Tips and Tricks or Better Zoom Meetings

Zoom is exhausting. We’re spendings hours staring into the lens of a camera while simultaneously trying to listen to someone speak, watch them speak, or view a screen. It can’t be done. And – more importantly – shouldn’t be done.

We’re new to this so we’re still figuring out how to use this technology in productive ways.

Here’s what we’re not: We’re not talking heads on 24-hour news channels starting into a camera lens churning out nuggets of wisdom in easily digestible sound bites. We don’t get paid to quip. We get paid to listen, think, respond, and take action.

The default Zoom settings are similar to speed dating. You’re sitting across the table from someone who’s analyzing everything they can about you in a limited time. Except with Zoom it’s you vs a dozen people at the same time in hour-long segments.

Here’s what I’ve found works best.

But, before getting to this list, here’s the most important Zoom tip I’ve seen: If the same information can be communicated in an email, do that instead. Email isn’t perfect for every type of communication but it works great for things that can be summarized, put into lists, or need to be retrieved later.

1. Mute all but the speaker. This should be obvious by now. Not doing so is March 2020 thinking. Still, it’s worth mentioning because it’s still not the default in all meetings. There are at least two reasons to do this: It’s incredibly distracting to have background noise from multiple homes interrupting a speaker, and many people seem to be assuming that they’re muted at this point so occasionally do things in their homes while assuming they’re muted.

For example, while in a Zoom meeting this week I quipped to my wife while she passed by, “It took this guy 15 minutes to figure out how to share his screen”. As soon as I said that I noticed that the admin muted me. I felt bad for interrupting the meeting with a comment that was meant to be private and certainly didn’t help the presenter with his material.

2. Turn off all but the speaker’s camera. Do you want people to pay attention to what you’re saying? Then let them focus on that rather than thinking about how they look on camera, whether people have clicked on their screen, and whether someone may be inadvertently entering their screen. If you don’t trust your coworkers to pay attention to you without seeing them staring at their laptop cameras you have trust issues.

3. Use turning on your camera as the raising your hand signal. Yes, there is a hand-raising button, but turning on your camera is a better signal that you have something you’d like to say. First, it shows the admin that you’re interested in speaking. Second, the admin may be able to gauge what you’re interested in saying based on your expressions. Third, you should have your camera on when speaking.

4. Use a real microphone. It doesn’t need to be anything fancy, but poor audio quality can make it extremely difficult for people to focus on what you’re saying. If you’re using your computer’s microphone you’re likely projecting the echos of the room you’re in, the laundry or dishwasher, traffic driving by, toilets flushing, etc. Calling into meetings from your phone rather than using your computer’s audio is one way to address this.

5. Get into a collaborative mindset. When we’re collaborating with someone we’re not staring at each other. We’re not distracted by a hair being out of place, or what’s in the background behind a colleague. Why? Because we’re focused on the same thing. We’re focused on a problem to solve, an opportunity to discuss, or we’re having a personal connection where we’re focused on a story a person is sharing.

One way to do this is to imaging that you’re not staring at your colleagues but are, instead, sitting next to each other like you probably do when you’re being collaborative. What does collaborative work look like? It’s pulling up a chair next to someone at a table so you can see each other’s screens. It’s having more personal conversations while sitting next to each other at lunch, or at a bar during happy hour. It’s collaboratively sketching out an idea in a notepad or cocktail napkin.

Stop pretending that you have to be a workplace pundit, and give yourself and your colleagues space to listen, think, and react so you can effectively collaborate together from a distance.

IM Productivity and Etiquette

IM is a powerful tool that allows you to quickly ask questions or send comments to colleagues anywhere in the world within a second. However, it can also turn into a huge time waster, as Leo Babauta mentions in a recent post about ways to become more productive over at Zen Habits.

However, while I see some value in his IM tip, I think he’s overdoing things her and costing himself productivity potential:

12 Powerful Ways to Keep Your Online Life Simple and Peaceful

Schedule your IM time. Same thing applies to IM. I’m not a huge fan of IM, especially if you have your IM program open all the time. That’s because it encourages people to interrupt you whenever they want, instead of you valuing your time. If IM is important to your work, then schedule IM meetings, or have certain times of the day when you’re available for IM and tell your colleagues and friends about it. And have it for a limited amount of time and then end it.

