Combatting Zoom Meeting Fatigue: Re-energize your Online Meetings

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Does the thought of another online meeting make your eyes roll to the back of your head? Can’t take one more “you’re on mute,” barking dog, or meeting that seems to lack any purpose or direction? Zoom Fatigue (or Teams, or whatever platform you use) from too many boring online meetings is hitting big time.

You’re not alone. I’m writing this article in March of 2021, one year after the world shut down for COVID and at a time when some folks are getting ready to log in for what feels like their one-millionth online meeting.  Some folks have simply had it. They are ready to shut off their camera, pretend that their internet connection went down, and take a face-down day-nap.

I know that there are a lot of articles out there talking about how to host effective online meetings, and they have some great ideas. I’m not here to repeat those ideas today. I’m here to tell you my own version of how I would host a Zoom meeting if you asked me to plan one for tomorrow. Here are my top 5 ideas for re-energizing Zoom Meetings, and they don’t include cheesy backgrounds.

  1. Start the meeting with an agenda and a purpose. The first thing you should do when you gather a group on Zoom (or really anywhere) is to go over why you are meeting and what you need to accomplish; the last thing you should do is summarize what you have accomplished and whether you have met your goal.  Everything in between should be dedicated to staying on track (with some room for casual humor or engagement, of course). This all part of what I call “Assertive Facilitation,” and I’d argue it may be even more important when meetings are online.

    Consider adding these goals to the chat so that you can refer back to them. If the group is one that meets regularly, use the SCRUM meeting technique to assign the tasks that should be accomplished between meetings and to check on them when you re-gather, again adding them to the chat or a visual slide that everyone in the meeting can see. Microsoft Teams will actually carry notes over between meetings so you can strategically stay accountable.

  2. Use the engagement tools available to you.  Ok, so this one is going to seem like “duh” but I guarantee there are people out there how have completely forgotten that Zoom has a variety of facilitation tools that can be used to host a meeting. To many people are ignoring these useful tools and hosting a Zoom meeting the same way that they would host a meeting in-person – a bunch of people sitting around in a room talking. But that monotony is what is putting people to sleep.  Give people something that perks them up and forces them (in a nice way) to pay attention. For example:
    1. Use a simple “raise your hand” poll to make a team decision.
    1. Use the chat window to have every individual submit a unique answer to an open-ended question, then summarize the themes that arise as they type.
    1. Ask a “pulse of the room” question when you open your meeting to get a sense of how people are feeling about a topic – have folks respond with an emoji reaction.

  3. Add ONE unique activity to your agenda. Facilitation gets stale when each meeting follows the same old routine, and online venues put a spotlight on how boring things can be. If your staff meeting always consists of each person “checking in” and rattling off the projects they are working on, I wouldn’t blame your staff for resenting your meetings. Instead, add one activity to each meeting that invites your participants to engage in a new way. Make sure that there is a clear purpose for that activity and don’t overdo it with too many “new and exciting tools” at once.  Some examples might include:
    1. Conduct a live poll of participants on a relevant topic using a tool like Poll Everywhere or Mentimeter (both of these have free versions with a limited number of questions);
    1. Show a short video clip on a topic of interest to the attendees then facilitate a reflective dialogue responding to the video;
    1. Put together a playful or productive quiz on a tool like Kahoot; you could use this to get a sense of whether everyone is on the same page with a skill they are learning, for example;
    1. Share a Google Slide with multiple text boxes and ask people to respond to a question by typing their response into one of the text boxes; then look at it visually all together to see what trends and themes arise.

  4. Use break-out groups. Zoom break-out groups can help make your meeting more engaging, if you use them productively and strategically. Mixing a break-out group into a meeting suddenly puts people in a “room” with a small group of people and gives them an opportunity to talk to 3 to 6 people instead of a staring at a huge Brady Bunch on Steroids screen full of images. It makes folks more accountable and mixes things up. A few tips for break out groups:
    1. Provide clear instructions and a desired outcome for each group. Say, for example, you need to problem solve a thorny issue. Tell each group that their task is to articulate to each other how they understand the issue then work as a group to come up with a unique solution that they will present back to the full-group. When you come back, now you have 2, 3, 4 or even 6 solutions to consider.
    1. Share the instructions in the chat box or on a separate Google document to which all participants have access. You don’t want groups to leave the main room and have no idea what they are supposed to be doing in their small group.

  5. Lastly, don’t be afraid to ask whether you TRULY need a meeting. Too often we keep meetings on the agenda because we are “supposed to” meet. While there is great value to seeing people face-to-face (as much as you can do that online), the harm may outweigh the benefit in this day and age. With so many people working remotely and spending all day in meetings, they may actually be accomplishing less of their work in between.

    If you think that a group may not actually need to meet, check in with them a few days in advance to explore the option to skip a meeting. You may find that people have key things they want to discuss, which will mean that they have investment in the meeting (that’s a good thing – keep it scheduled). But you may find that the relief of not having to log in to one more Zoom meeting actually leads to more productivity among a team. Then, when you do meet again the time will be that much better spent because you will know that there is a real reason for meeting.

Stuck with a boring meeting and not sure how to make it better? I am always available for a quick meeting consult if you need fresh new ideas or keep running into the same challenges. Read more about my facilitation and meeting planning services.

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