Real Leaders

Defeat Zoom Fatigue and Become a More Effective Virtual Communicator

Before the pandemic, Zoom fatigue was a concept unfamiliar to the broad public. Some might argue that it didn’t yet exist. Solutions to it certainly did not.

As we’ve sought to adapt to the reality of the new communication that the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about, most of 2020 was a struggle to simply survive and communicate at a functional level. Now, having gotten through that period of figuring out the functionality of video conferencing, we have a new focus — how to boost the quality of our virtual communication.  

Zoom fatigue is a symptom that our virtual communication demands quality improvement. Focusing on quality is the next communication evolution required in our changing business environment with less emphasis on functionality.   

In any rapidly changing environment, adaptability is key to survival. As Charles Darwin famously said, “It is not the strongest of species that survive, it is the ones most adaptable to change.” Today this is as true for the post-pandemic business world as it was in the mid-1800s when Darwin made his observation of the animal kingdom.  

The quality of communication gives companies and individuals a competitive advantage. We can boost our personal credibility and our company’s brand by learning effective communication skills and how to apply them in a virtual environment. These skills make us more employable and better able to pitch for our next client, promotion, or pay rise.  

In today’s new virtual communication world, skilled communication requires what communications expert Patti Sanchez of Duarte Inc. calls “performative effort.” This includes using our body language and hands more effectively.   

Visual engagement of an audience — virtual or real life — has always been important. Body language experts extol frequent hand gestures ineffectively putting across one’s message. Research on the frequency of hand gestures among the top TED Talk presenters showed they used on average 25 gestures per minute versus the bottom-rated presenters. The latter employed an average of 14 gestures per minute. More focused gesturing is the evolution we need to be more effective virtual communicators.  

In my own research, I’ve not only studied the frequency of gestures but the types of gestures top communicators use and what meaning they convey. For example, in Barak Obama’s first inauguration address, he used a confidence gesture of a clasped fist with the thumb on top, “the Thumb of Power,” 93 times. Joe Biden used the downward chop gesture 78 times in his inauguration address. Christine Lagarde, the former head of the IMF and currently the head of the European Central Bank, used six hand chops, nine thumbs of power gestures, and a downward point — all in just 30 seconds! — to firmly state her position in a speech on climate change. 

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Emphasizing our words through gestures is precisely what we need to do to motivate people in our virtual communication and counteract Zoom fatigue. 

Here are some tips for better virtual communication: 

1. Make sure hand gestures can be seen on screen. 

Gesturing out of shot is a gesture wasted — the audience can’t see it. It takes a conscious effort to lift our hands up to be visible on screen in a virtual meeting. Some people are still gesturing as if they’re having face-to-face conversations, yet their hands are held too low to appear on the screen.  

2. Greet meeting attendees with an “eyebrow flash.” 

When we greet people we haven’t seen for some time, we signal that we’re pleased to see them by raising our eyebrows, smiling, and throwing our arms open to show our eagerness to embrace them. We can see this behavior beautifully played out at airport arrival gates. On a Zoom call, we can use the eyebrow flash and smile. This combination lets people know that we’re pleased to see and reconnect with them. It sets a positive first impression for any virtual meeting or communication. 

3. Invite others’ input with an open palm. 

Extending an open palm towards the screen shows that we invite ideas and contributions. This clear visual signal during an interactive meeting can be used to show that we’ve completed our presentation and are ready to hear others’ feedback and ideas. 

4. Show conviction with the heart clasp.

Bringing the right hand across the chest to cover the heart is a gesture we associate with passion and conviction. When wishing to communicate our commitment to an idea or statement, placing our right hand over our heart will demonstrate that. 

As many of us struggle with capturing the same energy and impact in virtual presentations as we have from in-person presentations, making a greater performative effort will allow our audiences to connect and engage with our message. Making sure to bring our hands up into view and using a wide range of gestures will ensure our communication efforts are more visually engaging and effective.  

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