Virtual Meeting Mistakes That Cause “Zoom Fatigue”

As a productivity coach who has almost exclusively been Zooming since 2015, I feel defensive when I read or hear someone expressing a generalized “Zoom Fatigue.” I’m good with the fatigue part of the phrase – I feel that. Attributing our fatigue to Zoom – I disagree for two reasons.

 

First, we have always had meeting fatigue. Almost every client since I started my productivity consulting business in 2007 has lamented the (lack of) structure and (excess) frequency of their in-person meetings. I have blogged and vlogged about meeting management often. I even have a seminar devoted to the topic.

 

Second, I think we are just…fatigued. The stress, uncertainty, and conflict of 2020 and 2021 has worn us out. Many people are languishing right now.

 

In short, don’t blame Zoom.

 

Zoom is our friend. Zoom has been there for us (for free!) and kept many businesses going during the pandemic. Can you imagine what we would have done without Zoom?

 

Here’s what I think is happening…we are conducting our virtual meetings the same way we did our in-person ones. We act as if we have simply switched conference rooms.

 

Virtual meetings are a different animal. They need different doggie treats.

 

Here are a few in-person meeting practices that need to be reconsidered for the virtual meeting environment:

  1. Spending most of the meeting with folks looking at your shared slide deck.
  2. Emailing meeting handouts to participants.
  3. Expecting that the participants will converse naturally.

 

The result of keeping our same in-person meeting behaviors in a virtual setting can result in disengagement of the participants. Silently watching a screen puts many people in “Netflix and Chill” mode.

 

When we were meeting in person, the soporific drone of a presenter’s voice was mitigated by the social cues of everyone else staring at us in the conference room. The physical presence of other people instilled accountability to stay awake and appear engaged.

 

The only physical presence in my home office during virtual meetings is my sleeping, sometimes snoring, dog. That’s not the example I should follow.

 

Because the world will be more virtual going forward, we must change how we “do” virtual meetings.

 

Best Practices for Virtual Meetings

 

One of my pandemic challenges was that my robust public speaking business went virtual. At first, I thought this was no big deal. I’d simply present my lovely slides to participants on Zoom. I thought it was (mostly) a change in venue.

 

Wrong! I had to change almost everything about how I taught my courses and led my meetings. The old ways did not work.

 

NOTE: I cannot claim credit for originating the following best practices. I learned a lot from brilliant people like Dr. Elaine Seat, my high school-aged son, and my wonderful clients.

 

If you and others are feeling “Zoom Fatigue,” perhaps it is time to do the following:

 

Rethink slides…completely.

 

Often, PowerPoint slides are there for the presenter, not the participants. Slides remind the presenter what to say next. Those reminders are unnecessary in a virtual setting. You can have your presentation notes printed out in front of you or on an ancillary screen.

 

Two weeks ago, I delivered my seminar, Rituals that Work, to a professional association. Through no fault of the meeting leader, I was unable to share my screen. No slides? No problem. I had a fantastic conversation-style training session with the participants. The feedback was great.

 

Before you open PowerPoint and start planning your meeting or talk, question whether the deck is even necessary. If it benefits the participants to have a visual, make it visual, not paragraph-y. We’ve been warned about “Death by PowerPoint” for years. Maybe our new virtual meeting world will finally make us pay attention.

 

Rethink participation…completely.

 

Asking general questions to a group of virtual attendees and waiting for responses often leads to folks talking over each other, apologizing, then remaining silent.

 

If appropriate, instruct people to unmute themselves (and wait) when they want to contribute. As the meeting leader, watch for those little red icons to go away and call on the unmuted person.

 

In Zoom, ask participants to use the “Raise Hand” icon. However, if you are overly focused on your screen-shared PowerPoint deck, you may miss the raised hand. See recommendation above.

 

Assign someone, not the meeting leader, to be the “Voice of the Chat Box.” Their job is to make sure the questions and (relevant) comments get noticed and added to the discussion.

