Let’s face it, a year ago the word ‘Zoom’ – along with words like lockdown, coronavirus and face mask- wasn’t top of mind. Just 11 months on and ‘Zoom’ has become the generic term for Video Conferencing and most of us are already currently suffering from ‘Zoom fatigue’! This isn’t surprising given that as of October 2020, 49.2% of us are predominantly working from home. This compares with 5% for the period January to December 2019, and only 1% of the workforce in 2016, according to the UK’s ONS. And with that our use of video conferencing platforms has risen exponentially.
On an average day, market leader Zoom (with 40%+ share of the market), records a staggering 200 million meeting participants globally a day, compared to 10 million a day in December 2019, SkillScouter.com
But here’s the thing – it’s possible that some of us spent almost the same amount of time in f2f meetings before the COVID-19 pandemic. So why does a day of online meetings feel so much more exhausting?
What causes Zoom fatigue?
Let’s think about it…
When you attend face-to-face (f2f) meetings you usually have to walk between meeting rooms. This physically breaks up the day. And walking (or running if you’re late!) gets the blood pumping and resets the brain. This isn’t the case with online meetings. We’re static from one meeting to the next.
Plus, in a f2f meeting you can get up to get tea, coffee or a glass of water, to pass documents around the table; and if you’re presenting you’re quite likely to be standing and moving about, interacting with the slides and the other meeting attendees. Also we are all sharing the same room conditions; lighting, acoustics, outside noises, disturbances, and so we are creating and experiencing a shared environment, even if we are not paying that much attention to it.
In addition, in a f2f meeting your eyes are constantly on the move. Looking at the presenter as they move about, at different people around the table as they speak, possibly following people as they walk past outside the meeting room, maybe glancing at the traffic as it rumbles past outside or looking up as a siren blares past the office. We are also, very subtly, picking up on the body language of those around us. It helps us to understand their level of interest, how we evaluate them as people, e.g., whether they are arrogant or confident, and how they fit within the hierarchy of the meeting attendees.
Contrast this to an online meeting where you have to work much harder to process non-verbal clues. You feel as though everyone is looking at you and in turn you have to look at the camera constantly to show that you are paying attention. Your body language changes; it’s like we are ‘sat to attention’. We’re tensed up, glued to the screen and constantly focussed. So you can see that Zoom fatigue is almost bound to start happening! And, then there is no down time. We don’t get up. We don’t look away and we try desperately not to look at the thumbnail of our own image. We try not to fidget; our legs and arms are practically stationary the whole time. And just as bad, our eyes hardly move either. No wonder we find hours of online meetings exhausting. And to make matters worse, many of us are in back-to-back online meetings.
For more information on what causes Zoom fatigue, Stanford University has released their own study on the causes of Zoom fatigue.
‘Zoom fatigue’ solutions
To help you, here are our top 10 tips to help combat ‘Zoom fatigue’
1. Book shorter meetings
Make them 20 or 50-minute meetings instead of 30 or 60 minutes so that people can have a 10-min break between them – to stretch, walk, release the tension, get the blood pumping, re-prime the brain.
2. Don’t just present with slides
Break up every presentation with a mix of slides and f2f conversation, questions and discussion. Even polls and using the chat function can help.
3. Make slides denser
Although this sounds wrong the audience will actually appreciate having an excuse to use their eyes to roam about a busier slide – as long as the presenter carefully guides the audience so they don’t get lost in the detail of a slide. If a slide is too simple, and the presenter talks for too long, the audience will become visually ‘bored’ and guess what – they’ll turn to their phone or screen to check emails, FaceBook, Twitter etc – and then you’ve lost them.
4. Ask if a virtual meeting is really necessary
Frequent team meetings might have been important at the beginning of the pandemic but are they all still relevant? Or do you need them, but not so often? Could a simple mobile phone call suffice? In fact, when was the last time you just simply called a colleague rather than arranging a diarised online meeting? Sometimes the simple solutions are the best.
5. Make sure you have a clear agenda and meeting objectives
Sounds obvious, but too many virtual meetings end up being a round-robin status meeting when the information shared could easily be done so via an online collaboration tool. With this comes the need for a clear meeting attendee hierarchy. We feel anxious if we are not clear on what is expected of us so make sure everyone knows their role.
6. Test the Tech
Again, seems obvious, but technology glitches are a major ‘Zoom fatigue’ contributor. And don’t try to multi-task while you’re in a virtual meeting. Make sure notifications are turned-off and your screen is clear of other applications and stimuli.
7. Think about the background
Imagine you’re on a call with 10 colleagues, all sitting in front of various bookcases, shelves full of DVDs, pot plants, perhaps a view of the garden or an unmade bed. The brain is subconsciously trying to process all of this information – and it’s mentally exhausting. A neutral or business-like background is ideal but if it’s not possible (and let’s face it, most of us are at home surrounded by ‘stuff’) then at the very minimum make sure the background isn’t too distracting, e.g. check the walls for inappropriate artwork and where possible, remove personal items and clutter.
8. Set designated ‘meeting free’ periods
It could be a whole day or a block of time each afternoon, but setting aside a time when you know you are free of virtual meetings will allow the brain to rest. Oh, and you’ll also get some time to get some work done!
9. Hide your ‘self view’
Make sure the lighting and background are OK and then disable the self-view thumbnail. Not being able to see yourself will make you feel less self-conscious and allow you to concentrate on the meeting and other attendees.
10. Don’t always default to video
Just because the video function is there it doesn’t mean you have to use it every time, especially if the meeting is unscheduled or something unexpected has cropped up at home. Be honest and give yourself some slack. Everyone is in the same boat and you’ll be respected for being candid if you need to be.
And, improving your online presentation skills will help to reduce ‘Zoom fatigue’
It is difficult to present to a remote audience online with a similar level of energy and connection that you get from being in the same room. But there are a number of simple strategies and techniques you can employ that will significantly improve your ability to convert your attendees from being passive listeners into an active audience. Presenting online with impact requires a whole different set of skills to keep your audience engaged and get your message across.
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Written By Belinda Huckle
Co-Founder & Managing DirectorRead Bio
Belinda is the founder and managing director of secondnature. With a determination to drive a paradigm shift in the delivery of presentation skills training, she is a strong advocate of a more personal and sustainable presentation skills training methodology.
She believes in a training approach that harnesses people’s unique personality to build their own authentic presentation style and personal brand.
Belinda is currently helping to transform the presentation skills of people in organisations such as BBC Worldwide, DHL, ESRI, Heineken, MARS Inc., Moody’s, Pfizer, Roche, Triumph and Walmart – to name just a few.