Top tips for less painful and shorter Zoom meetings

Yesterday I had a moment of frustration during a Zoom presentation on a training course I’d paid to attend. The content was fantastic but the presenter spoke for 40 minutes without any form of interaction and I was struggling to stay focussed. As a trainer I never talk for more than 15 minutes to a group without some form of interaction, and now we’re working online I try to limit it to 5-10 minutes – breaking up the content I want to share into more digestible chunks. 

I wandered onto Twitter to voice my frustration and remind other presenters to keep it to no more than 15 mins online – and the response told me 

a) that others listening shared my pain and 

b) many who give presentations from time to time were not aware of this guidance and found it helpful.

Jim Richardson from Museum Next then shared a brilliant video about how to make online talks engaging but I knew I would struggle to achieve that standard myself and thought it might be useful to share a few more basic tips about sharing info online. 

  1. Don’t share info in meetings, unless you really have to…

Sharing information by telling people in real time is not the best way to communicate if you want to be understood. Before you plan to share info like this ask yourself what is your purpose – do you want ?

  • people to be aware/ understand something – in which case circulate before and take questions for clarification, only if there are any.
  • feedback and ideas – in which case circulate and/or briefly share headlines and then discuss.
  • a decision – in which case share the info before, take questions for clarification and then structure a conversation to hear everyone’s responses so you can make an informed decision together.

Meetings should be for sharing views and making decisions together – not telling people things. It’s a better use of time to circulate info and then discuss the matters arising or any questions.

2. If you are going to share info live …..

Keep it as short as possible – respect your colleague’s time by preparing properly. Be clear what you want to say and think about how. Give your presentation a simple structure. E.g.

1) this is what I propose we do;
2) this is why;
3) this is what stage we are at;
4) this is what I need from you today….

Rehearse any slides or talk so you don’t waffle and stick to the essentials. If people want more info they can ask – so allow time for Q&A. 

Remember people will find it very hard to listen attentively for more than 5-10 minutes. So if what you need to share takes longer than that to explain, break down the information into sections and allow for discussion/ interaction as you go along.

As well as the challenges we all have working online, many people are really struggling with home-schooling and children being at home which eats into their work time – don’t take more of this previous time that you absolutely need.

3. Use a bit of structure

As a facilitator I find online conversations need more structure than their counterparts in real life. A very simple way to structure discussion and enable group decision making is the 4Fs exercise: simply ask yourselves 4 questions in this order, not skipping ahead and hearing from everyone:

Facts: what are the facts?

Feelings: how do we feel about this?

Findings: what conclusions do we draw? What might this mean?

Future: what do we want to do about this?

Don’t try and have big discussions in groups of more than 6-8 online. Break into smaller groups and report back or have conversations with different people. More than 10-12 is very hard to have meaningful interaction online unless you’re a skilled facilitator and using break out rooms etc

4. Don’t forget there’s a pandemic happening – people are distracted

Take a minute or two to connect at the start of a meeting  – some people are feeling lonely and even the briefest of check-ins can be useful. It could be as simple as asking each person to choose an object around them that says something about how they are feeling today or their life in Lock Down. 

This might be contentious (and if individuals don’t want to do this then I absolutely respect that choice), but I strongly recommend asking people to have their cameras and microphones on whether possible, as a chair/ presenter I find it helpful to see faces – I can see if you are distracted or bored and adapt accordingly. And as a participant I know I am tempted to check Twitter or my email if I’m not on screen. 

I also recommend everyone takes responsibility for good time-keeping; sticking to the agreed agenda (frankly I’ve had enough of seeing other people’s cats by now) and quits their email so there are less distractions during the session. And a 5 min review of how did that go – what do we keep/ do differently next time can be useful at the end of any session.

Actually, most of these tips apply just as much to sharing info in real life, but online and during a pandemic makes it even more necessary to follow these tips. 

Zoom also published some good tips last week about online meetings which I’m sharing here in case you missed them.

Hope these are helpful tips and your meetings are more productive online as a result.

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