Zoom to your best online self!

Looking your best on a videoconference isn’t merely a question of vanity. At this point in the pandemic, not being prepared for a videoconference or electronic meeting may appear unprofessional or detract from your noteworthy contributions.  And let’s be honest, meetings are being recorded and screenshots are being saved, so that camera view up your nose will live on forever. As a consultant and coach, I have seen a range of performances, and I thought I would provide some hints to help you be your best online self.

  • Presentation. First, place your camera slightly higher than your face. Think about a good selfie in which the view is almost always from above. Next, try to have natural light (best) or lamplight on your face. Don’t put your back to the window or light as it will darken your face. Having a white surface either on the table or floor will reflect light and decrease unflattering shadows. Think of a professional photographer’s setup. Do find an appropriate place in your home to conduct your meeting. The simpler the background the better. Don’t let your good contributions be overshadowed by your décor. Backdrops of beds and kitchens may not send the right message, even though we all know that by necessity it is where a lot of work is being conducted.
  • Practice. Familiarize yourself with the platform. Many people have been on more Zoom meetings than they care to count. Make sure you know how to mute, why to mute, how to unmute, or how to get gallery view. Understand that our previously normal conversational styles aren’t optimal for this setting. Even simple conversational fillers – uh-huh, I know, yes, got it – can cause a change in view or a delay in the conversation. Most pros like to mute until they are recognized to speak. Do go to a site where you can see how you look and play around to find the optimal setting, distance, and lighting. Ask a trusted friend for advice. Have a practice call with a colleague.

Try to limit off-camera distractions. It isn’t always possible to avoid dancing toddlers or barking dogs, but do your best. It was cute initially, but these are stressful times, and patience may be in short supply. Also, know that people can’t really see the cute photo on your phone no matter how close to the camera you hold it.

Meeting hosts make a difference. Be sure you are familiar with the platform before the big meeting. Few of my meetings are confidential, like a telemedicine conference for example, so I appreciate being able to enter a meeting early and to chat with participants while we wait to start. Hosts should start the meeting on time. A nonverbal check-in – a show of hands from 1–10, or thumbs up/down) on how people are feeling can provide important feedback and participant engagement. If time permits, an online poll can be useful, too.

Pacing. An agenda and a time limit will ensure the meeting stays on track. Keeping participants engaged in a virtual meeting requires extra attention to meeting preparation. Try to create short presentations or use break-out sessions to keep attendees interested. Be clear with key speakers of their time limit. If information can be shared electronically prior to the meeting, it could cut down on run-on presentations. When asking for feedback, put clear expectations on the time. For example, ask for short lists: What are your three goals? In thirty seconds, tell us one thing you want to do. Consider whether the chat function can meet the same purpose. I prefer a ninety-minute limit on larger meetings without participation by the attendees. Even meetings with fewer participants who can interact should plan on a time to end the meeting.  People are stressed with extra responsibilities and concerns. Everyone will appreciate a well-run meeting that is respectful of their time and attention.

Pants! Finally, and this feels as if it should go without saying – put on your pants and don’t take your computer into the bathroom. We’ve all see those videos go viral. Don’t let it be you. Attire rules are relaxed for work at home, but keep your attire clean, neat and professional, even if casual.

See you online!

The Changing Search Calendar

2021. Already? Well, yes, if you are in the world of independent school education. Search consultants have started responding to RFPs (requests for proposals) for head of school searches for positions that begin on July 1, 2021 and even a few for 2022. Many of those searches will strive to be completed before the end of this academic school year, spring of 2020, leaving the head designee with over a year transition before arriving on campus for their first day of work. While many experts recognize the potential pitfalls of such an extended transition, schools have demonstrated that they are willing to accept those risks in order to position their search in a way that they believe will give them the first chance to hire the most qualified leader.

What does that mean for schools that might be considering a
change? For heads who are concerned their contract might not be renewed? For
aspiring heads? Let’s take a look.

For boards, it may mean a conversation with one or more
search consultants to understand how the market is starting to take shape. The
configuration of a school, whether it is PreK-12 or PreK-8, for example, can be
a factor in determining the optimal timing of a search. The relative strength
of the school and the location also can be factors. It also may mean a frank
conversation with your current head of school. Presumably the board has been
having honest conversations during the head’s evaluation (right?), but if there
are things that have been left unsaid, now may be the time. It is the right
thing to do for two reasons. One is that it will give the head time to meet the
goals of the board. Secondly, it gives the head a fair shot to find a school
that is a more appropriate fit for his or her skills.

For heads, it may mean a conversation with one or more
search consultants to understand how the market is taking shape.  It isn’t too early to confidentially let
consultants know you are open to hearing about opportunities. Perhaps it is a
certain type of school, or perhaps it is a preferred location that is
important, so it may take a season or two to find the right fit. It may be time
for a gut check, too. If you don’t believe things are going as you might have
hoped, have that difficult conversation with the board chair. Ignoring the
growing storm cloud isn’t going to end well. If you sense that your contract
might not be renewed, better to come to grips with it sooner rather than later
so you are able to consider the searches that will start shortly. If you wait
until June 2020, many positions will have been filled.

For aspiring heads, it is time to update your resume and
think seriously about what type of school you might want to lead. Think about
what skills and experience you will bring to a new position. Starting now will
allow you time to fill in any gaps in your experience, whether it is
admissions, development, or teaching. Consultants tend to be very busy this
time of year, so this might not be the best time to reach out, but certainly
think about setting up an appointment for NAIS. Zero in on a few opportunities.
Read the job descriptions carefully. Think about how your skills and experience
align with the stated qualities the school is seeking. Pay attention to the
search calendar and watch for the announcement of the new head so you can start
to get a sense of who is getting appointed.

School leaders need to think strategically about the future
of the schools they serve. Starting early can help both boards and heads
transition smoothly and fairly.

Need help getting started? I am happy to have a
no-obligations conversation.