The recent headline for an NPR article caught my attention: “Time to Ditch Those Awful Zoom Calls, CEOs Say.” The article went on to reference several high-level CEOs who described Zoom calls as “draining” and “awful.” While virtual calls can “lead to a sterile work culture lacking in imagination,” the virtual meeting and work world is not going away any time soon.
The good news is here are five key learnings to help you transform your virtual meetings and presentations from draining and awful into effective and productive.
- Recognize that, left alone, Zoom fatigue is real!
Plan ahead to make your virtual meetings engaging because staring at the camera for hours on end is intense and tiring. If you are facilitating a meeting or training, first ask yourself, “Do I need to do this virtually?” Often, telephone and audio conference calls are still appropriate and effective meeting options. Also, during a virtual meeting, allow yourself to look away from the camera from time to time. In the live and on-site meeting/training world, you don’t make eye contact 100% of the time. Give yourself a quick camera break in between topics. Just be sure you understand that when you do break away, your audience perceives you are not speaking directly to them. Last, if your agenda is longer than 60 minutes, breaks are needed to reduce fatigue potential. Both you and your audience will appreciate it.
- Keep your meeting bar high!
As we have pivoted from live, onsite meetings to virtual settings, we have tended to lower our expectations for standard business decorum. Stay alert to keep your focus and energy high in every meeting. Standing up to present or participate in your meetings can increase your energy level. Working from home has also created such a casual mindset that perhaps we have lost a bit of edge that “dressing for success” brings. Working from home brings a whole new meaning to “work-life balance” but, when it comes to successful work outcomes, do your best to keep the virtual bar high. Dress professionally for the onsite office even if you are just sitting at your home computer. Office away from potential interruptions. A room where you can close the door will be a buffer if the baby starts to cry, the doorbell rings or your pet unexpectedly jumps into view. And please do not ever take a meeting or present in your bedroom. No one wants to look at your unmade bed!
- Prepare, prepare, prepare.
Preparation for Zoom meetings may be even more important because we are not onsite together. Winging it in the virtual space seldom produces the desired outcomes. Preparation includes thinking about things you do not have to prepare for when onsite. For starters, preparing your technology is critical. Quality cameras, lighting, speakers, and mics do matter and should be tested before the meeting. If you are using a virtual background, know what your audience is seeing. In a recent client meeting, I tried out a new virtual background and learned after the meeting that our company logo appeared backwards to my client. This was a preventable OOPS! I forgot to turn off “mirror image” when applying the background and failed to get feedback from a colleague before the meeting began. Yes, little things matter to overall professionalism. Thinking through your agenda and knowing your meeting content is also part of preparation. Lastly, don’t forget that practice makes a difference. The more you practice and prepare, the higher the audience engagement. Practice really does make perfect.
- Audience engagement from beginning to end must be top of mind.
Not to be equated with participation, engagement is what keeps your audience listening, interested, and tuned in. If you are not thinking about audience engagement from the get-go as you plan and prepare for your virtual events, it is likely your meetings and presentations will continue to be labeled as draining and awful. Energy drives engagement. Let your audience see your passion. Plan for and start with a strong and engaging meeting opener to set the tone for a compelling and dynamic meeting. Think about how to get your audience involved and participating based on your meeting purpose and audience size – take a poll, be ready with questions to stimulate thought and discussion, or plan for Q&A. Use your delivery skills to connect with and engage your audience from beginning to end.
- Delivery always matters.
Strong delivery skills bring the polish and professionalism that creates confidence and demonstrates competence. Sit up straight or stand up as you deliver and bring on the energy. Eye contact engages and, in the virtual world, this means you need to look directly at the camera lens instead of at the people on the screen. Yes, it feels awkward and it does take practice. As you look at the camera, remember that there are real people on the other side of the little red dot. Think about those real people and engage them. Converse with them, not at them. Also, remember that your voice is still a very powerful tool for engagement. Bring vocal variety and vary your pace and inflection. Slow down to reinforce key messages and speed up at other points to bring passion and drama to your delivery. These behaviors create interest with your audience as you present.
Virtual meetings should not be dreaded. With a little bit of thought, planning and intentionality, we can make the most of our virtual spaces and create engaged and productive meeting experiences.