I clicked on the Zoom invitation and was taken to a black screen. Moments later, I heard a voice: “Michael, what’s up?”
For the next 30 minutes, my friend Austin Belcak and I talked in darkness about life and career advice. Prior to wrapping up the call, I asked him about not including the video option:
“It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. My main priority is to keep my sanity and video calls steal my energy.”
Austin then went on to explain that instead of giving people an option, on his invitation he normally just sends his phone number. Then he buckets his calls into 2 or 3-hour blocks, laces up his sneakers, grabs his notebook, and goes for a long walk.
This simple switch — which 99 percent of the people he speaks with find refreshing — has allowed him to turn something he used to dread into something he enjoys.
I wholeheartedly agree with Austin that video isn’t always necessary. But, unfortunately, sometimes it is.
As someone who thinks of Zoom as fondly as I do my disgruntled dentist, over the last few months I’ve been stealing a line from Austin and asking myself how I can turn something that steals my energy into something that produces it.
In addition to the basics like taking breaks, and trading in your seat for standing on your feet, below are a few other tricks that have helped make Zoom less awful.
Remind yourself that no one cares how you look
As a guy who stutters, few things freak me out more than seeing myself struggle with a word on camera. I also have a bad habit of looking everywhere but the person I’m talking to when I’m thinking.
I was nervous as hell to release a training video my friends and I recently made as my face was in a state of perpetual cringe while watching the replay. But here’s the thing: jabs from other people never came. In fact, I received a handful of messages from people saying how much they liked what I had to say.
According to a study performed by Highfive and Zogby Analytics, 59 percent of adults are more self-conscious on camera than in real life. The same study also showed it’s not our looks that draw negative attention on camera but rather things like sitting too close to the camera and hearing people eat — which are things we can absolutely control.
Write the word “You’re gorgeous” on a sticky note and put it over your image on calls.
Or better yet, write the word “Listen.”
It will serve as a reminder to take notes about what other people say instead of getting caught up in how you look.
Play the guessing game
One of my friends is big into improv. He told me one of the ways he’s learned to think and speak quickly on his feet is prior to the performance he brainstorms what topics will be thrown at him and what the other people will say based on their past actions.
Prior to your calls, make a list of what you think other people are going to want to talk about or their ideas for the points on the agenda. If you’re speaking to someone for the first time, take a stab at why they do what they do, what hobbies they’re into, or their opinion on certain topics you’d like to talk to them about and take a mental note as to whether you were right or not.
When it comes to our productivity, countless studies have shown gamification increases engagement. You may find it does the same thing in your conversations as you’ll focus more on the person in front of you instead of getting distracted by everything around you.
Do something you enjoy prior to the call
“Instead of sitting here whining about it, go do something fun prior to the call so you don’t come off as such a downer!”
These words from my wife are on par with Austin’s advice of assuming a call isn’t video. What we do prior to speaking to people greatly impacts the energy we bring. After all, do you think you’ll come off as more upbeat and confident after staring at a spreadsheet for an hour or after you’ve done something that gives you a quick boost?
Listen to some music or some stand-up comedy. Recently, I’ve taken to sitting on a bench in front of my apartment for a few minutes to breathe. This 5-minute buffer will not only help you to bring a smile to the call but it will also help you to leave your previous task in the past so you’re more present.
I was once told our energy introduces us before we say a word. This is not only true in real life but also in our virtual ones.
So don’t worry about faking it till you make it and hack your attitude instead.
Do not upgrade your Zoom account
Most conversations that are scheduled for an hour can be done in 40 minutes. If you need more time, send a new link and tell everyone to meet back in 5 minutes so people can catch a break. This allows them to not only move around some but also collect their thoughts as a lot of people I’ve spoken with aren’t as creative when all eyes are on them.
Throw in the fact that after the break you’re more likely to get back to the points that really matter and it’s a no-brainer to not pay $10 a month.
But what really sealed the deal for me for ditching the upgrade, was observing how people respond when they see the countdown timer pop up on their screen. Countless times it shifts the conversation from a discussion to an action plan.
“We’ve got 10 minutes left, what’s the priority?”
“We’ve got 10 minutes left, what’re the next steps we need to take?”
Like most things in life, Zoom calls lose their value if you aren’t forward-thinking.
Use the countdown timer to your advantage to focus on how you can make the future better while not wasting more time today.
I’m glad I met Austin. He’s not only my favorite person on Linkedin. But he’s quite possibly the most talented career coach I’ve met for people who are looking to land a job without going through the normal online channels.
Throw in the fact that it’s hard not to like a guy who thinks about how you can adjust things that drain your energy and turn them into things that give you energy and he’s someone worth following.
Even as vaccines begin to be distributed, whether we like it or not, Zoom isn’t going anywhere.
Do what you can to get it to work for you.
If I’ve learned anything in life it’s that sometimes it’s the little switches that make the biggest difference.