make zoom great again

As our perpetual state of lockdown, locked out and varying levels of restrictions drag on – the constant refrain we are hearing is how people are “so sick of Zoom“!

I put it to you that people aren’t sick of Zoom, they’re sick of bad Zoom.

I recently attended an online, 80’s themed, Murder Mystery party for a friend’s birthday! It was such a clever night and a great way to celebrate our friend while still in lockdown! We all had a character and most of us dressed up (costumes are easier online because they don’t need to be transportable and they only need to be from the waist up! No pants or shoes to match your costume? No worries!! PJ pants and ugg boots it is then!!). Each household had readied snacks and drinks. No one was complaining about being on Zoom! Saturday night at 8pm for a couple of hours and Zoom was our best friend.

People aren’t sick of Zoom, they’re sick of bad Zoom!

So what makes Zoom good or bad? Bearable or intolerable? Fulfilling and productive or life-sucking and downright depressing? Here are a few of my observations and thoughts.

A MEETING THAT SHOULD BE AN EMAIL IN PERSON SHOULD STILL BE AN EMAIL IN ZOOM-LAND

Don’t assume that a team’s desire to be together will override the frustration we all feel at being in a meeting that should have been an email. Endless recitation of facts, details, calendar items and reading through text heavy PowerPoint slides is not what meetings are designed for and are not a good spend of your Zoom-credits. Meetings exist for relationship building, collaboration, learning, vision casting and role assigning. Send the details ahead of time or circulate them for reading afterwards. Too much information sharing translates to a monologue that is hard to sustain in a physical room let alone a virtual one.

ZOOM TIME IS DIFFERENT THAN REAL TIME

There have been multiple studies and papers released about the realities of Zoom-fatigue. It takes greater effort to remain focused due to audio differences and the reality that our computer’s other open tabs and notifications beckon. We are more self-conscious and aware because we are more visible to ourselves and others than we would be in a physical meeting space – we consequently expend energy managing our appearance, body language, facial expressions etc more than is necessary in real life. There’s less “collective effervescence” – the experience of laughing together, rapidly exchanging ideas and energising creative interactions – because of the clinical need to take turns to speak and the inevitable annoyance that comes when audio intersects and gates. We are more sedentary – less likely to adjust our sitting posture. And a multiplicity of other factors that mean an hour on zoom costs us more than an hour in real life.

If you would normally meet for an hour, meet for 45mins. Normally present for 30 mins? Try 20.

Clearly communicating (and adhering to) the proposed timeline of a meeting will also help participants pace themselves and increase their capacity to remain engaged for the entirety of your time together.

ZOOM MEETINGS REQUIRE STRONG LEADERSHIP

Even more than in real life, whoever is hosting the meeting must work actively to maintain control of the meeting. Establishing and communicating expectations about how this meeting will function is important. Having a clear sense of flow – minimising down time between segments or presenters, reducing talk about the mechanics of the meeting, and making definitive statements about transitions between topics or modes – will help a meeting feel more in control and purposeful. In real life, we can use body language, non-verbal clues, physical actions, facial expressions and other means to demonstrate we are wanting to move on. This doesn’t translate so easily to Zoom and so it takes more effort to keep tight reign of oversharing or meandering contributions. But it is essential for maintaining the engagement of the entire group.

The size of your group will determine what degree of “free-flow” is manageable and helpful – whether microphones should be muted or open (for example). Leaders should feel the liberty to request participants to make changes for visual or sound quality purposes (Turn the radio off. Tilt your screen up a little. Close the curtain behind you.). Who is in your group will determine how much ‘power’ you give participants and how much you restrict to host privileges. The more interruptions that come because of mismanagement of the meeting dynamic the more frustrated and fatigued participants will become.

ZOOM SKILLS & ZOOM BUDDIES

Zoom has customised their platform to have multiple functions that can make meetings more dynamic and a more accurate replica of in-person gatherings. Whiteboard, breakout rooms, chat function, screen sharing, split screen viewing, emoji responses and other options are great for changing up the presentation mode and inviting interaction. However, they can be hard to navigate while maintaining a helpful dialogue.

