Why Are Virtual Presentations & Online Meetings so Exhausting?

Fed Up With Virtual Presentations? You Might Be Suffering From ‘Zoom Doom’

There is a reason you are tired. A legitimate reason why doing all these virtual presentations, online meetings, and zoom meetings is exhausting.

We were having dinner on Tuesday night – Me and my family. It was 5 weeks into lockdown and conversation was drying up. I was describing feeling a sense of exhaustion that I hadn’t experienced before. Strange tiredness. I shared my day and my daughter said that it was ‘Zoom Doom’. Also known as ‘Zoom fatigue’. Never heard of those before. A term used to describe the sapping of your energy. Now I was intrigued and wanted to know more. I went forth to explore. I’ll share with you the summary of my findings on this strange phenomenon in this article and solutions that will help you.

Back to the conversation above. We each shared our experiences of facetime, zoom, and skype, finding a similar feeling. Trying to nail this online thingy down to something we could explain. My daughter Gabby (20) said, ‘Dad, you know when we went and saw that 3D film? It’s like when you take your 3D glasses off to see what the film’s like and it’s all out of sync. It’s hard work to make sense of it’. Boom! She’d cracked it. That’s exactly what it’s like. Life just feels a little ‘off’ when we do online meetings. A little out of sync.

What’s Your Zoom Attention Span Like?

Below, you will see our tongue-in-cheek graph showing some of the factors that may be limiting our attention span when having a virtual presentation. How many of these distractions can you relate to? I’m sure you’ll agree, issues arise that wouldn’t normally exist in a real-world environment. After all, I don’t think many people will have had to remove the cat from the boardroom!

Zoom Meeting Attention Span

Let’s take a closer look at these virtual presentations, online meetings and Zoom Dooms. Whatever you call them. To see what is really happening under the hood with 8 things you probably won’t know…

Virtual Presentations are Exhausting

According to Gianpiero Petriglieri, it is true. He is the Associate Professor of Organisational Behaviour at Insead. The Business School of the World. Gianpiero says that it takes more focus to video chat than to talk face-to-face. Even without his specialist experience, you’ll agree. But why? Well, there are several reasons. Professor Petriglieri expands on his thinking in his interview with the BBC. Citing the following issues:

  • We are processing non-verbal cues, like facial expressions, tone, pitch and body language.
  • Our minds being together but our bodies not together causes internal conflict.
  • Silence is hard to manage in an online call.
  • Being ‘forced’ to do these calls, rather than face-to-face is a contributing factor.
  • Using the same space for everything that we do – The context has collapsed.

The BBC report also cites:

  • Delays also affect us because we can see people negatively or less friendly. According to a German scientific study.
Businesswoman with head in hands having failed
Failed in business

Marissa Shuffler, an Associate Professor at Clemson University who studies workplace wellbeing and teamwork effectiveness adds:

  • You are being watched. Like being on stage. The camera is on and we feel like we need to perform.
  • Additional underlying pressure of financial security during the lockdown just adds more stress.

These 8 reasons all contribute to the feeling of Zoom fatigue. Let’s explore some of them more closely.

Laptop Resolution Vs Life Resolution

A laptop screen is made-up of pixels – ‘a minute area of illumination on a display screen, one of many from which an image is composed’. Those pixels make-up the resolution. Your tv is probably a ‘1080’ which means that the screen consists of 1,920 x 1,080 pixels. 1080 is the number of rows and 1920 is the number of columns. If you multiply those two numbers you get 2,073,600 pixels. So, about 2m megapixels. Your laptop is about 1m megapixels, at best. The human eye can see 576,000,000 or 576 megapixels. Why is this important?

Simply, real life, like face-to-face meetings are easier because they are in full technicolour/extra high definition aka, the real thing. The best you can get. Seeing someone through a screen is 500 times harder to see. This is why with virtual presentations we have to concentrate so much more.

‘500 times harder to see’

MBM infographic titled Why are Zoom Calls so Exhausting?

Non-verbal cues are hugely important when we communicate. This is because they help us understand what someone is really saying. Normally we have no trouble seeing the slightest facial change. The smallest twitch. The pull of an ear. But now it’s like trying to understand what someone is saying from across the other side of a football field. Though we can hear them, but not make out what their face and body are saying.

The Whole You

When you meet face-to-face you get the whole person. Head, body, arms, and hands. On a virtual call, you are a head, shoulders, and that’s about it. The screen cuts off a huge part of us. About 80%.

