How to have better meetings now we’ve gone Suddenly Virtual

A TV news anchor and a professor of psychology have published Suddenly Virtual, a bootcamp book on making Zoom calls more effective

Open laptop featuring man's face in Zoom meeting and hands typing on the keyboard of the laptop


Suddenly Virtual is a timely title for a new book. It’s been a year since the mass switch to working from home and collaboration via video conferencing. We’ve a year of lessons learned behind us and a future of hybrid working ahead.

Enter coach and former news anchor Karin Reed and professor of psychology Joe Allen. Their new book is called ‘Suddenly Virtual; making remote meetings work’. It promises a bootcamp for better meetings.

Here’s some of their top tips for successful online meetings

Turning Your Camera on is Not Enough

Simply looking at your camera is not going to make you an effective virtual communicator. You have to change your mindset. The camera is the conduit to your conversation partner. Focus not just your eyes, but your energy through the lens, in order to truly connect with the person or people on the other side.  Otherwise, you will just look like you’re being held hostage by the camera lens.

Take Care of Your “Personal Production Value”

Ensuring that you look and sound your best on camera isn’t just a matter of vanity. It’s about showing respect for your audience. You want to make it as easy as possible for them to engage with you. That means making sure you can communicate without distraction. For example, sitting in shadow doesn’t impact the way you feel on a call, but it certainly impacts everyone else. They can’t receive your message properly if they can’t read your facial expressions.

Meetings Were Tedious Before – Virtual Meetings Can Make Them Even Worse

Remember all that stuff you’ve known forever about what makes meetings more effective, that you never bothered to do (e.g. having an agenda, even-handed participation, coming prepared, etc.)?  All of that is MORE important online because the flaws in the process are even more obvious online. We are quicker on our feet in person than we are in a virtual setting, and we can make up for those mistakes or missteps more easily in person.  The old best practices for effective meetings are common sense, but uncommonly practiced. Not doing them now, in virtual meetings, leads to virtual drudgery and less productivity.

Don’t Overly Rely on Virtual Meetings – They Just Clog Up People’s Calendars

There is often an over-reliance on video meetings that clog calendars and lead to “Zoom fatigue.” Zoom fatigue is not due to a problem with Zoom and similar platforms, but user error. Not every human touchpoint needs to be a video meeting. There’s a huge need to be more strategic in determining WHEN a video meeting is required. If it’s just information transfer, ask yourself if that could be delivered via email, a message in Slack or Teams channel, or a quick phone call. If it’s a meeting that requires group collaboration, discussion and decision-making, it absolutely SHOULD be a virtual meeting with video on.

Stop the Back-to-Back Meetings – Recovery Time is Critical

Virtual meeting technology has enabled back-to-back meetings like never before! Ever look at your calendar and think, “When am I going to get lunch?” or, “When will I get to the restroom?” A new study, reported briefly in Suddenly Virtual: Making Remote Meetings Work, and forthcoming in an academic journal, confirms that we need 5 minutes recovery time after a good meeting and 17 minutes recovery after a bad meeting. Neuroscience confirms that humans need time to cognitively switch gears.

Put More Humanity Into Meetings or Team Culture Will Suffer

Start your meetings with the question “How are you?” and actually listen to people. That social lubrication where we catch up in the hall or the breakroom has been lost, and must be re-introduced. Remember to connect, beyond running down a checklist of updates, projects, or tasks. This is particularly true and important when human touch and social interaction is reduced due to a pandemic OR after we remain in our homes and work remotely.

Stop Letting Your Slides Dominate the Screen: YOU Bring the Value, Not Your Visual Aids

The typical virtual presentation looks like this: you introduce yourself, you introduce the topic, you share your screen and present way too many slides. Then you ask at the end if there are any questions. By that time, you are lucky if anyone is still listening and awake. The in-person equivalent would be introducing yourself and then turning your back on the audience while reading off your slides for the entire slide deck. Don’t do it! Deliver your presentation in digestible chunks, sharing only a few slides at a time before toggling back to gallery view. It changes everyone’s virtual environment and forces them to re-engage with you. Plus, it allows you to actually drive dialogue by putting PEOPLE front and centre… not your visual aids, which too often become visual crutches.

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