The Art of Zoom-versation

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, Zoom and other teleconferencing tools seemed like a godsend. As many more people learned to use them, we all learned basic rules (for example, “Do not bring your Zoom meeting into the bathroom with you”). Now it’s common to hear people complain about Zoom.

There are scientific reasons why Zoom calls are so exhausting. Fortunately, there are a few simple tricks you can employ to make them less draining. In brief:

  1. Mitigate Zoom fatigue by changing your physical and tech setup. Try standing instead of sitting, hiding the view of yourself, etc.
  2. Try some conversation starters to help others participate, even if it feels awkward to you.
  3. Be respectful of basic meeting etiquette.
  4. Finally, consider changing the rules or format of a meeting if it doesn’t seem useful.

Download The Art of Zoom-versation (1 page PDF) for a complete set of tips!

Cri de coeur from the folks you’re inviting to meetings

The enormous change in everyone’s lifestyles has meant that we’re using technology to connect with many more groups of people than we used to. You may have already noticed that your cousins or your worship meetings don’t follow the same practices that your work team does. As a result, you may be scrambling to organize your calendar, even missing meetings. Here are a few things I’ve had happen over the past several weeks:

  • A meeting invitation arrives as an email, not as a calendar appointment. There’s Zoom information included… but I’m busy when the email arrives and I forget to copy it to my calendar. I miss the meeting.
  • I get meeting invitations in several different places (my work Outlook account, my professional Gmail account, and my personal Gmail account). I have to take extra time making sure I don’t miss meetings.
  • A meeting invitation arrives without a Zoom invite included. The first five minutes of the meeting are taken up waiting for the host to realize their mistake and send out the Zoom information.

This issue of FGB will probably be a refresher for long-time readers, but it’s a good reminder!

Set all meetings as calendar appointments.

Not emails. You can and should put all the information everyone needs to prepare for the meeting IN the calendar invite, so they’re not scrambling to locate the meeting agenda, the dial-in information, or the pre-meeting homework that they may be trying to do 30 minutes before the meeting.

Make sure you’re including the right email addresses for your invitees.

There are many reasons you may have multiple email addresses for a meeting attendee. A new hire may have been using their personal email address for previous correspondence. You may have multiple relationships with one of your colleagues. You may even have received a phishing email from someone trying to pretend they’re a colleague, with the result that your colleague’s name ends up on your Contacts list with a fake email address. Check each email address as you add it to your guest list, and they’ll receive the invitation in the place they’d normally expect to get it.

Start with Zoom and then move to your calendar. (Update: Or use a Zoom plugin for Outlook).

Here’s the steps I follow to set up a Zoom meeting:

  1. Check everyone’s availability, if possible. (At work, I check this on Outlook). Don’t set up the meeting as you’re checking availability – just jot down the day and time you want to hold the meeting.
  2. Open your Zoom account. Create the meeting at the date and time you’ve chosen. Don’t worry about adding invitees yet – first save the meeting.
  3. Then use one of the buttons near the bottom to create a calendar invitation in Outlook or Gmail.
  4. Normally, doing this will open up a calendar appointment in Outlook or Gmail. If this doesn’t happen, look in your Downloads folder for a file with the extension .ics and open it – it should open in your calendar.
  5. From the calendar appointment that opens up, invite your guests. The Zoom information will already be included, and you can also add any other material you want (an agenda, meeting homework, etc.)

I repeat: Don’t send a meeting invite as an email!

Why would anyone do that??

Making Zoom easier

If you’re a seasoned teleconference veteran, you may have fallen out of love with Zoom just from overexposure. Here are three ways to make it easier and friendlier:
Set recurring meetings. If you always meet at the same time each week or day, make your meeting a recurring one by ticking the “Recurring meeting” box right under the “Time Zone” pulldown menu. 
Use “Meeting Templates.” If you meet with the same group of people but don’t have a set meeting time, set up a “Meeting Template” and use it to book your meetings. (Choose “Save as a Meeting Template” from the bottom of the “Edit Meeting” screen on your original meeting. Then select the template from the “Use a template” drop-down menu that appears next time you create a meeting).
Use the Outlook plug-in to schedule meetings. If you’re a Microsoft Outlook user, you can benefit from an add-in that allows you to schedule Zoom meetings directly from Outlook instead of first going to Zoom, creating the meeting, and then adding it to your calendar. Visit to grab it.

For leaders: Why and how to participate more effectively in meetings

As a long-time manager, I’ve had the following situation happen many times, and you may have too: You are tasked with getting input from people higher than you on the food chain. You determine that the best way to do this is to call a meeting.

You do all the right things: you make sure the time slot is available on everyone’s calendar. You considerately schedule the meeting far enough ahead of time. You circulate an agenda. If there’s homework required, you write “HOMEWORK:” at the beginning of the subject line of the meeting. You provide links to any materials the attendees need to refer to in order to be prepared for a meeting. If you suspect that your attendees don’t typically read the “body” of a meeting invitation before accepting, you also circulate the agenda and homework separately in an email — with the same subject line as the meeting. The big hour arrives, and…

One of your team leaders arrives late. Another one shows up on time but, after the meeting starts, confesses that they haven’t done the homework. And worst of all, a third high muckity-muck torpedoes your meeting by questioning the meeting’s agenda or its very premise. Now, your project has been set back, the time of the other attendees has been wasted, and you may even feel that your personal credibility has been damaged by the disrespect that your superiors have shown to you in front of others.

If you’re a leader, here’s why and how to stop doing this stuff.

First a disclaimer: If you’ve ever done this to me, I forgive you! I pinky-swear that I don’t even have a particular situation or a particular person in mind – because it has happened to me literally hundreds of times. Also, I’m not talking about the leader who arrives late to a meeting a couple of times a month or even a week – leaders are by nature busy and can get pulled into unexpected situations.

But: If you find yourself doing this frequently, it might be time to “have a think.” Your bad meeting habits may be damaging the effectiveness of your team, breeding resentment and disrespect throughout the company, and hurting your own professional reputation. You get a few people doing this in a company, and all of a sudden you have a culture problem. People on a task force are scratching their heads trying to figure out if another Foosball machine would make things better. I’m no guru, but I’m pretty sure that these effects are the opposite of leadership.

How: Here are the new useful habits to create for yourself as you accept each meeting:

  • Before accepting any meeting, read the agenda. My friend Jon Tarleton once coached me to consider declining meeting invitations that arrive without a purpose or an agenda.
  • If you disagree with the agenda, contact the meeting organizer privately — well in advance of the meeting — to hash out your disagreements.
  • Before accepting a meeting, also create a calendar appointment with yourself to get any pre-work done. You don’t have to set a specific time, but you can put the task on a specific day – here’s how.
  • Consider setting a 15-minute appointment for yourself before the meeting so that you can arrive on time and be prepared (water, coffee, online meeting software, etc..). You won’t be able to do this for all meetings, but if there are many attendees or the topic is super important, it’s a great idea.

Now all of this may sound a bit regimented and process-y. I’m not suggesting that you should never call impromptu meetings or never question a topic or never steer a meeting in a new direction as a discussion develops. What I am suggesting is that if you find yourself doing this a lot, you may want to consider tweaking your habits — with the ultimate goal of improving your team’s self-respect, productivity, and culture.