Helping you to survive Zoom calls, making them enjoyable, and truly being yourself on them, is quite an in-depth topic, there’s a lot to cover. Which means this is a longer blog than normal.
So you have a couple of options here.
- Set aside a little time, grab a cuppa, and have a good read; or
- Just go to the section you want.
Either way, I hope you find some useful tips here to help you to make the most of Zoom (etc) calls, and to protect yourself from fatigue and anxieties from them.
Zoom. FaceTime. Skype. The list is seemingly endless.
A quick note – from this point on, I shall refer to “Zoom”, but remember that pretty much everything here applies to all over video messaging tools, I’m just using Zoom as shorthand. So if you use, for example, Skype, just mentally replace Zoom with Skype as you read on.
There’s no getting away from it, right now we are very much living in the age of online video meetings. Whether it’s businesses holding meetings, families keeping in touch with each other, or friends chilling and hanging out together, things like Zoom have enabled us all to keep in contact in ways which woudl have been nothing but an impossible sci-fi dream even just 20 years ago.
However, as with most things in life, there are pros and cons to this brave new world of online meetings.
On the plus side, it enables us all to keep in touch no matter how socially isolated we are and no matter how big the lockdown is. Just imagine if we were in this sort of situation back in the 1980s! It would have been a much more isolating experience all round…
On the minus side, however, there is an increasing feeling that we should be online at all times, that we have no excuse not to attend meetings, and that all starts to get draining (as well as killing productivity). Not to mention many people have fears, anxieties, and more about being constantly “on display” in this way.
Let’s take a look at the two biggest areas which cause people concerns with these tools, look at how we can overcome those, and finish up by exploring how and why you can Be Yourself on Zoom.
What Scares Us…
First things first, the two biggest areas which cause people to be scared or worried or anxious about being on Zoom.
Fear Of Being On Camera
Many of us feel uncomfortable being on camera – whether that is recording videos to post on social media, or even just being videoed by friends. It is little wonder therefore that many people find being on camera on Zoom to be uncomfortable.
Our discomfort, even fear, usually falls into one of two aspects (and yes, very often they are both experienced, just to make things worse)
- We get nervous about how others will see us
With the camera on us, and our image being splashed across everyone’s screens, we can often feel as though everyone is looking at us, staring at us, judging us. It makes for a very uncomfortable feeling. This is made worse by the very nature of the meetings – because everyone is usually looking at the screen to pay attention, it looks as though there are many pairs of eyes staring right at us, making us feel even more uncomfortable. After all, how uncomfortable would we feel if we were in a physical meeting room and everyone was staring at us the entire time? That’s very often how it can feel on Zoom calls.
- We hate seeing ourself on screen. One of those faces staring intently back at us is, of course, ours. For many people, staring at ourselves for any length of time becomes uncomfortable. We end up focusing on all the perceived imperfections we believe about our appearance. Every tic, spot, line, expression… to us they become magnified seemingly 100-fold. Many people already dislike seeing themselves in photos, or seeing themselves on video – now they are faced (as it were) with having to see themselves on that screen for long periods of time – and worse, they feel they can’t even look away because they feel they have to face the camera for everyone else.
- We feel like we are “on display” the entire time – rather than being able to hide in the shadows from time to time, we feel like everyone can see us the entire time and we are always on display in the spotlight. Which can be enjoyable for some, but for others it gets very draining very quickly.
In the early days of the first lockdown, when people started to discover Zoom and the tremendous opportunities for working and socialising online, a great many people dived in feet-first and embraced the opportunities to the full. Spending hour upon hour in meetings, chats, hanging out. I am a member of an excellent networking organisation which wholeheartedly embraced Zoom and moved their large number of regular meetings from face-to-face to Zoom overnight. The buzz in the community was huge. And given most people were now either on furlough or working from home, the opportunities where huge. An oft-repeated viewpoint was that now days and weekends meant nothing, we could all network 7 days a week. It was fun!
Of course, reality started to re-assert itself, and people (in networking and in all other areas) quickly started to find they were experiencing Zoom Fatigue. A kind of overwhelm, both from the sheer number of online meetings and their length, as well as the discomfort of being “on display”. Indeed, this can be particularly hard for introverts, as it very much takes them outside of that protective zone – whereas in conventional in-person meetings it is possible to at least have an aspect of me-space, with Zoom calls one is front and centre at all times. Draining!
