Anyone who has experienced Zoom fatigue knows how debilitating it can be. After a morning of back-to-back video calls, we often feel sleepy and disengaged. But it’s not our fault.
Here’s why: In face-to-face situations we connect through both words and physical or nonverbal cues, including vocal expression, eye contact, facial movements, gestures, and stance. That connection is weakened in virtual communication. The audience can’t hear slight modulations in the speaker’s voice, can’t clearly see facial expressions or read body language. This lack of connection forces the listener to work harder, which is exhausting.
But there is a way out. Here are eight ways to energize your audience and keep them from experiencing this fatigue:
1. Get with the tech
The first and most basic way to hold onto your audience is to master the technology you’re using.
The biggest single technology glitch is a lagging internet connection, according to Dustin Deno, vice president of Sales North America for Showpad. “An awkwardness comes with a frozen screen as the speaker asks ‘Can you hear me?’ and ‘Where did I cut out?'”
If the tech breaks down, your relationships will, too. Deno, whose company equips sales teams to sell successfully, advises: “Make sure connections are stable, close out applications and tabs, and move your Wi-Fi router closer to your workspace.” This is important whether you’re using Zoom, Skype, Google Hangouts, FaceTime, or any video interface.
2. Welcome everyone
At the beginning of each meeting or event, connect with every person in the virtual room by welcoming them.
If your audience is large, compliment them as a group. Perhaps they are talented financial executives. Say that! Make them feel you’ve researched them, know them, and admire them. What feels like gushing to you is appreciation to them.
Or welcome them by expressing empathy. As Deno says, “These are unprecedented times, so I always start my meetings by asking customers how they are and what’s going on in their life. They may even share a story about their child’s birthday; hold onto those anecdotes and come back to them.”
3. Call people by name
Dale Carnegie got it right when he said a person’s name is “to that person the sweetest, most important sound in any language.” People love hearing their name.
I recently attended a virtual cocktail hour, and when I arrived shortly after the others I would have liked to hear, “It’s Judith joining us” or even better, “Wonderful, Judith is joining us.” Instead, the host said, “Another guest has arrived.” That was a downer for me.
Every time you call on someone in a meeting, do so by using their name. If someone raises their hand, say “Thomas, we’d love to hear from you.” Or “Yes, Isabella.” Using the person’s name raises the energy level in the room by making people feel recognized.
4. Have a message
A message instills purpose, and without it people will naturally lose interest. How do you know when someone has a message? You hear a big idea—something to believe in, something compelling that holds your attention. When there is no message the speaker rambles and uses lots of filler words. I tuned into a Zoom event the other day, and here’s what I heard: “There’s a really good . . . uh . . . there’s a really good . . . program I think I want to, uh, bring into our company.”
Such halting language turns off audiences. I left the session after 90 seconds.
5. Don’t read slides
If you want to keep your audience awake, avoid the common practice of putting a bunch of slides up and reading from them. What a big yawn!
Let the words come from you, not the slides. Be the visual yourself. This will energize the room far more than reading from slides. After all, if you’re in a small box on the screen, and the slides take over the screen, no one will hear you. They’ll look at the slide and tune you out.
Becoming the visual will require an additional step in your preparation process. You’ll have to internalize what you are going to say, rather than turning to slides to prompt you. But if you don’t internalize your ideas, how can you expect your audience to?
6. Listen to the room
It may seem counterintuitive to think of listening to a remote and often muted audience, but it’s possible and necessary if you want to keep your audience from dozing off.
Deno suggests that speakers “make their presentations as interactive as possible. Pause at key points to ask questions or inquire if the audience has any immediate reactions. That can help show you care about their needs.”
Listening can take several forms: Physical listening involves using body language to show you are engaged. Mental listening involves asking “What do you think?” and emotional listening involves asking “What do you feel?”
Active listening puts everyone in your audience on alert that you may be directing the next question their way, thereby countering any desire to zone out.
7. Be physically present
Be as physically present as you can. Begin with eye contact; it’s the most powerful physical cue we have. Look your virtual audience in the eye by looking into the camera, and make your eyes express your enthusiasm. Have a warm expression on your face and sit up or stand tall. (You’ll want to avoid staring, however. People are turned off if a speaker stares at them for more than a few seconds.)
Gestures, too, are important, so make sure you have your arms and hands showing on-screen, and use gestures to emphasize your points. Keep your arms open, not folded.
Make sure to keep your camera on the whole time.”The camera will capture your expressions and body language, including head nods and facial changes that show your engagement,” says Deno.
8. Rev up your voice
Finally, use your voice to keep your audience from lapsing into semi-sleep.
The voice is a powerful instrument for conveying feelings, and what your virtual audience needs is more of your emotion. So use your voice to keep them involved.
To begin with, avoid a monotone voice. Many virtual speakers sound monotonous, as though they’re talking to themselves. To counter this, speak with more passion, expression, and conviction than you normally would.
Modulate your voice, too, to indicate what’s important, and what’s less important. This will help your audience be less fatigued than if you were to deliver everything with equal emphasis.