Zoom fatigue is real. But it doesn’t have to be. Here’s how to make your online meetings stand out, have great energy and keep your team connected, even when you’re apart.
Just picture – what would it mean for attendance, let alone meeting outcomes if people found your meetings fun and engaging. If people logged off feeling positive and uplifted from the experience.
For simplicity, I’ll explain options and functions on zoom (which is the most popular platform for online meetings, with 73% market share). The features I describe can be replicated across the other major platforms, such as MS Teams, Google Meet and Whereby, which all have similar or identical features.
1. Set the Atmosphere From the Start
I’ve attended so many meetings that started out completely flat. Everyone just stared at one another in uncomfortable silence, interrupted only by the occasional bored comment about who’s running late.
Decide how you want people to feel when they join and throughout your meeting. What sort of atmosphere do you want to create?
Ensure that you or a designated person is logged on prior to the start time, ready to greet people warmly as they arrive (as you naturally would when people walk into a room.) If guests don’t know one another, facilitate introductions.
Encourage people to click ‘start video’ as it creates a friendlier feeling if most people’s cameras are on. This will encourage others to do the same when they join. Bear in mind that as people join, they won’t have heard anything, nor will they see the chat from before they joined, so it’s worth repeating your greeting in a really upbeat way several times as more people join the meeting.
If you have a large number of people present and can’t greet individuals verbally, play uplifting music, greet everyone as a group and invite people to introduce themselves in the chat. It’s worth starting with a question people can respond to quickly and easily to get started. “Where are you tuning in from?” is a good one, as they can type a single word response. Anything that’s a yes/no or scale of 1-10 question also works well.
Often the first 2-5 minutes of a meeting are spent allowing people to log in. Consider how you’ll use this time effectively.
You could start with
- Brain teasers or quiz questions on slides that people can guess at in the chat
- A mindfulness activity or inviting people to take a few deep breaths and get centred
- Ask a question people can answer visually (e.g. “How many coffees have you had today?” inviting people to hold up the number of fingers.)
- Ask ‘this or that’ questions (“Are you a dog person / cat person?”, “Do you love the beach / the mountains?”) People can do a thumbs up to their webcam or a virtual thumbs up with the reaction button if their video is off.
- A question of the day on the screen
Here are some ‘Question of the Day’ ideas:
- What’s been the highlight of your week?
- Where the most beautiful place you’ve visited?
- What goals have you kicked this week?
- What’s a tradition in your family that you love/hate?
- What’s something you’d like to get better at?
- What did you love doing when you were growing up?
- What’s your favourite way to recharge your batteries?
- What’s something you’re grateful for?
- What’s something people may not know about you?
- What helps you have a great day at work?
People can answer the question of the day in the chat, or you can use the first few minutes of your meeting to create breakout rooms to discuss it. This allows more people the chance to connect and share in smaller groups. The earlier in a meeting you give people the chance to speak, the more connected they’ll feel as you transform them from spectators to active participants.
If people join the meeting late, you can explain what’s happening and either add more rooms or join people into existing rooms.
2. Give Great Tech Support
Ensure people have the ideal set up to make the most of the meeting. I like to share a slide that explains how to set up side by side mode (by clicking ‘view options’, then ‘side by side mode’ so the video tiles don’t cover the slides, and describe how to make the video image bigger, by sliding the vertical slider bar to the left.) For training sessions where slides will be used a lot this is really important as it’s extremely tiring trying to watch someone present from a tiny box on the screen.
Talk people through how to:
- switch between speaker view and gallery view,
- use reactions, (thumbs up, heart, applause etc)
- raise hand and lower hand (a great non-verbal way to indicate you have a question or would like to speak next),
- use the chat and private chat functions,
- mute/unmute and share/stop video
You can also invite people to rename themselves with their full names (by hovering over their image and clicking on ‘rename’ in the menu) and you can let people know they can hide self view if they don’t want to see their own video feed on screen (which can make people feel they have to perform).
It’s worth doing a quick reminder about the basics, such as making sure you haven’t got bright windows behind you or your webcam at an angle that cuts half your head off. Ideally your webcam should be just above eye level. A few thick books under your laptop can do the trick. Being able to see one another clearly helps build connection. If people are speaking a lot, encourage headsets or earbuds to improve the audio.
3. Build Connection, Engagement & Enjoyment
Time for some fun!
Would you love everyone in your meeting to be alert, focused and uplifted? There are lots of simple ways to add enjoyment into your meetings which will not only improve turnout, but create better outcomes overall.
Try some of these ideas:
- Invite everyone to share their videos and check they’re on gallery view so they can see everyone on their screen.
- Ask people to hold up the thing you call out. They get 1 point for each item they can show you.
- Call out between 4-8 items such as the ideas below, saying, “Show me something…
- Blue / red / yellow / purple / colourful / white etc
- Sharp / fluffy / shiny / smooth / curved / soft
- Painted / metallic / plastic / wooden / glass / ceramic
- Square / round / triangular / cylindrical
- That smells good
- Alive (bonus points for fur babies!)
- In duplicate (e.g. 2 identical things)
- Old / new
- That is meaningful to you
I always finish with something that is special or meaningful to you (mentioning it might be something you’re wearing / something on your phone) and invite people to keep holding it up. It’s interesting to see what people choose. You can ask a couple of people what they are. This really breaks the ice and builds connection.