“And the o….therrrrrr … thiinnnnn …ggggg … I’ll just share my scre … oh, nope, …not that .. and yes, the other thing is … ”

You’ve all done or heard a version of this. The more practiced you are in the engagement of these tools and the more advanced preparation you do, the smoother these things will flow. But if it is at all possible, I recommend traveling in pairs! A co-host who can mute the person whose dog has started barking in the background, or rearrange breakout rooms to accommodate people who’ve joined the meeting late, or interject with appropriate questions or comments participants have made in the chat allows the presenter to keep full focus on what they are communicating or on listening fully to the contributions of a participant.

VIDEO ON OR OFF?

Research indicates that having the video muted increases the energy and longevity of participation for group members, but it reduces the feeling of engagement for the presenter or leader of the meeting. It can also impact the feeling of shared experience if not all members are visible on the call. What are they doing? Are they fully engaged? Have they gone to the bathroom? Are they doing other work?

This can be detrimental to the accountability and commitment of team or group environments. If there is disparity between perceived engagement in a group it will be hard to reach consensus or for participants to conclude a meeting feeling it was effective or productive. This can quickly diminish engagement from participants – why should I have my camera on when others don’t?

A quick statement of expectation from the meeting leader is helpful to establish expectations. “It’s fine for your cameras to be off for this next segment …” or “Can I have all cameras on just while we sort out our decision on this?”

Likewise, narration from participants can bring understanding and build (rather than erode) trust. “I need to have my camera off right now because my child is doing something in the space I’m in” or “my internet is lagging so I’m switching off my camera to hopefully see yours better”.

Some notes for you, the presenter, it’s important that participants see your face well lit and well positioned (not up your nose!) in camera. And research also indicates that seeing your hands is helpful for trust and engagement from participants. If nothing else, the movement you generate on your screen will help re-engage and keep engaged those watching you. Be sure to toggle quickly between shared screen and your video screen to maximise involvement.

EMBRACE THE ZOOM!

As much as it is a distant second place to real life gatherings, Zoom has afforded us a level of relational connection and ministry/work functionality that we would not otherwise have been able to experience during these last 18 months. I would go so far as to say I LOVE Zoom because it allows me to replicate my work contexts and output in a way that means I’m still employable (!) and I am still actively engaging my gifts, skills and passions.

It is what it is and where it is for the foreseeable future. We would do well to embrace that reality and work to maximise its offerings rather than perpetuating the frustration of both attitude and experience.

In my world, Zoom has opened up opportunities that would not have existed for me in real life. Participation in multiple overseas conferences, workshops and forums. Learning from ministry leaders and key thought leaders of a status and location that would be otherwise inaccessible. Maintaining relational connection with family and friends through shared meals, celebrations and online experiences. I love Zoom!

**THE MOST IMPORTANT POINT**

Make sure you laugh! Do what you need to in order to elicit laughter from the group. Even if you can’t hear it or they can’t hear each other – psychologically we know that our brains associate laughter with comfort. We are more likely to recall a meeting positively if we have laughed at some point – even if the meeting itself was weighty or long. Laughter releases happy hormones that increase wellbeing and shift attitude. Do what you gotta do!!! It can take an inordinate amount of effort. It can seem frivolous or time wasting. It might be uncomfortable to deal with the silence (or the sound of your solitary chuckling!). But it is well worth it. Make laughter a goal of every gathering you are part of.

How about you? What steps might you take to Make Zoom Great Again and maximise it as a resource to us while we navigate these strange and challenging times?

3 things to look for in a mentor

Everyone should have a mentor (read here – 3 reasons you need a mentor) but sometimes it’s hard to know exactly who you are looking for. Here are three characteristics I believe are worth considering.

Find someone who is successfully doing something you want to do successfully. 

Be it in business, parenting, leading, discipline, advocacy, finances, study, fitness or relationships – whatever you are hoping to grow in, develop or attain – your mentor should be demonstrating elements of that competency. They should be further down the path than you. They should have the wisdom to be able to assess and articulate how they came to be successful – a person who can’t describe what they did to bring them to their current stage of life, work, serving or character will not be able to teach or lead you to a similar destination.

