Try Phone, Slack and Single Focus; Overcoming Your Zoom and Gloom

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“I wanted to be the band on the Titanic,” comedian Paula Poundstone said in an article in The Washington Post this weekend about Zoom fatigue. She was posting almost daily bits and “Quarantine Corner” updates through April on Instagram but stopped by late May. “But the Titanic sank faster. It just occurred to me now that that’s what was wrong with my plan.”
 
Lesley Harris of Copyrightlaws.com was kind enough to email me last week suggesting this trending topic. Funny, because she was using Zoom before most of the rest of us—holding her SIPAward-winning 20-minute Zoom on Ins over lunchtime in 2019 and early 2020. As many as 450 people were registering for her sessions. Copyrightlaws.com holds many courses and certificate programs, so Zoom is a staple, but Harris is trying to mix it up.
 
“One thing I did in my last class this spring was a Slack Live Chat…similar to a Twitter chat but private,” Harris wrote to me. “My students really liked it and what’s great is that there’s a record of it and people can continue to discuss the issues… It worked for that group of students. We’ll experiment with it further this fall.”
 
In an article How to Combat Zoom Fatigue at the end of April—wow, that was already a thing then!—Harvard Business Review had these three suggestions:
 
Try not to multitask. This is much easier said than done—I’d say nine out of 10 people have told me they are working harder since the pandemic started—but it will help. “Researchers at Stanford found that people who multitask can’t remember things as well as their more singularly focused peers.” It’s funny, if we look away on Zoom it looks like we’re not paying attention. But sometimes it’s easier to concentrate that way. Whereas when we look straight at the camera we can do other work. So it’s inherently evil in that respect.
 
Reduce onscreen stimuli. “Research shows that when you’re on video, you tend to spend the most time gazing at your own face.” I knew I should have shaved this morning. They say we even process the backgrounds people have—it’s true. How many Zoom calls have started with someone commenting on a background or two? I love radio and find that I listen best in the car because of the limited distractions. Some recommend not using video at all occasionally on Zoom, though that can be construed as being technology deficient..
 
Avoid the default to Zoom. The article suggests switching to Slack—as Harris did—or even a phone call. Remember those? The HBR author makes a good point: “In situations where you’re communicating with people outside of your organization (clients, vendors, networking, etc.)—conversations for which you used to rely on phone calls—you may feel obligated to send out a Zoom link instead. But a video call is fairly intimate and can even feel invasive in some situations.” It really depends on the situation. When I interviewed the keynotes for SIPA 2020, seeing them helped me build rapport. But other times, it does feel awkward.
 
A couple other ideas:
 
Gamify or poll. I’ve heard positive feedback about doing a quiz or trivia game, or taking a poll to break up a webinar or keynote talk. In a story on Health.comClaire Gillespie writes that “she still has weekly video chats with [her] family, but we’ve turned them into quizzes—and it’s made the experience more enjoyable and less tiring. We take turns to talk, there are no awkward silences, and when the quiz is over, we say our goodbyes.”
 
Adjust how your Zoom call looks. Instead of trying to focus on everyone in a Zoom meeting at once, shift from gallery view to speaker view so you only have to focus on one person, Fast Company's Elizabeth Grace Saunders suggests. Cover up the portion of the screen showing your face with a Post-It note so you're not distracted by yourself. And, if you're uncomfortable with how you look on video calls, take some time to adjust your camera settings or the lighting in your house, said Jeremy Bailenson, founding director of Stanford University's Virtual Human Interaction Lab.
 
Hmmm, fancy lighting or post-it notes. I must have those little yellow things here somewhere.

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Ronn Levine began his career as a reporter for The Washington Post and has won numerous writing and publications awards since. Most recently, he spent 12 years at the Newspaper Association of America covering a variety of topics before joining SIPA in 2009 and SIIA in 2013 as editorial director…