How To Create More Effective & Engaging Zoom Meetings

First gradually, then suddenly, Zoom became the most frequently used solution by coaches everywhere. By early 2018 there were a number of coaches starting to use Zoom and by 2019, Zoom was achieving widespread adoption for coaching in one-to-ones, peer groups, and training webinars for large networks of coaches. Even with the high adoption rate, many still long for in-person communication and connectivity which may not be fully met with virtual meetings. How can we, as coaches, overcome this? Continue reading for advice on how to achieve higher rates of impactfulness, and a heightened sense of community, during online sessions.


The history & impact of Zoom


Video conferencing has been around in various forms for a number of years, indeed decades. Until recently, it’s been difficult for pioneers to make enough market share to hold their place as #1 in the industry. Early entrants of broadband-based video communications were 8x8, Skype, PictureTel, LifeSize, Facebook Chat, Apple FaceTime, GoToMeeting, Webex, GoogleHangouts, etc. Like other markets where there is massive potential demand, the video conferencing industry has been a minefield of risk for past companies and their technology adopters, as they are frequently leapfrogged by new entrants who take advantage of faster computer processing, thinner video compression codecs, and faster bandwidth. Truly it’s been an Innovator's Dilemma that when researched would honor again the seminal work of the late Clayton Christensen.


In 2011, Eric Yuan, a former Cisco Webex VP founded a company called Zoom. And for two years, he and a team of 40+ engineers worked away building a better online video experience—focusing on ease of use, simplicity, and device agnostic operating conditions. Their early software was available in 2013. The company grew out of the gate exponentially, and they became a Unicorn company with a $1 Billion valuation in 2017; and reached profitably in 2019. Truly in their solution, they had created something faster, better, and cheaper, and users rewarded them by joining up in great numbers.


From a coaching community perspective, first gradually then suddenly Zoom became the most frequently used solution by coaches everywhere. By the end of 2017 and early 2018 there were a number of coaches starting to use Zoom to replace telecoaching or to replace whatever they were formerly using for their video conferencing solution. By 2019 Zoom was achieving widespread adoption in the coaching community for coaching in one-to-ones, peer groups, and training webinars for large networks of coaches using Zoom or its equivalents for mass video sharing gatherings such as CoachesRising.com, WBECS.com, and others.


When the Covid19 pandemic crisis arrived, Zoom was already in the market with a ready solution, and it was inexpensive, simple, and worked on all devices. Their utilization skyrocketed. In December 2019, the platform had 10 million daily session users; then Covid happened. By April 2020, they had 300 million session users. It was a tsunami of surge demand. Yes, they had challenges of growth with early issues of security vulnerabilities in April 2020. And as a profile of leadership, the CEO did not ignore but rather jumped on this security issue, organizing an internal all-hands-on-deck war-room, leading a 3-month security improvement campaign, and they put together security programs that matched or exceeded their rivals, including most notably their newest competitor MS Teams. Their April 2020 security vulnerability shortfall created a gap for Microsoft and its marketers to shoot into, and they exploited this gap with their advertising and have been improving the MS Teams experience monthly. Since the early vulnerability was identified, some companies have mandated that Teams must be used for security purposes (and the battle of Teams vs Zoom continues for market share), however most individuals, trainers, speakers, and coaches would agree that Zoom remains the simplest, easiest, and feature rich go-to-app (for the time being).


Importantly, with the Work From Home (WFH) mandate, Zoom became an outlet for many, and the word Zoom has become a ‘noun’ for video conferencing like Kleenex is for tissue. So now, a year after the Covid19 crisis reached global pandemic, we as a population have settled into Zoom meetups, huddles, chat rooms, classrooms, conferences, dinners, happy hours, training rooms, workout rooms, church services, and weddings; you name it, it’s probably happening somewhere on Zoom.