Then we add to that the physical issues of spending long times in front of a computer screen – you are moving far less, and your eyes are spending far more time focusing on the same space. Indeed, it has been shown that whereas we normally blink around 15 times a minute (every 4 seconds or so), when we are focused on our screens that drops to around 5 – 7 times a minute – leading our eyes to get drier, tired, and sore.
It’s not all doom and gloom, however! The good news is that there are many things we can do to mitigate and even overcome all of these issues, so that we can productively enjoy our Zoom meetings (whether they are business, social, or pleasure)
Overcoming Fear Of Being On Camera
The biggest thing to realise is that despite appearances, most people are not focusing on you.
Think back to your last Zoom meeting. Now, as you think about it, describe in great detail what each person on the call was wearing. What clothing? Material? Colours? Were they wearing any makeup and if so what? What colour and style was their hair in that call? What was going on in the background of their pictures?
Unless you have a photographic memory (and it turns out that virtually nobody does!), you will find it very hard to recall anything other than superficial details. The results would be the same if you were asked the same question immediately after leaving the Zoom call, however, and that’s nothing to do with not having a photographic memory, and everything to do with the fact that you were not focusing on what everyone else was wearing or what they looked like, or what was going on in their background (unless it was particularly unusual and memorable as a result).
What’s going on? Nobody is focusing on spotting all the details over each person in the meeting. Which means nobody is focusing on obsessively observing you, either.
People’s attention is split between the multiple participants, their own notes, whatever else is going on in their room, and staring at their own picture (very often) desperately hoping nobody else is staring (which, of course, they aren’t).
It’s a new version of that age-old paradox – we worry about what people are thinking of us, when in reality they aren’t even thinking of us anyway…
So tip 1 is just to relax and remember that people are not paying our face anywhere near the level of scrutiny we think they are.
Second thing to realise is that you can switch off seeing yourself. I don’t mean metaphorically! I mean you can actually stop Zoom from showing your face on your screen.
You don’t need to turn off your camera for this (which would stop everyone seeing you – depending upon the meeting that could be considered rude, poor etiquette, or open you up to all sorts of speculation as to what you are actually doing!).
In Zoom (other apps tend to have similar options) move your mouse over your image, right-click to get a menu, and you will see an option to disable seeing your image on your screen. Click it and you disappear!
Of course, everyone else can still see you, so all is well, but it does remove the temptation to fixate upon your own image, brooding upon your perceived imperfections, and stopping you from being quite so self-conscious.
Tip 2 is to disable display of your video on your feed – much more relaxing!
A third tip helps to avoid the feeling that everyone is staring at us, and will actually make it seem like you are better connected with everyone at the same time!
Instead of focusing on the screen, look directly at the camera. Now, don’t stare, that’s rude, but look at it just like you might look at someone to whom you are speaking. This is especially effective when you are talking, and can really help to take your mind of the feeling of “being watched”. By looking directly at the camera you no longer focus on the faces staring at you, meaning you can relax a bit, and at the same time everyone watching feels you are connecting more directly with them as you seem to be looking them straight in the eyes – a win-win!
Tip 3 – look directly at the camera, not the screen, especially while talking.
Finally, remember that as with all things, practise helps. So yes, you may well feel nervous the first few times, but keep at it, and eventually it will start to feel more natural.
Overcoming Zoom Fatigue
There are several different things we can do to overcome Zoom Fatigue.
- Remember to schedule gaps between your meetings.
Yes, online meetings are great because there’s no travel time, so you can cram far more of them in to the day. BUT they are still hard work, and cumulatively they are exhausting, just as back-to-back real-world meetings woudl be. So make sure you have breaks between meetings. Not just a 5 minute “comfort break”, but actual gaps – 30-60 minutes or more.
And make sure you take that as a break – don’t give in to the temptation to stay on the call longer, or to stay at your desk and do other work.
Get up, have a walk around, get a cuppa, go to the bathroom, something to break your state, take you out of the meeting “zone”, to have a breather and a break both physically and mentally.
- Have the discipline to have a daily routine.
It is all to easy to let everything blur and blend int to one. I described earlier how some people felt they could take full advantage of the “new way” or working by deciding that week days and weekends were meaningless, we could so this stuff 24×7, and they threw themselves into it with gusto.
