Communication Skills

Secrets To Building Rapport With Clients In A Virtual World

Table of Contents

Have you ever watched the movie, The Founder starring Michael Keaton? It’s the story of the creation of McDonalds. In the beginning, Michael Keaton is a traveling salesman desperate to hit the big time. Wow, how different the lives of sales professionals are today! Instead of pay phones and door knocking, it’s online meetings and virtual demos. In such a highly digitized world, it can be a challenge building rapport with clients and increasing your influence.

A challenge certainly, but not impossible. Today, we’d like to explore some tips for building client rapport useful for anyone in client facing roles in today’s corporate world, when all (or nearly all) communication is done virtually.

6 Tips for Building Rapport Virtually

It can be hard for us to make a strong impression without the face-face-face energy exchange. But many businesses have gone global through the pandemic and lockdowns have changed how we connect, so sales professionals need to be able to use remote meetings effectively to secure business with new and existing clients through this medium.

Here are our top tips for doing so.

1. Consider your equipment setup

Technology is a great enabler but it has its limitations. Before any virtual meeting, consider your setup and test the following:

  • Internet connection
  • Mic and sound
  • Video quality

It’s also good to consider the following to ensure your virtual meeting setup is as close to being there in person as possible.

  • Lighting: good lighting is critical so your audience can see your eyes clearly, your facial expressions etc.
  • Background: a nice, neutral background with minimal distractions is ideal.

Learn more: How To Setup Up For The Best Online Presentation On Zoom

2. Use your whole body

The majority of us spend our days sitting down in this post-COVID lockdown world. Maybe there are some of us who have invested in a stand-up desk and those are the people who are going to find this tip easier to put into practice. That’s because when we’re standing it’s easier to be present within and use our whole body.

Body language accounts for 60-80% of our communication during a face-to-face meeting, so stand up straight, relax your shoulders, imagine a string pulling you up through the crown of your head, feel the weight of your body in both your feet, feel strong, solid and secure. This leads me on to tip number 3… 

3. Inject life and energy

When a charismatic person enters the room, they exude life, confidence and energy. This is a tough quality to replicate through a screen—but there are a few things you can do to ensure you’re really connecting to others in the meeting and therefore building rapport.

Make sure your opener is something out of the ordinary to get your audience to sit up and take notice. Humour or a powerful fact or statistic that supports your message can be effective mechanisms. Make sure you’re looking at your camera, not the screen or your notes. This will help you to get as close as possible to making eye contact with your audience. Inject some life into your body. Don’t wave your arms around, of course, as this can be wildly distracting but meaningful gestures, shoulder and hand movements can help you to punctuate what you’re saying and maintain energy levels.

4. Tell a story

Storytelling is one of our favourite communication techniques. A story is so effective at building rapport and can be used in many ways, for example:

  • To make a point: the ‘what did I learn’ story
  • To convey complex information: aka. “data storification”
  • To personalise/humanise: the ‘this is who I am’ story
  • To elicit an emotional response: the ‘laugh or cry’ story

In sales, often a customer success story can also really hit home. Anything your client can connect and relate to on a human level. Stories bind us and they are more memorable than the dry facts and figures.

5. Pay attention

It can be easy to become distracted during virtual meetings. Perhaps your dog is barking outside, the phone rings, or one of your children comes into the room. Life happens, of course but when it does, if it’s taking your attention away from your audience, you run the risk of losing their respect and trust and the rapport you’ve been building.

Be disciplined with your attention span. Turn off your phone. Close doors to minimise distractions from elsewhere in the house or outside. And if an interruption can’t wait, apologise to your audience and deal with it as swiftly as possible so that you can return to them with your undivided attention.

6. Smile

What’s the one thing every one of us has at our disposal to disarm our audience and inspire their trust? A warm and engaging smile. I would even go as far to say it’s impossible to build rapport without smiling. Best of all, it’s completely visible in a head and shoulders camera view.

If you’d like to dive deeper into techniques for building rapport when pitching virtually, watch our free Video Conferencing Webinar replay.

The Colin James Method® Facilitators train corporate executives to improve their professional communication skills with a proven methodology. Our highly trained Facilitators and Coaches are recognised for their experience in their fields and have worked with many individuals and organisations around the world to master the art of communication.


Why is building rapport with clients important?

There’s an old adage, “people buy from people”. Essentially, it means that in sales it’s not so much about what you’re selling as who’s selling it and how you connect with your customer or client to make that sale and nurture that relationship. This is why building rapport is so important.

How do you build rapport quickly?

One of the quickest ways to build rapport is to remember and use people’s names. For bonus points, try to remember their children’s names, where they live or how they like to spend their time. Adopting active listening will help you to build your knowledge of them and inspire their trust.

What are rapport building questions?

Rapport building questions are questions that encourage a more meaningful exchange than basic small talk. They should be personalised and unique. For example:

  • You live in [location] – where’s the best coffee around there?
  • What brought you to [location]?
  • You went to [university] right? My godson/nephew/daughter is applying there. What did you think of it?
  • I noticed on [social media] you’re a supporter of [charity] – how did you get involved with that?

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