Now, whilst we don’t do much communicating, even non-verbal, with our legs, and even in a face-to-face they are under the table, there are still pieces missing. A good example is our hands. Some people talk a lot with their hands. In fact, I once had an Ant, that if you held her hands she felt like she couldn’t speak! These people will feel muted in online meetings. The loss of 80% reduces our whole understanding of the person. We don’t know if they are tapping their foot, crossing their legs, shifting in their seat. Gone. All gone.

‘One-third of the words are gone’

It’s like communicating in a language where someone has removed a third of the words. We are operating with a reduced vocabulary.

Delays are a Real Problem and We had No Idea How Much

The International Journal of Human-Computer Studies published a paper in May 2014 on the research of ‘Why are you so slow? – Misattribution of transmission delay to attributes of the conversation partner at the far-end‘. The 3 professors; KatriSchoenenberg, Alexander Raake, and Judith Koeppe studied how transmission delay affects user perception during speech communication over telephone systems. In short, what does a delay mean to you in a call? The summary of their findings was:

…With even slight delays, a person is perceived as less attentive…

And we know this because we’ve all thought that someone wasn’t listening in a call that has a delay. We just never understood why. It is because we could not see the active listening cues of a small nod of the head. Or the slightest of smiles. So, we try harder by really engaging them with stronger eye contact, asking them more questions, and becoming on high alert for a cue that they really aren’t listening. All because there is a second delay in the communication due to the technology not operating at the instant speed of face-to-face.

Silence is Not Normally a Problem in a Conversation

Yet, in a call silence is a problem. Normally small silences are a part of the natural conversation when you are together. Maybe someone is pondering a reply for a moment. The non-verbal cues tell us that they are thinking and that this is ok.

Online those are mostly gone, so silence becomes an uncomfortable problem. Has the tech stopped? Did they not hear me because of the delay? ‘Can you hear me now?’. And then we start talking over each other. The whole thing becomes problematic and we almost resort to radio syntax. ‘I am ok, Over. And how are you? I mean, no over. Yes, now…over’.

What started as a business meeting about solving an important client problem slips into a poorly planned military call where no-one knows the protocols and resembles a scene from M.A.S.H.

The Problems are Magnified

The challenge with doing things online is that the problems that were there before become highlighted for everyone to see. Presentations, People and Performance.

Boring Presentations Become Very Boring In The Virtual World

We’ve all sat through presentations that never seem to end. The guy is standing up. He has 1-hour. You tried to get a sneaky look at the number of slides when he was setting up, and now wished you hadn’t! The first slide goes up. Yep. Text. He reads it. Each line. You fidget. You check your watch. This could be a death sentence.

Online this becomes 7 times worse because you are being constantly distracted by literally everything. In the meeting, you could get your phone out and sneakily have a look, maybe. Here, you absolutely can. Check Facebook. Type a text. Anything. Half listening. And thinking that you are being twice as productive. Boring presentations become very much so.

Virtual presentations force us to rethink our presentations. That’s a good thing because Powerpoint is the lazy default. Too many slides. Too much thought on content. Not enough thought about delivery. Online separates those than can present from those that CAN PRESENT!

Man slumped on the table while staring at his laptop
Boring Presentations Become Very Boring In The Virtual World

Boring People Become Very Boring In The Virtual World

You have spoken to that person in the office. They give nothing away. You have no idea what they are thinking. Almost a robot. In virtual meetings, they become an even bigger nightmare because you are constantly asking what they think as you are getting nothing back. You already struggled to see their non-verbal cues anyway. Now they seem to have disappeared completely. You’re reliant on just asking them questions or searching Amazon for a defibrillator to see if they deliver!

Zoom meetings force us to need to be more animated. More engaged. This is because we know that communication is restricted so we need to beef-up, almost exaggerate the communication that we do have. A little like a blind person relies upon and uses their ears more. We are more reliant on restricted communication and need to help the other person to understand our messages. What was a small smile to indicate listening, becomes a bigger smile. A nod becomes an ‘I get that’.

A Sense of Being Watched

Ever been in a meeting and caught your reflection in a door? Or on the screen of your laptop? Or your phone? You become self-conscious. You move your hair. Adjust yourself. And when we present, we’re naturally nervous. People are watching our performance. Waiting for me to perform. Like the dancing bear.

The problem we now have is that we are always performing. Always on camera. Catching sight of ourselves. Worried about how we look. Trying to pay attention whilst checking our bags to see how tired we look. The screen is now starring back and it’s us. This is a new phenomenon and we are not used to it. It’s disconcerting.

We’ve moved from occasional performance to all-the-time performance and it is hard to deal with. Stressful.

Is it Just Zoom Doom or Is there Any Hope?

There is hope.

