Listen to the audio version of this post here.


You see a lot these days about “Zoom fatigue.”

Staring at that screen all day, meeting after meeting. It wears us out. I wrote about the reasons our eyes glaze over in those sessions, back when virtual meetings still felt a little bit fresh and new.

We all know by now that for the sake of those who meet with us, we should center ourselves on the screen. Raise the camera so it’s not pointing up our nose. And avoid eating while Zooming (yuk).

We have, most of us, gotten better at the visual component of video gatherings.

There’s another aspect to this that gets less attention. Virtual meetings and presentations send us off into dreamland not only because of what we’re seeing. It’s also what we’re hearing.

If you’re sharing your screen and reading bullet points to your audience, it’s time to think in a new way. They’re grown-ups. They can read for themselves.

How can you talk about your subject in a way that’s more engaging? How can you elaborate on what they see on the screen instead of duplicating it? How can you draw them in and make them want to know more?

Your voice is a critical element of your presentation on Zoom or Teams or Webex.

Too many professionals are missing the vocal boat when it comes to keeping their colleagues engaged and motivated.

A Fast Company article offers eight ways to save your audience from Zoom fatigue. One of them is, “Rev up your voice.”

“The voice is a powerful instrument for conveying feelings, and what your virtual audience needs is more of your emotion. So, use your voice to keep them involved.”

For openers, vary the volume as you speak. A little louder here, a little softer there … those changes will help people stay with you and take in what you’re saying.

Put some expression in your voice. Sometimes even experienced presenters, when they go virtual, lapse into a monotone, as if they’re talking to themselves.

Listening to that monotone will lull your colleagues and customers into a stupor. And the truth is, even your natural speaking voice may not have enough variety to keep a virtual audience engaged.

So, crank it up a notch.

Back in my radio days, my WLS news pal Jim Johnson used to say, “Add 10% for the air.” That’s a pretty good rule of thumb for online meetings and presentations too.

Sometimes you appear on their screen in a small square in the corner. Often, your virtual audience isn’t seeing you at all. Your voice and language are all you have to convey your energy and enthusiasm, your concern for them, and your knowledge of your subject.

Instead of talking the way you might in an ordinary phone conversation, increase the passion and conviction in your voice. Be a little more expressive than you normally would. Laugh a bit more intensely, put more energy into the way you’re speaking.

Modulate your voice to emphasize what’s important and indicate what’s less critical. The extra oomph on certain words and phrases will help your audience stay with you. It wears them out when they’re listening to a steady stream of sameness.

Maybe you’re concerned about sounding fake or over-the-top?

I hear that sometimes from clients when I suggest they add 10% for their work on a virtual platform.

Think of it this way. If you saw an actor walking down the street or sitting in a restaurant, wearing stage make-up, he’d look ridiculous. Those big, dark eyebrows, bright red lips, maybe painted-on wrinkles.

When you’re sitting in the theater in Row 43, however, that exaggerated make-up is the only reason you can read the actors’ faces. Without it, they’d look great to the folks in the first few rows, but they’d be a blur to the rest of the audience.

Same way, when your big ideas are reaching people through your computer, their computer, and the ether in between, add a little intensity. That will help you have the impact you need to have to achieve your goals.

One more thing, after a pause.

Yes, the pause is the point.

It can be hard, when you’re talking to those Hollywood-Squares-faces on your screen. Or to your own slides, staring back at you.

You might have a tendency to race through what you have to say, wanting more than anything to get it over with. Or you might think their attention is so tenuous, you’ll lose it altogether if you stop talking long enough to take a breath.

Not so.

Of course, I’m assuming you have something to say that’s worth saying. That your message is valuable. And your language is powerful.

When those things are true, you can relax about giving your listeners a moment to let it sink in. To ponder what you’re saying. To take a breath. (They need that too.)

Forget about that phrase, “the awkward pause.” Doesn’t have to be awkward at all. In fact, those pauses in your virtual presentation will pay off for both you and your audience.

You’ll find that little bit of breathing room gives your words more weight. It helps your listeners understand you more clearly. And as a bonus, it demonstrates considerable confidence, which is especially helpful when you’d like to feel more confident.

Listen, these virtual meetings and events are going to be with us for a while. Maybe forever—we’ve discovered some advantages to remote meetings, haven’t we?

It’s worth developing the comfort and confidence to use your voice well when you’re on a virtual platform.

Maybe you’ve heard somebody knock it out of the park in a virtual presentation. Or maybe you have a question about how to make it work for you.

Tell us about it in a comment below.