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:
- Spending most of the meeting with folks looking at your shared slide deck.
- Emailing meeting handouts to participants.
- 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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Melissa 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 email@example.com or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.