Building rapport is key to collecting quality data. A safe environment where participants feel their opinions are valued encourages them to openly express their thoughts without fear of judgement or making mistakes. In remote sessions, the layer of technology between the moderator and participant increases the difficulty and importance of creating that connection. There are three areas in which to focus:
Although always a good practice, establishing expectations and communicating background is especially important during video calls due to the limited interaction and context. As in any session, cover the basics such as the session flow, confidentiality reminders, questions, etc. In addition, remote platforms heighten awareness of specific factors that should be addressed:
- Coworkers or stakeholders in the call – Let the participant know that you have colleagues listening in who are interested in their feedback. If the attendee list is long, consider livestreaming the session to reduce the number of people in the meeting.
- Notetaking – Inform the participant that you will be taking notes, so if you are looking away during the session, you are not ignoring them.
- Tools – Give the participant a heads up if you will be using whiteboarding tools, prototypes, etc. and briefly discuss the expected participation.
- Session recording – as always, let the participant know you will be recording and why.
- Background questions – After the introduction, leverage the background questions to further create connection and set the tone for the session. Showing interest and warmth puts the participant at ease and makes the interaction feel more natural.
Be intentional with your nonverbal communication
Due to the limited camera view, small adjustments make a huge impact. Pay attention to your eyeline. Glancing around your computer screen is more noticeable than in an in-person interaction which can make you seem distracted. Do what you can to show you are invested in the conversation. Keep “eye contact”, lean forward slightly, pay special attention to your tone of voice, and provide neutral acknowledgements to their feedback when appropriate.
In remote communications, it can be easy to accidentally talk over or interrupt a participant. To mitigate this and communicate more effectively, leave more pauses than you would in an in-person conversation to facilitate a better flow.
In a virtual environment, we need to bridge the gap that the lack of physical presence creates. Appropriately setting the stage, watching your nonverbal cues, and embracing pauses are the first steps to establishing rapport in remote sessions. A connection with the participant is the difference between receiving brief, hesitant answers and authentic, quality feedback.