The problem is, doing Zoom meetings 7 days a week is not just doing it for 7 days – it’s doing it forever without a break!
And that will make anyone fatigued, no matter how disciplined or strong they think they are.
So establish daily routines. Make sure day is different from evening. Make sure weekends are different from weekdays. Sure, you could decide your weekends are now Wednesday & Thursday, and that Saturday and Sunday are work days – go for it! Just make sure you DO have those weekends and that they are DIFFERENT.
As the saying puts it, a change is as good as a rest, any by having structure to your days and weeks, it really makes a significant difference. It keeps you fresh, it gives you time to relax and take a mental and physical break, and it breaks up the long-term monotony (that being a particularly insidious killer).
- Don’t focus on the screen the entire time during calls.
Think back to a “real world” meeting. Would you spend the entire time staring intently at the person speaking?
No, of course not!
You would be looking at them some of the time, naturally, and the rest of the time you might be looking at the screen they have their presentation on, or you might be glancing round the room to see how others are reacting (especially when a comment is shared), or looking at your notepad as you take notes. Or even looking briefly at the clock, or out the window, or… well, anywhere and everywhere. The point is, you are looking around a lot.
Yes, you are focused on what is being said (well, mostly!), but you are not staring just at the speaker.
Yet in Zoom calls, we feel obliged to stare at the screen the entire time – it’s no wonder we get fatigued.
So take breaks – look around, look at others on the screen, or look away from the screen at the wall behind your computer (anyone looking at you at that point will still think you are watching the screen so it’s all good). And also look elsewhere. Nothing wrong with glancing round your room, or glancing out the window (just don’t start staring out the window and get lost in daydreams, that doesn’t tend to end well).
Have a notepad where you take written notes rather than typing all on the computer, and look at what you are writing – heck, have a little doodle pad and look at your doodles from time to time. It all helps to break the state, and give you that little “micro rest” you need.
I have two screens (well, I have a laptop and a big monitor, so that’s two screens). I have my calendar on my laptop screen, and I deliberately have that off to one side, at right angles, so I can’t see both at once – it gives me something I can physically look over to see when I need a little break. It all makes a big difference.
- Practice mindfulness.
This can be a great practise to do between meetings, and also as a great way to start or end your day. It could be meditation, it could be yoga, whatever it is for you.
Check out my 5 Minute Mindfulness podcast which is great for this – it’s a growing collection of easy-to-use 5 minute meditations, ideal for fitting in-between Zoom meetings when you need to just take a complete mental break.
- Be Kind to others and to yourself.
YEs, we are slowly getting used to working in this new way, but for most it is still new, different, and still filled with lots of unknown challenges – both in terms of the technology and processes, and in terms of what’s going on in people’s lives. It’s a strange and changing and challenging time for us all. Mistakes are going to happen. Confusion will arise. Not everything is going to go the way we want or expect it too. Be kind, be compassionate, be accepting that things are what they are and that’s life.
A nice Zen chilled response to whatever travails Zoom meetings throw at us will help you and help everyone else too.
- Follow the 20-20-20 rule.
When you spend a lot of time staring at your screen, then every 20 minutes you should look at an object 20 feet away for 20 seconds.
This allows your eyes a chance to relax and refocus. After all, in “normal” everyday life we do not fix our gaze on one area for extended periods of time, our eyes are usually looking around and refocusing a lot. So being forced to “sit still” for long periods of time gets tiring for your eyes. Which is why 20-20-20 helps to give them a break, which in turn helps to prevent you from getting Zoom Fatigue.
Being Yourself On Zoom
Now we’ve started to get a bit more comfortable with Zoom, and started to protect ourselves from fatigue, it’s time to look at the most important aspect – Being You!
Why Be You On Zoom?
When we are in these meetings, many people often feel the urge or need to put on a performance, to portray themselves as someone else, to pretend they are something they are not.
Sometimes this comes from a place of nerves – being on Zoom is a whole new experience for us, we’re not sure how we should act, and so we “pretend” to be some outgoing confident Zoom superstar because we think that’s what we are supposed to do.
Sometimes it can be for some of the reasons we’ve discussed earlier in this article, the various fears and distractions and anxieties – some find it hard to act naturally when there’s a camera pointed at them and they can see everything they are doing (of course we explored how to overcome those earlier).
