Congratulations, you have now been working for over a year during a pandemic. You have learned new technology. You have adjusted your audio / visual setup. You may have even gone beyond Zoom to try tools like Wonder or Mural or Miro.
Before you devote any more time to learning new software or spend more money on upgrading your zoom account, pause.
Want to liven up your meeting?
Want to increase engagement?
Want to feel more connected?
The way to do it is to think about your five senses.
The importance of sight is why so many facilitators care about having everyone turn their videos on during a meeting or workshop. We take in so much information through visual cues. However, video is not the end all be all and there are many advantages to giving people breaks from being on video. As someone who delivers a lot of workshops, I can personally attest to how draining it is.
When we are not looking at one another, why not focus more on the effectiveness of the visuals you are using to explain a concept or to share data?
I really love the Unfolding the Napkin workbook. It takes you step by step through all of the different simple visuals that you can draw that will help you communicate better and solve problems more effectively. Yes, I said draw. Not choose stock photography from Canva.
When you draw you are able to create the exact visual you need to explain a concept. When you draw live with your team or audience, you not only create helpful visuals, you also create an experience.
Think about Simon Sinek’s TED famous bullseye drawing. So simple, but so effective and engaging.
This is one reason why I like to go old school and break out my flip chart during a zoom call. Sure, I could use Miro or Mural to draw on a virtual whiteboard, but I get more interest and engagement when I draw with a real marker on a real piece of paper. Also, I buy the Mr. Sketch smelly markers, so I get to engage my sense of smell and feel nostalgic.
Smell and Taste
Speaking of smell, this one takes some forethought, but it can play into your meeting or workshop as well.
In the past I have engaged smell through 1) Mr. Sketch markers 2) free coffee for morning sessions 3) Fresh flowers that were designed specifically for the leadership retreat.
Now if you are working with a remote team you could:
- Ask everyone to bring their favorite morning beverage and do a mindful coffee/tea warm-up in which they take extra time to smell and taste the beverage and a moment of silence to ground themselves in the moment before beginning.
- I’ve mailed or delivered food to participants ahead of time. Who doesn’t miss gathering around food? When you can incorporate food into a meeting or event it helps to reconnect us to the universal experience of coming together in the kitchen or eating together at a gathering.
- If you are meeting during a season of the year when it’s nice outside and there might be nice smells, you could include a break with a suggested walk outside and a reflection component.
One of the symptoms of COVID is a loss of smell and taste. Keep this in mind if you have participants that have been affected by the disease. You want to be careful not to exclude or further isolate someone who has been infected and is suffering the consequences of the virus.
First, now that we have been at this for awhile it is time to upgrade our equipment or be more thoughtful about what equipment we use when it comes to audio. Many people are using the built-in microphone in their computer or tablet and then sitting in a large open space near a window in which there are a lot of surfaces for sound to bounce off of. Do you sound like you are joining from inside a tunnel? Do you find yourself leaning in to listen to your colleagues because their volume is so low?
Listening to bad audio all day is just as exhausting as sitting in a room with fluorescent lights or having to be on video all day.
I just realized that some of you may be putting up with all three. I’m so sorry.
Help yourself by getting noise-canceling headphones if you are joining from a space with background noise. If you do not have a headset or an external webcam with a nicer built-in microphone, or an external microphone, consider trying the call-in by phone option on zoom and using the cheap phone headphones with built-in microphone.
Ideally, you will have a microphone that is not the one built into your laptop. That will help your audio be more clear and at adequate volume. You could also consider adjusting where you sit for meetings. Is there a space that is less open? Maybe you can sit closer to fabric curtains that help absorb some of the sound?
And finally, is your smoke alarm battery dying? Please replace it. For yourself and for everyone listening to it beep endlessly on the call.
Okay, one more fun way to incorporate sound is to include music during your meeting or event. You can play music on your computer and share it through the zoom (go to share screen, additional sharing options). Better yet, do you know a soloist? Would they like to do a short performance to kick off your virtual event or meeting? Strings instruments are great for this, singers would also be great. Or spoken word poetry could be a nice change of pace and provide the reset and reconnect you are looking for.
One of the reasons I became a licensed Online Empathy Toy facilitator is that I really believe in the power of experiential learning. With the empathy toy, we mail a few of the participants the toys ahead of time and then use those tangible objects during the workshop. Working with something that you can hold in your hands is transformative.
Even if you don’t have the time or budget to mail or deliver things ahead of time, you can still incorporate the physical into your meeting. I’ve been in many sessions where people are asked to pull out a piece of paper and then given instructions on how to fold it or what to draw on it.
I also love doing Show and Tell as a warm-up game for team building. Each participant can hold an object from their workspace and share the story of that object with their group. It’s an amazing way to overcome the boundaries between ourselves in remote work.
What’s more old school than Show and Tell?
So before you go out and try to learn how to create your own holograms, or how to use a green screen, or how to create a virtual room, or how to design an animated video…
Think about the simple things you probably already have:
Reflect back on moments when you felt heard, connected, or energized during a meeting/event. What factors contributed to those feelings? Is there one of those factors that you can bring in now?
Always remember, constraints breed creativity. Ask yourself, What does this make possible?