Lorraine Lee of Prezi: How To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space
Sharing and receiving constructive feedback is less intimidating, and we’re making sure that we’re catching any potential issues early on. Communication is key in a remote setting.
We are living in a new world in which offices are becoming obsolete. How can teams effectively communicate if they are never together? Zoom and Slack are excellent tools, but they don’t replicate all the advantages of being together. What strategies, tools, and techniques work to be a highly effective communicator, even if you are not in the same space?
In this interview series, we are interviewing business leaders who share the strategies, tools, and techniques they use to effectively and efficiently communicate with their team who may be spread out across the world. As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Lorraine Lee.
Lorraine is a top-rated virtual keynote speaker and leader at the intersection of editorial and tech. With over 300,000 LinkedIn followers, she helps professionals become more productive and successful. She is also the Editorial Director at Prezi and a LinkedIn Learning Instructor, and has been featured in and contributed her expertise to publications including Inc., ReadWrite, and Entrepreneur.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
I’m someone who has always loved creating content with impact. I studied journalism at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism then began my career at a messaging startup that was founded by one of the first 10 employees at Google. I then moved to SlideShare (a LinkedIn company at the time) as one of two editors. I later joined the LinkedIn Daily News team, where I was one of only a few editors writing Daily Rundown articles (which has since been transformed into the LinkedIn News module in the top right of your LinkedIn Feed). After seeing the potential of this news product, I was sent on assignment to Hong Kong where I wrote the Daily Rundown during my day so LinkedIn’s U.S. audience would have the news waiting for them in the morning. When I returned to the U.S., I joined the editorial team’s Special Projects team, where I created and hosted one of LinkedIn News’ most engaging video series (#FemaleFounders), was the editorial lead for LinkedIn’s first newsletter product (Newsletters), developed the social media strategy for the LinkedIn News operation, and wrote and reported for the LinkedIn Lists franchise. After 6 wonderful years at LinkedIn, I made the move to Prezi, where I was its first editorial hire. At Prezi, I lead a small and mighty team that works closely with influencers and thought leaders to create, record, and Livestream compelling videos to educate and inspire people all over the world on topics across the business, sales, marketing, L&D, and education.
While at Prezi, I was named a top virtual keynote speaker by ReadWrite, and have since had the chance to speak at Fortune 500 companies, tech firms, top-ranked universities, and more on topics ranging from creating engaging virtual presentations and building a personal brand on LinkedIn to leading virtual teams and designing impactful hybrid meetings. Through all my work I’ve remained passionate about helping professionals become more productive and successful, and I’ve built a following of more than 300,000 on LinkedIn who turn to me for insights and advice.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
The most interesting thing that has happened since I started my career is something that happened this year. I set a goal for myself to improve my public speaking and get better at virtual presenting, and what started as a personal challenge has opened the door to so many unexpected opportunities. I was named a top virtual keynote speaker by ReadWrite among other business leaders I admire and respect including Nir Eyal, the WSJ best-selling author of the book Hooked, Calendar co-founder John Hall, and Salesforce Growth Evangelist Tiffani Bova. I became a LinkedIn Learning Instructor (“Virtual and Hybrid Meeting Essentials”), a finalist for “Content Marketer of the Year” as part of the Women in Content Marketing Awards, and a sought-after speaker at Fortune 500 companies, tech firms, non-profits, top-ranked universities, and more! I was also selected to teach a course about video and LinkedIn through Maven, a cohort-based learning platform co-founded by the Udemy and altMBA co-founders.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
One piece of advice I like to share is, “over prepare but don’t over plan.” When I was younger, I was someone who wanted to have it “all figured out,” but the more I advanced in my career and the more life I experienced, I realized that you can only plan so much. If you become too rigid with your plan, you’ll miss out on opportunities that come the way that you never would have expected. At the same time, it’s always good to try to prepare for what’s to come so that you’re ready for when these opportunities and experiences present themselves by doing things like learning new skills or creating healthy habits.
Ok wonderful. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview. The pandemic has changed so many things about the way we behave. One of them of course, is how we work and how we communicate in our work. Many teams have started working remotely. Working remotely can be very different than working with a team that is in front of you. This provides great opportunity but it can also create unique challenges. To begin, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main benefits of having a team physically together?
When you’re able to be in person with your team, there’s a different energy. It’s easier to feed off and understand one another because you can more easily see and interpret their facial cues and body gestures, and it’s easier to have a back and forth between many people without fiddling with an “unmute” button.
There’s also less room for misinterpretation when you’re communicating in person. In email and messages, tone can get lost more easily.
On the flip side, can you articulate for our readers a few of the main challenges that arise when a team is not in the same space?
When you’re not in the same space, one of the more challenging aspects can be developing relationships with your teammates. It’s very possible to become friends with coworkers and get to know each other over the video, but it takes extra effort on everyone’s part. Instead of catching up over lunch, you’ll need to schedule a time to catch up or remember to take a minute out of your day to send a message to check-in.
It can also be more difficult to focus. With so many video meetings on our calendars and (too) many screen shares, it’s getting easier for workers to tune out and multitask.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your experience, what can one do to address or redress each of those challenges? What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Communicate With Your Team Effectively Even If You Are Rarely In The Same Physical Space? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Equip yourself with the right software
The shift to remote and hybrid work has created a lot of demand for better ways of collaborating and communicating remotely. Now that we see this way of working is the future, we can’t stick to the status quo and stick with what’s “good enough.” There’s a chance to go beyond what’s possible with in-person meetings and collaboration. Companies and leaders need to seek out the technology that will enhance our day-to-day work and communication with each other and external customers and clients. Tools like Prezi Video create more engaging, productive, and collaborative hybrid meetings. You can use tools like Slido to add an interactive polling element to your video calls. Or use Miro, a zoomable canvas and whiteboard that works well for brainstorming.