And all this Zooming has come at a cost. Some wonder whether Zoom-bies are actually becoming Zoom Zombies, as the fatigue is growing. With the many hours now spent on Zoom (or other video conferencing apps) many individuals report what is called Zoom fatigue. Stanford University researchers report four areas of potential Zoom fatigue:

  1. Excessive amounts of close-up eye contact is highly intense.

  2. Seeing yourself during video chats constantly in real-time is fatiguing.

  3. Video chats dramatically reduce our usual mobility.

  4. The cognitive load is much higher in video chats.

What are ways we can reduce stress & increase value during Zoom meetings? Shorter meetings, energizers, boosters, breakout rooms, and times with video on, video off, mics on, and mics off. Managing the Zoom meeting is also important, just as it is important to manage the room in a physical location meeting.


According to research from Owl Labs conducted in 2020, people used virtual meetings 50% more than before Covid19. With this dramatic increase in video conferencing, there have also been increased concerns and complaints about the change. Owl Labs also stated in their research that only 30% of individuals enjoyed video conferencing more than in-person conferencing. The other 70% of individuals are likely referring to some of the most common complaints such as difficulties with “meeting set-up,” “staying focused,” and “background distractions” (Owl Labs, 2020).


Because Zoom meetings and other virtual platforms have given businesses the opportunity to maintain productivity, it is important to use them to their full potential. By adjusting the way Zoom meetings are developed and created, organizations have the opportunity to make virtual meetings more engaging, memorable, and impactful to their organization. Creating engaging Zoom meetings helps organizations increase the well-being of their employees by offering a positive, entertaining, and productive outlet for socialization in the midst of social-distancing procedures.


The benefits and potential of Zoom

While obvious benefits include the ability to engage in instantaneous conversation amongst employees while remaining socially distanced, there are other benefits to having Zoom meetings.


According to research done by Luo, Zhang, and Qi, in an academic environment, e-learning increased students’ sense of community despite meeting only virtually (2017). This finding is significant because it indicates that online interactions such as Zoom have the potential to form a sense of community within an organization. Luo et al. also states that this feeling of community is essential for the human psyche because of “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory” (2017). This theory states that basic needs such as security, belonging, and health must be met before a person can reach their full potential.


Zoom meetings and other virtual meetings have the opportunity to meet the communal needs of individuals in a socially-distanced world. While most businesses are closing or transitioning to online platforms, virtual meetings are able to maintain a sense of connectivity and community within an organization.


Zoom also holds benefit to organizations that need to have regular meetings for general maintenance. Since face-to-face meetings are limited, Zoom has become an essential asset for many of these corporations. By enabling these companies to house their meetings virtually, the company is able to thrive in the currently unstable global economy and maintain levels of productivity. Zoom also removes the need to reserve board rooms and pay for potential overhead to hold meetings. Even though Zoom does offer membership fees with particular usage, this cost is minimal compared to potential rental prices.


Aside from community and financial benefits, Zoom can also increase the well-being of employees. By reducing the time employees spend driving to the meeting location and waiting for the other members of the meeting to arrive, the amount of time employees have to spend with families, on other important work, or on their own wellbeing, increases. According to Owl Labs, 79% of people work remotely to avoid their commute (2020). Surveys done by Owl Labs also indicate that the increased flexibility that remote meetings offer gives 91% of employees more opportunities to better balance their work-life and personal-life.


Where Zoom meetings lack

If Zoom meetings are so influential, why are we all itching to get back to the workplace? There are several reasons that our desire for in-person communication and connectivity might not be fully met by virtual meetings. Some complaints regarding Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms indicate that some issues involve difficulties staying focused as a group, individuals talking over each other unintentionally, and failures in the structure of the meeting (Owl Labs, 2020). Because of these difficulties, only 30% of individuals state that they like online conferences more than in-person (Owl Labs, 2020).


When taking a deeper look into the issues stated above, it is easy to dismiss virtual meetings as a viable option for connectivity and progress. However, the most common issues organizations have with Zoom meetings and the like, are not technological issues but planning and leadership issues. If virtual meetings can be created with these hurdles in mind, can we increase the effectiveness of our meetings and avoid these issues?


