in today’s business landscape as things are changing so quickly. But looking ahead as we’re moving now into 2022, and you mentioned a little bit of how the selling environment might be changing, I’m curious what your biggest piece of advice is for salespeople today to really be able to show up for their customers in an authentic way as we move into 2022?

JH: Sure. First of all, it’s not going to feel authentic at first. All these things that I teach, it’s going to feel like wrong to go against everything you’ve been taught to do face to face. That doesn’t mean it can’t be authentic. Once you start to internalize these skills, just like you’ve learned to type, just like you’ve learned to ride a bike. Don’t be put off by that also. We have just barely tapped into what’s possible in terms of connecting through video. We’ve turned on our camera. That’s it. That’s all we’ve really done. I want you to watch personalities on TV, whether it’s a reporter, an actor, or even a Peloton instructor, notice how engaged you feel with them. There are experiences I’ve had where I feel like that person is right in the room with me. I don’t know them, but I feel like they’re talking just to me and they’re talking to a million people. That is not magic. That is not something they were born knowing how to do. That is an actual skill that you can learn.

I think we’re going to see this increase in a small percentage of people that are going to master that and they’re going to be deadly competition for you. I think in 2022, it’s kind of either get on board or you’re making your life harder by fighting this and going, “I’ll just do the bare minimum to communicate on camera.” You’re going to be left behind. It’s an investment in yourself and in your future to have these skills, so I would not wait.

OF: Wonderful advice, Julie, thank you so much for sharing all of your insight with our audience today. I know I always learn so much from our conversations and cannot wait for our audience to hear all that you had to say as well.

JH: Thanks, Olivia. So great to be here with you.

OF: Fantastic. To our audience, we do definitely recommend that you go pick up a copy of Julie’s latest book to learn more about all of these things that we talked about today. We’ll include a link to that in the description below. Thanks so much for listening for more insights, tips, and expertise from sales enablement leaders, visit salesenablement.pro. If there’s something you’d like to share or a topic you’d like to learn more about, please let us know. We’d love to hear from you.

You can find Julie Hansen’s book, “Look Me In The Eye”, available on Amazon here.

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