Using IM effectively involves balancing attention with access.

First, I highly recommend turning off all audio alerts other than incoming messages. Everything else seems like fun the first day but quickly becomes a distraction since it’s worthless information.

Second, hide your IM window so you won’t be distracted by the movement of people logging in and out of their accounts throughout the day. This, again, is worthless information.

Third, use status updates. If you’re online but busy, let people know that. They’ll honor that unless they have a true emergency or are just jerks (this is a good way to verify which is which).

Those are my top three tips. If I added a forth it would be to ask your question or give your comment in your initial IM to someone rather than sending them a message that says, “Hi.” If you’re the type of person who has to say, “Hi.” do so within your initial IM rather than waiting for a response to your “Hi” message.

Three Huge Media Technology Trends

I’m not a big “technology for technology’s sake” kinda guy. The biggest benefits of using technology is the convenience it brings to my life. At Technology Evangelist, we have a lot of online and offline conversations (yes, we actually talk face to face from time to time) about what technologies make our lives better. Here are a few trends we at Technology Evangelist have identified involving products we love. This article focuses on the trends. Later articles will take a closer look at the various applications mentioned below and how they make our lives better.

1. On Demand Content

TV is dead. At least, how TV is largely delivered today is dying fast. People LOVE watching TV, but they want to filter through the junk to get to the shows that are actually worth watching.

“Channels” are a dying concept. Consumers watch TV SHOWS not channels, and could care less about bundled cable packages. Television networks and cable operators are way behind on this, The FCC is starting to put pressure on cable operators to unbundle their channels (LA Times Registration Required) based on consumer demand for more control over what’s coming into their homes. That’s a start, but savvy television viewers are already well beyond the impact that will have on their viewing behavior.

What do consumers really want? To watch the shows they like on the time frame of their choice. Napsterization.

Don’t make me sit through Joey to watch The Apprentice.

Examples: TIVO, CinemaNow, Purchasing TV Series on DVD, iTunes

2. Aggregating Content

There is no shortage of incredibly interesting content worth consuming on the web, but how do you manage to filter for the content that’s truly remarkable? Here’s my personal challenge: I try to keep up to date on technology trends, companies I find interesting, political news & opinion, and international, state, and local news. Can I get the best of this type of content from one source? Not even close. Fortunately, a combination of web tools like Bloglines, and news review sites like Digg are making it easier for me to find content that interests me and roll it up on a custom homepage. This allows me to read more content, and more interesting content in a timely manner.

If I can’t access your web site’s content through Bloglines, I won’t be a regular reader.

Examples: Bloglines, Digg, Del.Icio.Us

3. The Participatory Web

Media gatekeepers such as publishers and television programmers are being outsourced. To whom? To all of of us. We’re creating custom TV “channels” using TIVO, our own “newspapers” using Bloglines, and our own “radio stations” using iTunes. Sites like Digg,, Amazon help us figure out what’s worth reading or buying based on feedback from a huge network of consumers.

Yet, we still need editors. Content creators need editors to help organize their thoughts. Consumers need editors who can help get them to quality content quicker. Freelance RSS reader optimization consulting will be a new career option for smart newshounds as a service to busier newshounds.

Wikipedia lets everyone become and editor allowing the site’s knowledge base to improve as people contribute what they know. Flickr uses a combination of “sets,” “most viewed,” “interestingness,”  “pools,”  and  “tags” to point you to content that may interest you. MNSpeak lets anyone submit and comment on news stories. The submissions are moderated to make sure they’re topical to the site, but the content is generated by the site’s network.

The people who point me to the best content on the web don’t work for media companies.

Examples: Wikipedia, Flickr, MNSpeak

The takeaways:

Consumers who take advantage of new technologies will be more productive, better informed, and live more interesting lives.

Businesses who let consumers decide how they’ll consume their business’ content will have winning strategies.