Avoiding Zoom Fatigue

  • Steve Puffenberger
  • General, Presentations/Events
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Avoiding Zoom Fatigue

A look at strategies to keep your teleconferencing less painful

Zoom, Cisco Webex, Microsoft Teams, TeamViewer, GoToMeeting, Facetime and many other teleconferencing apps have become ubiquitous in business communications in the days of the COVID-19 pandemic. And indeed, they’ve allowed us to get business done now that social distancing is the new normal. But now, “Zoom fatigue” is setting in, and people are starting to dread the teleconference appointment.  What can be done?

Let’s look at some practical tips on how to help fight Zoom Fatigue.

#1 Camera Position

Where you place your camera is important.  It’s a long-known photo/cinema maxim that if the camera looks up to the subject, it connotes a sense of power or dominance. If the camera looks down on a subject, it portrays weakness or insignificance.  But if the camera is straight-on and level to the subject, it communicates equality, friendship and trust. Therefore the best camera position is at eye level.

If you have a separate Webcam on a desktop system, and you put the camera on top of your monitor, that will have it looking down on you. If you use a laptop or a tablet, chances are the camera will be below your eye level and it’ll be looking up at you.  And if you use a phone, unless you have a selfie stick, your conference attendees will be looking up your nose. So it’s a good idea to try to find a way to get the camera at eye level.

I had an old car suction cup cellphone holder laying around, and I put my separate Webcam on it and attached it to a weighted base so that it stands on my desk at eye level. With a laptop, you might need to put it up on a box or a few books so the camera is at eye level. For a tablet or phone, you’ll also need to find or rig a stand to hold it upright. Many are sold online.

#2 Look Into My Eyes

Sincere conversation requires eye contact. When in a teleconference, it’s only natural to look at the person you’re talking to when you’re on a Webcam.  Only problem is, your camera is almost always somewhere else – even if it’s only inches away. If you’re looking at the other person on the screen, you'll look like you're looking up, down, to the side - anywhere but into your participants' eyes. The illusion of eye contact is lost, and so is the intimacy of the conversation.

The only solution to this is to look directly into the camera lens when you’re talking.  That means you have to know where your camera is!  With a separate Webcam that’s easy. On some laptops, tablets and phones depending on how you orient the screen, it could be at the top or on one or the other side of the screen. Usually there’s a little light that tells you the camera is on, so the camera is near that. Try to look into the lens when you’re talking.

If you have a separate Webcam, you can also move the camera so it’s right in front of  the screen, so your conversation partner is right behind the camera lens.

Or if you want to go the extra mile, you could use a teleprompter!  Just put the conference feed in the prompter monitor and when you look at that you look right into the lens. (We have the technology.)

#3 Sideways…always

Vertical video has become a “thing,” but it’s very distracting because most screens are horizontal!  If you’re corresponding with someone else using a phone or tablet held vertically, you’ll be OK, but if one of your attendees are using a “regular” Webcam in its normal “landscape” mode, your vertical picture will be really tiny, with a lot of black space on the sides. Their picture on your device will also be tiny with black space top and bottom.

The solution is NO VERTICAL VIDEO!  Just hold your phone or tablet sideways and then you’re compatible with the rest of the videoconferencing world. Tell your attendees to go sideways too...ESPECIALLY if you record the meeting.

#4 Background

What goes on behind you is important, especially if you’re making an extended presentation, because people may start to focus on things that are in the background. That becomes a primary distraction and they won’t hear what you have to say. Neutral backgrounds with minimal wall decorations are best – not just because minimal distractions, but also because of the way teleconferencing works:

A background with a lot of detail, and especially with motion (stirring leaves, shadows or ceiling fan), will use more bandwidth than without. For attendees with low bandwidth connections, that can throttle down your facial expressions, leading to freezing or artifacts that look blurry. Choosing a plain color background, like a plain wall is best.

Windows can be real headache. If a bright window, a bright streak of sunlight, or even a bright table lamp is in the background, the camera will expose for the brightness and your face will be underexposed. That can be overcome by adding light to your face, but simple plain backgrounds will avoid that issue. Likewise, a black (unlit) void for a background can be problematic. The camera always adjust to obtain a neutral gray, so if a large part of the image is black, your face will look overexposed. 

One of the “cool” features of Zoom and others is to engage a “virtual background” that either blurs the background or inserts a scene of palm trees or idyllic hillsides. That uses a technique called chromakey, which TV broadcasters have used for eons. But unless you have a green screen (and don’t wear green clothing) it’s not able to discern your features accurately, and you can lose an ear or a finger – or even an whole torso if wearing green. It’s quite a bizarre look, which could be fun with friends, but has no place in a business meeting.

#5 Share Your Screen

Finally, the enemy of the videoconference, just like the enemy of any real conference, is boredom. Watching a talking head only lasts so long.  We have been conditioned by television and movies to expect something different happening on the screen at least every 15 seconds –  FOUR TIMES A MINUTE. That means, unless you are very entertaining with dynamic stories, you’re boring.

What can rescue you is to share quality presentation graphics, just like you would in a real in-person meeting. A sequence of key words, illustrations, diagrams, and photographs can enliven an otherwise boring presentation, and it’s very easy to share a PowerPoint presentation by clicking the “share screen” button.

There are a few things, however, that can turn an amateur PowerPoint into a teleconference disaster. Because you never know what size of screen your audience is using, you have to plan for adverse conditions: few words per screen, larger type than normal, bigger, less detailed illustrations and simplified high contrast color combinations that work well with low bandwidth. Also, as we recently witnessed, forgetting how to "Run" a PowerPoint show can turn it into embarrasment. If you don't "start show," the PowerPoint interface displays to the world, eating up 50% of your screen real estate, making all your graphics tiny. Just remember F5 starts a show, and if while manipulating Zoom the full screen display disappears, you'll find a "Resume Slide Show" button, which restores the display with one click.

Another thing to remember when sharing a screen.  If you want to demonstrate using a computer, select "Share Screen," which will share the entire screen, including launch pad, taskbar and every open window. But if you want to share just a document or presentation, open the document in the app before the conference and share ONLY the window with the document or app. Other open windows on your screen will not show to the world.

Professional Help

It’s not too late to engage professional help with your teleconference. We at Advent Media can help you prepare presentation graphics that are tailored to the bandwidth demands of Zoom, Webex, TeamViewer and all the others.

If you're in or near Columbus, we can also help you produce your conference. We can help you host your meeting with multiple cameras, feeding PowerPoint or video into the stream, and we can even provide our teleprompter to maintain eye contact with your attendees.

Make the call today. We’re open and ready to help set your next teleconference above the rest!

Teleconference Help is Here


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