Surviving and Thriving on Zoom

By Tim Dyer – the Johnmark Extension 2021

During the ongoing COVID19 lockdowns and their consequent social isolation, video conferencing programs like Zoom have been a life saver for work and relationships. Over the last 18 months, I have ended up moving many of my mentoring, training and teaching programs to Zoom or MS Teams as travel restrictions continue to limit face to face connections. It is quite likely that Zoom will become a permanent part of the way we work and relate together.

While Zoom is great for staying connected, it is very hard brain work on several levels. First the potential delays caused by connection speeds mean that we don’t hear everything clearly and at times visual cues are out of sync with auditory messages. This creates some serious energy demands on our brains. Secondly, we are designed to subconsciously pick up all kinds of small cues visually around body language, facial colour changes and eye contact as people speak. The fact that cameras and screens subtly change colour hues, we both tend to engage eye contact with an image on a screen and not give eye contact directly through the camera, and that we can only see a limited view not the whole person in context, all make our brains work even harder still to decode all the information. The lack of direct eye contact especially sends a signal to the brain warning of potential trust issues, lack of sincerity or of us not being taken seriously. When we pick up other signals or have other knowledge which contracts this, our brains have to sort it all out. Finally, in a conversation we are simply not programmed to engage with more than one face at a time, especially when this may include our own. Our brains just go.. “Give me break!! This is way way too much!” Can you see how Zoom fatigue or Zoom brain fog kicks in?

So, some tips on how to stay sane on a zoom training event.

Before you go online

    • Save the meeting link somewhere accessible if you drop out or something happens during the meeting. I usually put them in my online diary for the day so I know where to look if anything goes wrong.

    • Test or double check your settings before starting
      Check your camera settings and microphone settings are working before you join a scheduled meeting. You can do this by ensuring you have the Zoom program downloaded and starting your own zoom meeting. Most of the issues are audio as many devices connected to your computer or tablet have microphones. Click on the arrow next to the microphone (with the word MUTE under it) and then TEST SPEAKER AND MICROPHONE. This will help you find the right settings. You may have to select the microphone to use via a headset, built in mic or even one built into a webcam. The same will apply to a connecting speakers or a headset.

    • Edit your name and location
      Use the three dots in the top right side of your screen to change your name to something people will recognise. It is good to let them know where you are. I.e. Tim Dyer (Tasmania)

When online

    • Use the Chat line
      Find the Chat icon and use the chat function to interact with individuals or with the group facilitator. This is a great way to ask questions, comment or engage with the topic. Don’t be afraid to highlight phrases or ideas which grab you. You can also use the reaction buttons to indicate a response.

    • Use speaker view
      To avoid looking at too many faces, getting tired and losing concentration, turn to speaker view (top right hand corner setting toggle) when someone is presenting. This will be automatic if they are sharing a screen. I often share PowerPoint presentations in training. Be aware that the presenter can often see everyone, even though you may be restricted to their screen.

    • Mute yourself but leave your own camera on
      While it might seem like a good use of time to multitask by turning your camera off and doing something else, this is not a great way to learn and is very difficult for presenters who can see all the participants screens while they are presenting. If people disconnect their cameras there is no visual feedback to a presenter who will not know if people are engaged or not. Do mute yourself as any noise signals zoom that you are ready to speak and the program will focus its attention on your screen and microphone.

    • Jot down notes, and engage learning, don’t treat this as a TV program
      Take notes of key points which connect for you, highlights, issues or questions to think about. These should be more personal insights that will be great for discussion in breakout rooms. Keep a note of your personal applications and take-aways.

    • In breakout rooms

      Room number – always take note of your room number or name, this is likely to be the same for the session unless changed deliberately by the host.

      Spokesperson – appoint a spokesperson for feedback from room discussion and ask this person to take some group notes.

      Short sharp reporting back – when giving feedback, be short and sharp, particularly if there are a number of groups to share.


      • Breaks away from the camera and screen are essential in longer zoom meetings. Get outside away from the camera and screen where your eyes and brain can recalibrate to distance and focus.  This is the time to switch your camera off, mute, remove headset, or lower speaker volume.  Sunshine, exercise, natural surroundings, and fresh air all help concentration when you need to re-engage.

      • Snacks. Do take some time for snack, lunch and dinner breaks.  Have a think about this ahead of time.  If zoom is a substitute for a training course or conference, you are probably missing some fun morning or afternoon teas.  Plan something special even prepare ahead of time. 

      • If there is a person on the zoom meet you would like to chat with or catch up with personally as you would at a face-to-face conference, this can usually be arranged via the chat line. It is often good to connect by mobile phone so you can be outside and not stuck with another camera and screen session (which can also mess with settings if you switch over to Meet or Teams from Zoom to keep the zoom connection alive).

Facilitators or presenters often pick up whether their communication has been effective by informal feedback cues they get in a wide variety of ways; everything from a smile or a nod through to a meaningful conversation or question at the end of their session. 

It is important to provide this if you feel able, through reactions, the chat line (individually to the presenter or to everyone), via email, or even a text.  While it is good to do and genuinely helpful for presenters, keep this thoughtful and appropriate as written communication is a very different form of sharing thoughts than would be normal in a face-to-face situation.