Or perhaps we might feel the pressure to impress whoever else is on the call, and we feel we have to pretend to be someone we are not so that we don’t show ourselves up or so that we impress them. It might be that our boss’s boss is in the call (which happens far more often than in real world meetings). Or there might be an individual who we admire in some way and we want to make an impression so they will notice us – this can happen for professional or romantic or social reasons, and the end result is always the same.
The result is that we come over as insincere, insecure, inauthentic, even fake, or as trying too hard, or worse.
People can spot when someone is pretending to be someone they are not (well, unless they are a top grade actor, but the chances of you being Brad Pitt or Meg Ryan are pretty slim!). We end up slipping up, making a fool of ourselves, or conveying the impression that we are not trustworthy. None of which are good impressions to make!
And even if we manage to avoid projecting those images, by not being ourselves we still risk making others feel uncomfortable (especially those who do know us), and expose ourselves to the possibility of being laughed at for the wrong reasons, or to being over-the-top, or of comu=ing a cropper when things go wrong.
The primary reason, though, is authenticity – people are drawn to people who are authentic. And when we are not being ourselves, we project a strong air of inauthenticity which, consciously or unconsciously, puts people off us.
So in short – be you! As Dr Seuss put it – “Today you are You, that is truer than true. There is no one alive who is Youer than You“. So just Be You (after all, everyone else is already taken)
How To Be You On Zoom
OK, we get it – be ourselves. But HOW?
The first step is to figure out why we are not being ourselves.
Well, actually, the REAL first step is to notice and acknowledge that we are not being ourselves – unless we do that, we won’t do any of the rest of it. So notice it, and acknowledge it, and (this is the important bit) don’t judge or criticise yourself for it! Just acknowledge it was happening, and be grateful that you’ve spotted it and are able to address it.
Then start to figure out why it is you are not being You.
Is it because you feel uncomfortable, or anxious, or even scared about being on Zoom? That’s perfectly natural, and a reread of the rest of this article will offer some useful insights and tips to help you to start to overcome those, to be able to relax into just being you as a result. (Particularly check the ability to turn off seeing yourself, that makes a huge difference!)
Is it because you are nervous about who is on the call? Remember that when you get right down to it, they are only human too. Indeed they are probably experiencing some discomfort too (it is a new situation for most of us and takes getting used to). And that they will forgive any little foibles which arise from nerves. Plus the chances are they are not really focusing on you anyway, so it’s all good!
The more comfortable we feel, the easier it is to just mbe us. The easier it is to avoid feeling the need to “put on a show”.
That comfort could be by addressing the fears and anxieties mentioned above, or by taking the steps to reduce Zoom fatigue, or it could simply be making sure we are physically comfortable! The meeting, after all, may be virtual, but we are still very much physical!
- Make sure you are properly hydrated – have a full glass of water within easy reach at all times
- Make sure the chair and desk are comfortable.
- Have your monitor at a comfortable height – you’ll be there for a while, so reducing aches from poorly-adjusted positioning really pays off.
- Check the lighting! Both of your monitor, and of the rest of your room.
- Avoid the sun glaring on your screen – an easy one to overlook, but it makes a massive difference.
Following these steps helps you to feel more comfortable, making you more able to relax. And when you are more relaxed, you are far more likely to just Be You.
Remember why you are there. As with most things, getting back in touch with “why” can really help us to drop the masks, drop the pretences, and just be. So remind yourself why you are there in the first place. By doing that, it can help us to just be us, to be our true authentic self, and to share that with everyone else on the call.
Be clear what the purpose of the call is.
If it’s a business call, seek to have an agreed and published agenda. This keeps the call on track, which makes it more bearable for all concerned. It also makes it easier to Be You, as you know what’s coming, you know what’s expected. No surprises makes it a lot easier.
If you feel inspired to delve deeper, you could do worse than check out these useful and informative places as a starting point –
- How to Be a Good Participant in a Zoom Meeting (from Zoom)
- The reason Zoom calls drain your energy (from BBC)
- Zom Fatigue Is Real – Here’sWhy You Are Feeling It, And What You Can Do About It. (from NorthEasternUniversity)
- How Does the 20-20-20 Rule Prevent Eye Strain? (from HealthLine)