When COVID-19 hit, the world moved online, and Zoom meetings became a daily reality for many of us. I’m in Melbourne, where we’ve seen one of the longest, strictest lockdowns in the world, and where we’re still under stage four restrictions. Since March, I’ve attended countless Zoom meetings and events, and some have certainly outshone others. At times I’ve found myself wriggling in my chair, keenly waiting for a meeting to end. But I’ve also had insightful conversations and have passionately contributed for great lengths of time. So, what separates a good Zoom call from a bad one? And, in a time where so many aspects of life occur virtually, how do we avoid Zoom fatigue?
I’ve been quite impressed with the creativity with which people have transformed their day-to-day so that it can take place over Zoom or a similar video platform. Who would have anticipated that 2020 would become the year of virtual fitness classes, ‘paint and sip’ workshops, and family dinners? Towards the beginning of the pandemic, several prank videos were circulating online. Hamish Blake, for example, started showing up in random Zoom rooms, where he would attempt to contribute to the conversation. Students, to the surprise of their teachers, passed pens to one another through the frames of their videos. The other day, my partner played something of a Zoom prank on me and, mid-meeting, surprised me with a cup of tea in the bottom-shaped mug his sister gave him for Christmas. Lots of laughter ensued. But we don’t want to have to rely on pranks to lighten the atmosphere of a Zoom call. So, here are a few foolproof tricks that are bound to make your Zoom meetings more engaging.
Get everyone contributing
My first tip for improving your Zoom meetings is to make sure everyone is contributing. After all, nothing kills a conversation quicker than a screenful of muted faces.
Understandably, we can be hesitant to speak up over video. It’s an unusual format for a group conversation, and sometimes it’s difficult to tell if you’re going to interrupt someone. But when video conferences are the only platforms to meet over, we can’t let our discomfort get in the way.
Often getting everyone contributing is as simple as asking your quiet colleague, “What are your thoughts, Steph?” The more we encourage others to speak up, the more experience we give them, and the more comfortable they’re likely to become. Next time, you might not have to prompt them.
If you’re in a large meeting, and it isn’t desirable to have everyone chatting, encourage the use of chat or reaction features. Chat provides an avenue through which micro-conversations related to the meeting’s content can take place. Colleagues can show their support for each other and the ideas they are bringing to the table.
Mix things up
When things are predictable, we can easily fall into a zone where we’re not paying attention to what’s happening around us. So, don’t follow the same format for every meeting you run. Zoom and other video conferencing platforms offer a range of features that you can use to mix things up, including polls and breakout rooms.
We’ve been delivering workshops virtually for several years now. Last year, we trained 700 people from a global consulting company using a combination of Zoom webinars and meetings. We use a variety of Zoom features, including the chat, polls, and breakout rooms. The feedback we receive often includes a comment like, “From the outset the whole experience was brilliant… The use of tech tools like Zoom breakout rooms, polls, and videos was seamless and helped keep us engaged and actively contributing throughout each session.” (This particular comment came from Melissa Gamble, National Marketing & Communications Manager at Starlight Childrens Foundation.)
Get the tech right
Whether it’s a lagging video or a PowerPoint slide displaying incorrectly, technology issues are distracting. So, make sure you get the tech right from the outset. If you’re participating in a meeting and encounter a tech issue, don’t hesitate to speak up. You’ll be doing everyone a favour as you’re likely not the only one experiencing it. And if it is just you, your colleagues will understand why you might be distracted.
If you are facilitating a meeting, ask everyone to keep their videos turned on. It will help you engage with them and them with each other. We tend to hide behind muted microphones and hidden videos—we’re less likely to interact and more likely to sit there feeling a bit bored. Further, familiarise yourself with Zoom’s spacebar unmute feature, where you can quickly take yourself off mute by pressing the spacebar on your keyboard.
Avoid joining a meeting on your iPhone, and perhaps on your iPad. You won’t be able to access all the platform’s features, and you won’t be able to see everyone.
Don’t go overboard
Avoid big PowerPoint decks and sharing your screen too frequently—some videos will disappear, others will become tiny, and again the meeting will become less interactive. Make sure you and your colleagues are familiar with view options where you can see everyone’s faces.
Keep in mind that you don’t always need to run a meeting to get something done. If a video conference wraps up earlier than expected, let it. We are all attending more video calls than ever before.
Just for fun
If you’re looking to mix things up, put an interesting virtual background behind you. Shawn recently ran an online workshop with Teach for Australia, and the participants all chose backgrounds beforehand to match a given theme.
While everyone is at home, we’re prone to having our meetings interrupted by family members. It happens, so don’t hesitate to introduce your colleagues to your kids or pets!
So, there you have it—my tips for beating Zoom fatigue! I would love to hear what has made some Zoom meetings better than others for you. Pop your thoughts in the comments section below. We’ll all be better for it!
About Cynden Adams
Cynden graduated from the University of New South Wales in 2018 with a Master of Journalism and Communication and a Bachelor of Design (Honours). She now works as Anecdote's Marketing and Product Development Coordinator, telling our story through marketing and social media and working with our team to ensure our products are of the highest quality.