How to End Virtual Meeting Fatigue

virtual meetings

Are you spending most of your day as a box on a screen, attending virtual meeting after virtual meeting? Are you looking for better ways to motivate and lead your team? Or, are you hoping to find more meaningful and effective ways to engage with colleagues?

As we increasingly work remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic, it will become ever more important to develop strategies to become better virtual communicators.

In the latest issue of the INTA Bulletin, published by the International Trademark Association, Chief Executive Throughliner Brad Phillips offers some advice on how to make your digital communications more dynamic and effective. We’ve excerpted a portion of the article below:

INTA Bulletin: People are spending much of their day in virtual meetings. How do you set yourself apart and stand out from others in this environment?

Brad Phillips: There are two ways to approach this question. There’s the person running the meeting and those who are attending it. Numerous polls tell us that participants are distracted while virtual meetings are taking place. One memorable survey conducted by Intercall, the world’s largest conference and collaborations service provider, found that 55 percent of people admitted to eating or making food during conference calls!

So, if you are running the meeting, establish a start and end time and stick to it. That means you need to create a specific agenda and provide a clear sense of what you hope to achieve by the end of the call. For instance, if you are tackling a big project, a meeting that covers all the points would be a long, ineffective marathon. Instead, schedule a series of shorter meetings, each with a narrower focus on a few key points and clear calls to action.

Our pre-pandemic world didn’t depend solely upon face-to-face communication, and our new reality shouldn’t depend on it, either.

Limit the invite list to only those who can best deliver upon those goals, and actively moderate the session so that everything keeps moving. Before the meeting, establish how you will be accepting comments or questions. Will they come at the end? Throughout the meeting? Only in the chat window?

Another key principle for meeting leaders and participants is to “break the pattern.” We humans acclimate quickly to and tune out from unchanging stimuli—think of Ben Stein’s famously monotone character in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off — so we need to break patterns regularly to retain or regain audience attention.

In the virtual world, that might mean using interactive devices such as surveys, inviting participants to raise a virtual hand to ask a question, showing a brief video clip, sharing your screen to show a visual or chart, or doing a “lightning round” to ask each person on the call to offer an opinion on the key matter at hand in 30 seconds or less.

Few people wish meetings would last longer, so attendees can stand apart by coming into the meeting with prepared (but conversational sounding) talking points. Before the meeting, they should practice making their points, expressing their concerns, and making their case as efficiently as possible. That may seem like overkill, but the alternative is doing more thinking in real-time, extending the meeting length and potentially reducing the impact of your words.

INTA Bulletin: What are some ways to overcome “meeting fatigue” and get your message across?

BP: Unless your job requires you to be available immediately for non-urgent matters, block a few hours on your calendar each day. Perhaps you mark the late morning and early afternoon as “unavailable” for meetings, allowing you to maintain a solid window of non-Zoom, productive hours.

If you’re working from home, put on a mask and go for a walk or run in between video calls.

I’ve also found one additional tactic to be especially helpful, even if it’s not specifically about meeting fatigue: Each day, I block out one hour to return emails, usually in the late afternoon, and use that time to do an “email marathon” while listening to 1980s music. That allows me to respond to messages in a timely manner without feeling like I’m being held hostage to every ping in my inbox. Plus, who doesn’t enjoy a little Prince to get them through the workday?

In terms of getting your message across, all the fundamentals of in-person presenting apply virtually, but two items gain even greater importance.

First, there is a large body of research that suggests humans remember visuals far longer than they remember words. Rather than slides filled with words, you can use visuals to get your messages across. The visuals shouldn’t always be obvious. Visual metaphors and analogies that don’t make sense without your spoken explanation build anticipation from your audience, which will want to know how that image connects to your topic. (You can learn how to create captivating visual metaphor slides here.)

Second, stories—which include first-person anecdotes, personal a-ha! moments, case studies, and concrete examples—are particularly effective when sharing messages intended to offer a recommendation, express values, or make the abstract concrete. Because our brains are naturally wired for narrative, stories tend to regain attention from those who were busy sneaking a peek at their phones.

Want to know more?

You can read the full interview here.

The International Trademark Association is a nonprofit, global organization of brand owners and professionals “dedicated to supporting trademarks and related intellectual property to foster consumer trust, economic growth, and innovation.”