 

When possible, direct questions to individual participants. And, of course, make good use of breakout rooms for discussion.

 

Rethink technology…completely.

 

Interactive screen shares are much better than static slides. Two years ago, I purchased a laptop with a touch screen. Initially, the touch screen annoyed me because moving my laptop often resulted in closing a window.

 

Now, I use the touch screen for my (limited and participant-focused) PowerPoint slides. And…I CAN DRAW ON THE SCREEN! So, so cool. In presentation mode, I select the drawing tool and underline words that I want to emphasize. Some of my slides now are completely blank so I can draw pictures. I am no artist, but drawing is a great way to engage meeting participants.

 

Additionally, I am likely nowadays to share a Mindmeister mind map or a Trello board during a virtual meeting. The mind map or project plan takes shape before the participants’ eyes.

 

Rethink handouts…completely.

 

Handouts that contain all the information you are showing in your slides may result in a lack of accountability for the participants to remain engaged in your meeting. After all, they have the handouts, right?

 

My son taught me that the best virtual school handouts from his teachers are fill-in-the blanks. Fillable PDFs are not difficult to prepare and “force” (is that a good word?) the participants to listen for the relevant content to complete the handout themselves.

 

My son confessed to me that he may (or may not) be watching YouTube videos during classes where the handouts are comprehensive.

 

Next steps…

 

I am excited about the future of work and meetings. A silver lining on the pandemic is the normalization of work from home and virtual meetings. Business culture-wise, we accomplished in a year what would have likely taken a generation.

 

Now, it is time to change how we meet in the virtual setting. We will frustrate ourselves and others if we use the same tactics from our in-person days. This is more than just a venue shift. It is a transformation. Let’s do this.

 

Please check out my new training offerings. I’d love to show your organization what this stuff looks like in action!

 






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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at getproductive@melissagratias.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.

 

13 Comments

  1. Julie Bestry

    I loved the humor and practical advice in this post. Also, if people start getting into “Netflix and Chill” mode, someone’s going to have to report those shenanigans to HR! Also, while I don’t know much about it and have only seen it demo’ed, the mmhmm app seems to work with Zoom (?) to let you use slides but interact with them more like you’re an anchor on TV and they’re presented over-the-shoulder for those who need visuals.

    Not “force,” silly. Encourage!

    Fabulous post, and managers and speakers everywhere should be taking note of what you have to say!

    Reply
    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Oooh, I’ll have to check out mmhmm, if for no other reason than the name. Thanks!

      Reply
  2. Francis

    Great points! On the platform we use, we can drop jpgs in the chat so we encourage our speakers to convert their PPT into jpgs. We accidentally observed that sharing PPT screens shut them up as they’d lapse into Netflix/Chill mode, but this never happens with the jpgs. (They control the size of each jpg themselves.)

    We also use a fillable presentation screen in Benji (in Beta) which scores the input. Someone needs to write a book on this!

    Reply
    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      I love your practice of delivering the slide pages in the Chat. Virtual meeting technology is growing every day!

      Reply
  3. Hazel Thornton

    I so agree with you that being Zoom-ed out is not Zoom’s fault! In addition to business meetings and presentations — great tips, BTW! — many of us use it for a vast array of personal reasons — happy hour, book club, virtual coffee dates, etc. One of the (many) fatiguing aspects of Zoom is feeling like we have to be looking right at each other the whole time. (Which is a whole ‘nother issue — it’s awkward to look at the camera, but takes skill to position the person’s square such that you can look at that, and appear to them that you’re looking at them.) In any other setting we would not be looking at each other the whole time anyway. In a restaurant we would occasionally look across the room, or at someone walking by, or at our food or menu; in a small group setting we would look at different attendees in turn, or at our notes. And sometimes it’s a time management thing — why are you agreeing to so many Zoom calls if it’s wearing you out so much? Some people need to be doing something with their hands — like doodling or knitting — and get accused of not paying attention, which that’s HOW they ARE able to focus on the conversation. I think everyone still considers it rude to be multitasking during a Zoom call (web browsing, emailing, messaging), but if you see me not looking directly at the camera, chances are I’m using my Happy Color app to keep myself focused on the conversation and give my eyes a break.