Find someone who allows you close. 

A good mentor will let you understand something of their life – of the path they’ve walked and the context in which they’ve developed their character, beliefs and skills. Beyond what they might teach you from their learning and wisdom, a great mentor will allow the story of their life to bring application and a shared sense of journeying.

There should also be a degree to which the vulnerability you express to a mentor is honoured with their own vulnerability. The safety of such an environment will allow the relationship (and you) to flourish.

Realise you might need more than one someone. 
Because your life is diverse and you are likely to be engaged across a number of roles or circumstances it may be most beneficial to have more than one mentor rather than expect one person to meet all your needs. Across the journey I have had a variety of mentors – each leading and investing in me in particular areas. I have had mentors around communication and preaching, generations ministry, being a female in leadership and ministry, writing and publishing, leading at the next level, and those who are more invested in pastoral care of me.

Finding one person who can be all things to you might be unrealistic.

What would you add to this list? What have you found about your own efforts to have a mentor or as a mentor others?

in series 

// 3 reasons you need a mentor
// 3 reasons you should be a mentor

being who you needed 


When you think back to your younger years you can, no doubt, identify the people who were most influential in your life …and also the glaring absences of significant adult input in areas you perhaps needed them most. 

“Be the kind of person you needed when you were younger.”

This quote resonates with me as a way to frame our reflections to position us to be the best navigators we can be (you can read more about that here – navigating life’s rough water). As we consider what we EXPERIENCED and also what we LACKED we can be more dialled in to those things in the young people entrusted to our care – be they family, friends, students or members of our ministries. 

  • Someone to validate (and help me understand) my personality

I spent most of my teen and young adult life being criticised for my personality. You’re so loud! Why are you always so happy? Stand still! Stop being so dramatic and exaggerating. I came to accept that my personality was innately flawed. There was no one else like me so there must be something wrong with me. I oscillated through varying degrees of resignation and defensiveness. 

If I could speak to my younger self I would tell her that her Tigger-ness is a gift. That her capacity to see and bring joy and celebration is needed in this world. That her optimism and enthusiasm bring light and life to those around her. I would tell her that she can learn about time, place and volume in order to not inflict herself upon others in negative ways. I would tell her that others aren’t like her and she needs to understand them and help them understand her. 

  • Someone who asked questions about who I was hoping to become

Teenagers don’t have the capacity to see very far into the future. That’s not a criticism, it’s a natural function of their forming brain. Teens are not able to perceive consequences to choices, to see value in waiting for a better option or to understand how each decision they make is shaping the person they will become. 

If I could speak to my younger self  I would ask her to keep describing and refining the future she sees or hopes for. Who she wants to be – family, work, faith, reputation, character, relationships. So that she would have a filter to process decisions and reactions through. Does this lead you to who you want to be? Does this shape your character and your reputation in a positive way? She may not listen to me – but that wouldn’t stop me asking!

  • Someone who could help me understand myself. 

When I was 11 my Dad left our family and, of course, I felt the impact. Part of my response was to be quite needy of male attention and affection and so I fought really hard to get it. I joke (with embarrassment) that I could “flirt for Australia” such was my competency at eliciting the kind of response my heart was seeking from guys. 

If I could speak to my younger self I would tell her that she is enough on her own and that she will never find what her heart is really craving in the places she is looking. I would help her to not let the vulnerabilities of her heart lead her to bad choices and regret. 

  • Someone who identified and encouraged me into my gifts 

Growing up I was blessed to have people who released me to explore my giftings and passions. I was only 15 when I led worship for the first time in our church and younger than that when I was given responsibility for the babies and toddlers ministry. I was constantly affirmed for my natural capacity to engage with kids and given leadership roles at school. I was given scope to explore my sporting abilities and also those in musical arts. 

If I could speak to my younger self I would remind her how blessed she was to have those opportunities and keep encouraging her to maximise the chances to experiment and engage. I would mentor her more intentionally to learn and grow in her understanding of God’s hand on her life and His desire to use her for His Kingdom purposes. 

What about you? How do you reflect on the people you had or needed when you were younger? How might that shape the way you invest in younger people in your world?