Making Zoom meetings great

According to an article from Zoom, it is important to plan for your events and conferences ahead of time (2020). Just like in-person conferences, it is important to have an end goal in mind as well as a road-map of how to get there.


Zoom encourages its users to be “creative and thoughtful in bringing some of the elements of a live event to your online event” (2020). But how is this achieved? How can we reach through the screens, grab our audience’s attention and engage in effective conversation?


Zoom recommends that organizations “simplify the agenda” and keep conversations between a window of 30-40 minutes to support the continual engagement of the audience (2020). They also recommend assigning positions as needed such as a “panelist” or “producer” to aid in technical issues, group discussion, group chats, and/or agenda monitoring (Zoom, 2020). Successful Zoom meetings require planning, teamwork, and active facilitation.


An article from Forbes Magazine offers a few tips on housing great Zoom meetings. The first of these is embracing that first-impression. William Arruda states that, “You need to dazzle your audience from the very first second of your presentation. Make your start surprising and your viewers will sit up from their slouch and take note.” (Arruda, 2020).


Arruda also points out that when in virtual meetings, you have to, “double the empathy and exaggerate your expressions” to increase the sense of humanity and connectivity (2020). It is important for your audience to feel like they are talking to a real person, not an impersonal screen. With this advice in mind, we are introduced to a more purposeful and thoughtful way of conducting online meetings. By being creative and expressing genuine emotion we can increase the impact of our online meetings and account for the inherent potholes that come with a lack of planning.


Georgia Benham from Scarlet Entertainment offers a few creative ideas for Zoom meetings. These ideas include mailed gifts, special guests, a time for jokes, and using visual images instead of lengthy paragraphs (Benham, 2020). This idea is emphasized in episode 1008 of the Arete Coach Podcast (click here to listen) when Adam Harris offered some insight into creative Zoom meetings. Adam recommended Zoom meetings that are taken during walks outside. He stated that it was important to get the body moving and encouraged the audience to take part in other creative ways of engaging with their employees and audience. He also encouraged catering meetings to the audience and individual. He does this in his practice by intentionally deciding to keep the cameras off at times to further verbal discussion.


What does it all mean?

Despite common complaints surrounding Zoom and other virtual meetings, when organizations take the time to plan their sessions with engaging content, structured agendas, and the necessary roles, virtual meetings have the potential to create greater well-being for employees, higher rates of impactfulness, and a heightened sense of community.


Organizational leaders are encouraged to get creative, use attention-grabbing introductions, express their emotions to their audience, and take time for planned community development through group discussions and social or comedic discussions and activities. Some ways to do this include using graphics instead of lengthy paragraphs, inviting guest speakers, and hosting group activities that are enjoyable with elements of in-person conferences included.


By doing these things, the engagement and enjoyment of Zoom meetings, and virtual meetings through other online platforms, can be maximized to its fullest potential.


References

Arruda, W. (2020, October 19). 5 Ways To Make Zoom Presentations Engaging And Irresistible. Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/williamarruda/2020/10/19/5-ways-to-make-zoom-presentations-engaging-and-irresistible/?sh=6435a99a63aa.


Benham, G. (2021, April 22). 10 Ideas for Creating The Ultimate Zoom Meeting. Scarlett Entertainment. https://scarlettentertainment.com/virtual-global/10-ultimate-zoom-meeting-ideas.


Luo, N., Zhang, M., & Qi, D. (2017). Effects of different interactions on students' sense of community in e-learning environment. Computers & Education, 115, 153–160. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2017.08.006


Ramachandran, V, “Stanford researchers identify four causes for ‘Zoom fatigue’ and their simple fixes,” Stanford News, https://news.stanford.edu/2021/02/23/ four-causes-zoom-fatigue-solutions/


State of remote Work 2020. (2020). https://resources.owllabs.com/state-of-remote-work/2020.

Zoom. (2020). Running Engaging Online Events. https://zoom.us/docs/en-us/pve.html.




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