    Reply
  4. Seana Turner

    This is great stuff, Melissa. I actually clicked through a couple of things to try them out. It never occurred to me to draw on my slides as I was presenting, but I can see how watching the presenter draw the graph before my eyes would keep me engaged. I’m going to try this the next time I do a virtual presentation. These are great ideas.

    The Zoom fatigue for me has a lot to do with just being still in one place, and also my eyes get “itchy.” I would prefer to spend less time looking at a screen. This is one of the reasons why I still use my paper planner!

    Reply
  5. Melanie Summers

    I love the reality check. It’s important for us to understand the idea that in-person and virtual are two totally different animals and always have been. Remembering to structure meetings accordingly is key. Thanks for laying it all out!

    Reply
  6. Joyce Teal

    Melissa,
    As always, a great article and very timely! A couple of comments about virtual meetings.
    You used the word “force” to describe how your son enjoyed fill-in-the-blank pdfs in his virtual classes. This gives attendees the opportunity to physically participate in the meeting. Often these pdfs can be saved so the attendee will have important information to review later. Often people who would normally take notes don’t take notes in a virtual meeting. These pdfs are often more informative than having a deck of power point slides getting lost in the cloud never to be seen again.

    When you are attending an in-person meeting, you look at the speaker, not at the other attendees. Setting your screen to gallery view is very distracting because there are so many faces to watch and the speaker gets lost in the crowd. Ask attendees to use speaker view instead. This allows attendees to focus on the speaker. If you need to share a slide, the presenter can present the slide and remain a small icon in the corner of the screen. This allows the presenter to share visual information without breaking the eye contact with the attendees.

    I attend a weekly Toastmasters meeting with 6 to 10 attendees each week. Since some of the meeting is more conversational it is distracting to see the screen switch between speakers so I set it for gallery view. With only 10 attendees, it fits nicely on my laptop so I can see everyone. I will switch to speaker view when someone is giving a speech (usually 5 – 7 minutes) then return to gallery view. I have also found that casting my screen to my television is very helpful. Everyone’s icon is “larger” and the speaker takes on a new presence when they are on the television in speaker view.

    Great article and hope my 2 cents adds to the conversation.

    Reply
    • Melissa Gratias, Ph.D.

      Excellent suggestions, Joyce! Thank you for contributing.

      Reply
  7. Brad Wolff

    Great points Melissa! The same issues happened in the non-virtual world. Now presenters have the added layer of having less awareness of the other things people have going on during the meetings. Thanks for your sage advice.

    Reply
  8. Linda Samuels

    Thank you for this inspired post! I love how you said, “Don’t blame Zoom!” I understand some of the fatigue, but I love all the ways the new Zoom reality has helped you rethink how you run a meeting and give a presentation. As someone who came from the computer graphics/slide industry, those PowerPoint-type presentations are well engrained in my DNA. But I totally understand what you are saying, and you’ve given me much to think about.

    I’d love to see one of your presentations. They sound amazing…just like you!

    Reply
  9. Linda Samuels

    Thank you for this inspired post! I love how you said, “Don’t blame Zoom!” I understand some of the fatigue, but I love all the ways the new Zoom reality has helped you rethink how you run a meeting and give a presentation. As someone who came from the computer graphics/slide industry, those PowerPoint-type presentations are well engrained in my DNA. But I totally understand what you are saying, and you’ve given me much to think about.

    I’d love to see one of your presentations. They sound amazing…just like you!

    Reply
  10. Margarita Ibbott

    That was very helpful. I am hoping to do some work using Zoom and although I have participated in many Zoom calls, hosting and leading a seminar is another story.

    I love public speaking but know it will be challenging. I especially love the comment on slides. I may have to reconsider them altogether.

    Reply

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