How I learned to stop yawning and love the Zoom Room
I read somewhere once that the worst mistake you can make while presenting is to yawn. Yawns are contagious, and nothing makes an audience sleepier than to see that you are fighting not to slip into unconsciousness.
So, how does that translate to the Zoom Room? I can hide a yawn by turning off my camera, but that is the very thing I want to avoid. After two years of teaching online in a variety of formats and structures, one thing that I’ve realized is that when the camera is off, people may be long gone—or at least disengaged.
Disengagement has many non-faces, and sometimes they’re unavoidable: you must attend to a physical need or a child, or a cat—or all three. Perhaps you have a technical issue with your camera or internet connection, or maybe you’re just camera-shy.
But sometimes someone joins Zoom and then gets distracted by Slack or email or Twitter. They lose the thread of the program, and then they tell themselves a familiar lie: “It’s OK—I’ll just watch the recording.” Even worse, sometimes they stay connected and just get bored—fatigued by the static environment. They lose touch with us and the topic and then they might as well not be there. Is this you?
Well, two years on, I can safely say that our virtual training classes are here to stay. People appreciate not having to leave their houses to attend. Even our premier training—Proposal Writing Boot Camp—is now fully virtual, with a self-paced component and two hours of face-to-face engagement for three weeks. To subvert the issue of a faceless sea, our Network Engagement team follows several practices to make it (and all our trainings) as engaging as virtually possible.
Here are a few things we do, and encourage others to try in long Zoom sessions:
- Welcome everyone. In a classroom, everyone knows who walks through the door—but sometimes in Zoom, that’s not clear. So do everything you can to recognize the attendees as they join: say their names, ask them to share where they’re from, have an interesting icebreaker, play music—whatever makes them feel welcomed and human, not just a square box there to receive a lecture.
- Mix it up. One of the best tips is to change what you’re doing every 10 minutes. If you are lecturing, showing slides, otherwise not engaging the audience for more than 10 minutes, something needs to change. Launch a poll, ask for feedback, switch speakers, turn off the slides. Get the audience to look at you with fresh eyes.
- Break it up—or don’t! An unexpected bit of feedback we’ve received is about breakout rooms. Despite their intention, the breakout doesn’t necessarily simulate the classroom experience—sometimes, when there’s no clear purpose, it feels more like being in a stuck elevator.
So: don’t just throw your audience into breakout rooms every 10 minutes. Instead, ask them to choose a breakout room with a specific purpose; have staff in the breakout rooms to guide discussion; or simply skip the breakout rooms in favor of another activity like working on a group document in real time, or having a popcorn share.
- Be real. The Zoom screen seems to make everything a little formal and distant. Anything you can do to change that up and be yourself, you should do. That means getting out from behind your slides more. Encourage group discussions and don’t be afraid to speak directly to an audience member. Give everyone a chance to catch their breath—a break every hour online is a necessity. And if you yawn, call yourself out and switch gears. Your audience will thank you for it.
- Live is better. In the world of virtual trainings, there is a distinct temptation to “watch the recording”—that is, there’s an assumption that there is no value added by having a live virtual training. This is untrue. The recording just won’t give you everything, since much of the value of the live session is the interaction and opportunity for feedback (not to mention group and individual work). So, make time, pour yourself some coffee, and arrive ready to engage.
Adopting these mindsets about virtual training has worked well for us at Candid.