Listen to the audio version of this post here.
I staggered from the room bleary-eyed, frazzled, and wobbly.
Frank took one look at my face and said, “Listen, Princess, maybe we should go out for a bite tonight. You don’t really feel like cooking, do you?”
I must have looked like I’d been through the war. I felt that way too.
I was finally emerging from a Zoom meeting. After six long hours.
I was Zoomed out.
Maybe you’ve been there?
Listen, the Global Summit, as it was billed, was terrific. It was good to see everyone on the screen, there was plenty to learn, and just being together with like-minded people was uplifting, even if we were being together across many miles and time zones.
Six hours is a very long time to sit in my small office, facing the camera and the window behind it. The window with the fascinating view of the brick wall next door.
The overhead light was off to avoid shadows on my face, and the door behind me was closed—not an enticing backdrop, but it beats a view of the bathroom across the hall.
I do curate my space for virtual meetings. And there’s only so much you can do with a 10’ x 11’ bungalow bedroom.
For better or worse, this is where I Zoom, and it works reasonably well. For an hour. Or even two. An all-day summit turned out to be another matter. As much as I like my office, I couldn’t wait to get up and get out of this room!
The hosts did take some smart steps, trying to make up for long hours in front of a screen. They didn’t quite do the trick for me (see “bleary-eyed, frazzled, and wobbly” above) but they’re good ideas, backed up by experts on virtual meetings.
These are things to think about when you’re hosting a Zoom meeting of your own.
Start your Zoom event on time.
Yes, people will drift in to a virtual meeting—some will be there waiting for the host to admit them and some will show up well after the appointed time. Don’t make the punctual people wait for stragglers. Go ahead and get started, even if some miss the first few minutes.
Our conference keynoter was a stellar speaker, someone we all admire. Safe to say everyone attending that meeting was delighted to have an opportunity to hear her. Technology glitches kept her from using the slides she’d planned. That may have worked in her favor. Her talk was compelling without them.
Include multiple speakers.
It’s hard to keep listening to one voice for a long time, even when the speaker is masterful. Smart event planners mix it up. You might have one MC or host, someone else as a sort of color commentator, short presentations from other experts, and of course some input from the participants.
And “participants” is the right label.
Virtual event expert Judy Rees says, “Treat participants as participants, not as ‘audience.’” The very word “audience” connotes passively watching and listening, doesn’t it? The last thing we want in a virtual conference is passivity.
Provide varied ways to participate.
There’s the chat box, of course. You might encourage people to put their thoughts there. Some speakers avoid and even discourage box-chatting. They find it distracting. I don’t mind it when I’m speaking—I’m happy for people to have a way to express themselves. And sometimes that in-the-moment feedback helps me shape what I’m about to say.
Emoji are another option for expression. Virtual platforms have expanded the options there. Ditto for polls, where you can ask people to quickly weigh in on a question, and then show the results on your screen.
My own preference is to invite people to speak. And yes, that kind of participation can be challenging to manage. In the spirit of diverse voices, though, I think it’s worth taking on the challenge. It helps to ask participants to raise their hand or otherwise signal that they have something to add. Then you can avoid people talking over each other. And you’ll need to be ready with your facilitation skills to stay in control of the session.
In a large group, not everyone will have a chance to speak—and some people won’t want to. That’s where breakout sessions are a big help. The individual who holds back in a room of 50 people may be quite comfortable talking with five. Your smaller-group sessions provide some much-needed variety in format; they also pave the way for more participation.
Give us a break!
The experts agree that nobody should be sitting in front of a Zoom screen for hours on end. They don’t all share the same view about how long is too long. In my marathon conference, we broke every two hours. I would have welcomed a chance to move more often.
A Forbes article recommends, “for each 30-minute meeting segment, add a brief period to stand up and move around.”
I’d call a short halt to the action every hour. Maybe 90-minutes, max. That’s a long time to sit at a laptop staring at a screen, even when the meeting is fascinating. And if some or all of the content is less-than-sparkling, even an hour feels like an eternity.
Make it moving.
For longer meetings, it’s not enough to simply step away from the screen for a few minutes. Your participants really need a bit of physical activity.
Our conference planners wisely drew on expertise in the group. A yoga instructor took us through some seated stretches to begin our first break. And a chiropractor led into the second one.
A Forbes panelist said, “I guide a short movement meditation to get people connected to their bodies and their breath again.”
Personally, I’d draw the line at this Snacknation suggestion: “Have a virtual dance party.” You, on the other hand, might relish a chance to boogie with your virtual meeting participants.
End on time.
There I was, staring at the clock, grateful that 4:00 had finally arrived. It had been a rich, wonderful meeting. And … I was toast.
You can guess how I felt when the conference host cheerily announced, “We’ll just take a few extra minutes to …”
Yes, you’re brilliant. Yes, they could certainly use a little more of your wisdom. Yes, you’re basking in the glow of a successful meeting.
And, if you promised a 4:00 end, say good-bye at 4:00. That’ll pave the way for those participants to eagerly accept your next meeting invitation.
You’ve been to a great virtual meeting? Or maybe a dismal one? Can’t wait to hear your story.