Like any behaviour, our online meeting presence can be improved. We can learn. Be the best version of ourselves. Some of these solutions you’ll know, and some you won’t. We’ve put them all together in a neat mnemonic: O.N.L.I.N.E. P.O.W.E.R. This is because mnemonics, Greek for ‘remember’, mean that you are more likely to adopt these new behaviours as you will have remembered them.

Understand Why Virtual Presentations are Exhausting

O: Oh My Eyes!

Research says we blink half as often when we watch things on screens as we normally would with face-to-face interactions. This means that our eyes have a higher probability of getting dry, irritated, and tired. Try the ’20-20-20′ rule. Every 20 minutes you take 20 seconds to look at something 20 feet away.

N: Not back-to-back Meetings

Yes, it’s hard. You have a full day and want to be as productive as possible. Of course, you do. Just know that by scheduling back-to-back meetings you will be less productive. Rather than schedule your meetings at the default of 1-hour, make the new default 45-minutes. Giving you time between meetings to re-energise.

L: Lighting You

Most people are new to virtual meetings. They’ve never really had meetings at home before, so why would they have thought about creating a business self at home? We need to. The best version of ourself. Check the lighting for you. If it is behind you, they won’t be able to see your face. Make sure that you are lit well. Maybe you need a lamp?

I: Interpersonal Skills

Do you remember we said above that boring people become more boring? Out interpersonal skills become even more important when we work from home. Find your new skills for communicating online. A thumbs up? An exaggerated nod? Holding your chin to show you are thinking? Identify your non-verbal cues that people will understand that you are listening.

N: Need to Move

One of the reasons that we feel tired is that we are holding ourselves in an online meeting. Keeping our posture. Shoulders back. Head up. This can be tiring. Make sure you move. Certainly, get up between meetings. In meetings, you are confined a little, but adjusting your posture will help. And being aware that you are holding yourself will help too.

E: Eye-level

Camera position is important. Again, we’ve never really had to think about this stuff before. Some computers were being made without cameras because people weren’t using them. I bet that’s changed! Your camera needs to be at eye level. Not leaving a great big space above your head and not cutting-off your forehead either. Move your camera angle to show the best ‘you’. Plus, eye-level removes any double chin we might have!

P: Proud Presenter

If your presentations were never engaging, now’s the time to change. This article ‘Don’t Start with Powerpoint‘, could be your best friend. It takes you through 7 steps to creating very engaging presentations and doesn’t touch PowerPoint. Well, not at least you have to. Either way, this will help you with how to create more engaging virtual presentations.

O: Over Your Shoulder

I saw a pie chart doing the rounds on Facebook. It showed what people did during Zoom presentations. One of the large slices of the pie was to nose at the stuff around the person. ‘Oh, they have a pot plant’. ‘That picture is awful’. ‘Interesting set of books’. What’s over your shoulder? And what does it say about you? A simple quote poster is a good talking point.

W: Wardrobe

We recommend 3 wardrobes. You can find out a lot more about the ‘3 Wardrobe Principle’ in this article. It is one of the 7 essential practices of working from home and uses the mnemonic of M.I.N.D.S.E.T. to help people to become the best version of their working from home selves.

E: Ears only

One of the best recommendations we can make to you is to turn off the video for some meetings. Agreeing ‘ears only’ (Audio) for everyone in that meeting can give all the attendees a welcome respite from all the energy that we now realise online meetings demand. Plus, there is no delay and it is more like a phone call, which we are all used to.

R: Reality

It’s here to stay. Some people will return to the office. Some will stay. Either way, we suspect that the pandemic has made ‘working from home’ a credible option. And online meetings are an acceptable alternative. Plus, productivity can go through the roof when you get some ‘me at work’ time. Finding a way to accommodate this new working practice is essential to survive.

Summary: Make the Most of Virtual Presentations and be the Best Online You with O.N.L.I.N.E. P.O.W.E.R.

  • O: Oh My Eyes! – Use 20:20:20.
  • N: Not back-to-back Meetings – Change from 1-hour to 45-minutes as a default.
  • L: Lighting You – get the best lighting to show you.
  • I: Interpersonal Skills – What are your exaggerated non-verbal tools?
  • N: Need to Move – Get up between meetings.
  • E: Eye-level – Is your camera at eye level?
  • P: Proud Presenter – Create engaging virtual presentations.
  • O: Over Your Shoulder – What does it say about you?
  • W: Wardrobe – Get WFH clothes.
  • E: Ears only – Sometimes Audio only.
  • R: Reality – Get used to it and make it work for you.

Download Our How to Look Great in a Video Call Infographic:

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MBM infographic for How to look great in a video call

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