Set up a poll in advance – either related to the topic of your meeting to give you some key information, or just purely for fun. I’ve used a poll to invite people to pick the song for the next dance party during a full day online session (when you need all the fun you can muster!)
Verbal High Fives – For staff meetings where people know one another have a ‘high five moment’ when anyone can share a high five for another team member on the call, explaining something they’ve done well or that you appreciate about them.
Physical High Fives – To create movement and connection, ask everyone to be in gallery view mode (so they can see everyone on the screen.) Invite them to hold their hands up beside their face, facing out to the sides, then do high fives as a group. Trust me – give it a go. This creates instant smiles, especially in larger groups.
For meetings larger than 6 people, breakouts are an important way to give everyone a chance to be heard. To do breakouts well, clearly state what the purpose of the breakout is and what timeframe it will be for. Let them know there will be a 60 second timer at the end and they’ll automatically come back after that.
If you’re asking people to discuss a topic, state the topic more than once and repeat it just before they click through to the breakout room. You can also share your screen into the breakout on zoom, (by clicking the ‘share to breakout’ box at the bottom when you share screen) and display your question or topic on a slide for the first 10-15 seconds so people know exactly what to do.
If you want someone from each group to feed back what was discussed, be sure to ask them to pick a person before they start. You can ask the people who are sharing to click ‘raise hand’ so you can smoothly invite each one to speak (they’ll be stacked at the top of your screen in the order they click raise hand).
Quizzes / Competitions
Once people are familiar with the raise hand feature (under reactions), you can use this for quizzes. Invite people to click raise hand to answer your questions. You’ll see straight away who was first to respond. This is a great way to recap a learning session. It can also add fun into the last 5 mins of a team meeting.
You can have an on the spot quiz related to the meeting itself. Delegate the quiz creation task to a different team member each meeting. They can make up a list of questions during the meeting. (e.g. What date will the staff social be? What did Paula say about xyz? What growth did we see this month?)
4. Create Flow
One of the frustrations with online meetings is it’s more difficult to add a comment as you might when you’re in the room. People can become frustrated sitting on mute wishing they could contribute.
Set clear ground rules about how the conversation will flow. Invite people to use the raise hand icon as a great non-verbal way to indicate they want to speak, without cutting others off.
You can also encourage good use of the chat function – which can allow people to add a quick comment, thought or question in real time to what someone has said. Too many side comments in the chat however can be a distraction – so watch for this and manage it through the expectations you set.
You can use reactions to quickly get feedback from a group on their general agreement, “Give me a thumbs up if that works for you.” Or even use the reactions to ‘vote’ between two options. “Give me a thumbs up for Thursdays or a heart for Fridays.”
If you want to hear from everyone in the meeting, invite one person by name and indicate the person after that. “Let’s hear from Michelle, and then Dave”. “Thanks Michelle. How about you Dave? (and then we’ll come to Nathan.)” This let’s people know to get ready to unmute and share and keeps the momentum going rather than extended awkward pauses.
5. Incorporate Movement
One reason people find online meetings zap their energy is that they’re often restricted to sitting locked into the same position. For meetings longer than 15 minutes, add in movement breaks as energisers.
- Invite everyone to stand and stretch up tall
- Have a dance break
- Do some shadow boxing
- Play a game – like Simon says, or paper scissor rock full body (you vs everyone else, or you can do it in breakouts)
- Try out some brain gym (cross patterning to switch the brain on)
- Do some high knee lifts and a stretch
Moving stimulates the creative centre in the brain and will make your team more innovative and better at problem solving.
End your meeting on a positive note with a group high-five (as mentioned above.) The combination of movement and smiling floods people’s brains with positive hormones which means they’ll feel great when they log off, storing your meeting away in their subconscious as a pleasant experience.
It’s likely that you might feel a little daunted by some of the suggestions above. They may stretch you out of your comfort zone. I know that they work both with teams that know each other and with diverse groups who’ve never met as I’ve used them all many times over the past five years.
If you don’t feel confident to try all of the ideas, just start small. Try one and see what a difference it can make. Get an ally who’ll be at your meetings to help you champion the idea and perhaps lead an activity or a brain break. Be bold and clear about why you’re inviting people to take a movement break / share their screen / play the game / do the poll, explaining that you want to create a positive energised atmosphere. You’ll be amazed at how quickly people will engage.
Keep testing and adjusting and inviting others to add their ideas. Experiment and find what works for you. All the best with banishing zoom fatigue and creating meetings people don’t want to miss!
If I can help with anything for yourself or your team, feel free to reach out via www.LaurenParsonsWellbeing.com
Comment below if you’ve got any suggestions or questions.
Lauren Parsons is an award-winning Wellbeing Specialist who helps leaders boost both staff wellbeing and productivity. With over 20 years’ experience in the health and wellbeing profession, she is a sought-after speaker, coach and consultant.
TEDx speaker, author of real food less fuss, founder of the Snack on Exercise movement and host of the Thrive TV Show and certified Emotional Culture Deck practitioner.
Based in the Manawatu, she travels regularly and specialises in helping organisations create a high-energy, peak-performance team culture, where people thrive. Get your complimentary copy of Lauren’s ebook “5 Keys to a Positive, Energised, High-Performance Culture” here.
Thanks for reading this article, I appreciate your time.
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