If you’ve ever wondered if you should send an update or message because you were worried about being annoying or repetitive, send it. With all the different apps we use and the distractions that come from working from home, it’s easy for people to miss messages. Over-communicating is a safe bet and will show your manager and team that you have everything under control. A big challenge many workers faced shifting to a remote model was feeling micromanaged. The more you communicate, the less this is likely to happen.
3. Create compelling content
Video is undoubtedly one of the most meaningful ways you can connect with your remote coworkers. And now that many of us know this, it’s time to take that next step. Because people are such visual learners, creating amazing content will be one of the best ways that you can communicate with each other and be memorable. When creating content for a video meeting or presentation, learn what keeps people engaged in a virtual setting with best practices.
4. Share your work often
Each week my team publishes a newsletter that highlights our learnings, highlights, campaigns, and other updates. We publish it on our company’s intranet. There have been many instances where different teams reach out to let us know about something they’re working on that could be helpful to us. Being transparent and frequent about the updates you share out keeps people in the know about what you’re working on, and creates more cohesion cross-functionally. This is especially important to do in a remote setting where it’s harder to give casual updates to colleagues about what you’re working on. There’s also the added benefit of boosting team morale. My team has shared that it’s rewarding to see the work they’ve done in a week and for others in the company to recognize it.
5. Show empathy
It’s important to check in with your colleagues and teammates to see how they’re doing personally. If you know a coworker is going through a difficult time, express your support and let them know that you have their back if they want or need to take time off. We have to remember that we’re all people with lives and while we can see into each other’s homes now, this doesn’t mean we know what’s going on behind the scenes. Treat each other as humans first.
Has your company experienced communication challenges with your workforce working from home during the pandemic? For example, does your company allow employees to use their own cell phones or do they use the company’s phone lines for work? Can you share any other issues that came up?
We didn’t experience any challenges. Prezi was already flexible with a work-from-home policy so we were comfortable shifting to a fully remote environment.
Let’s zoom in a bit. Many tools have been developed to help teams coordinate and communicate with each other. In your personal experiences which tools have been most effective in helping to replicate the benefits of being together in the same space?
Prezi Video has allowed teams to create branded digital workspaces. Similar to how the Apples and Facebooks of the world have created their amazing physical offices, companies now are thinking more about how we translate this into a virtual office.
We’ve also received great feedback when teams use similar video templates on their calls. It feels like everyone is in the same “room” since there’s uniformity across all of our video screens.
If you could design the perfect communication feature or system to help your business, what would it be?
We already have Prezi Video. :)
The technology is rapidly evolving and new tools like VR, AR, and Mixed Reality are being developed to help bring remote teams together in a shared virtual space. Is there any technology coming down the pipeline that excites you?
Prezi Video is creating an opportunity for meetings to create much more engagement than in-person meetings; to create more inclusivity on calls for different personality types, and to help eliminate unnecessary meetings. Our work with the majority of Fortune 1000 companies has shown us what they need to make their hybrid meetings successful, and we are building amazing features quickly to address and fix those challenges.
In my experience, one of the trickiest parts of working with a remote team is giving honest feedback, in a way that doesn’t come across as too harsh. If someone is in front of you much of the nuance can be picked up in facial expressions and body language. But not when someone is remote. Can you give a few suggestions about how to best give constructive criticism to a remote team member?
In our remote and hybrid offices, I find that teams crave feedback more now than ever. In the office, it was easy to say “good job” or give shout-outs in passing. Now, we have to make sure we are adapting that to a remote and hybrid setting. One thing I do is now is after publishing a weekly team newsletter to the whole company, I will give a shout-out in Slack to each person on the team highlighting something great they did that week. I’ve also added a “kudos” section in team meetings. When it comes to constructive feedback, I set up a monthly meeting with my direct reports so we can give feedback to one another (yes, it’s important to get feedback as a manager, too!). This way, sharing and receiving constructive feedback is less intimidating, and we’re making sure that we’re catching any potential issues early on. Communication is key in a remote setting.
One other thing I do when a new team member joins is asked them how they like to receive feedback. This can be helpful so that you are approaching constructive with that person in the most optimal way so that they’re receptive and open.
The intention is also important. Framing the conversation as you see potential in your teammate and want to help them grow and succeed will help them to understand that there’s a good reason you’re sharing this feedback. It will also show them that you care.
Can you give any specific ideas about how to create a sense of camaraderie and team cohesion when you are not physically together?
I remember the first virtual happy hour we did for our broader Marketing team at the start of the pandemic. Someone who is normally very quiet talked a lot, and it was a clear sign to me that teammates were craving connection. Most of us are probably tired of the virtual happy hour, but there are ways to add some new life into them. I don’t think it’s ever a good idea to have a large group join a virtual happy hour “just to chat.” It’s hard to know when to jump in and it’s awkward constantly talking over each other. I recommend always providing some sort of activity. For example, you can plan a trivia game or participate in an Escape Room (there are many companies out there that offer very creative activities for virtual team bonding).
Ok wonderful. We are nearly done. Here is our last “meaty” question. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I would love if there was a movement that inspired everyone to “pay it forward” in our professional lives. Many of us are fortunate enough to work in jobs we love where we’re excelling, but many people also feel stuck, unmotivated, or don’t have access to a strong network of resources. Sometimes, all it takes is a person willing to chat with you for 15 minutes to set you up for success in the long term.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you so much for the time you spent doing this interview. This was very inspirational, and we wish you continued success.