Five Tips to Prevent Zoom Fatigue PR Blunders 

May 28, 2020

Are you tired all the time? Taking more naps than seems healthy and normal? Confused about the cause of your uncharacteristic exhaustion—especially considering all of the extra downtime you’ve had over the last two months? If so you might be suffering from Zoom fatigue—a new phenomenon sweeping the tens of millions of people who have traded their bustling offices and team building lunches for video meetings and virtual happy hours. Left unchecked, the effects of Zoom fatigue can become detrimental to work outcomes, particularly for communications professionals and spokespeople.

In April, Zoom announced it reached 300 million daily meeting participants (an unprecedented rise from the 10 million the video conferencing provider reported in December). As more and more people began using video conferencing to stay connected to colleagues, friends and family during COVID-19 isolation, reports about inexplicable tiredness started to emerge. It didn’t take long for neuroscientists and cyberpsychologists to figure out the cause: too much time on video meetings and chat. Video conferencing demands excessive multitasking from the brain, and impairs humans’ innate ability to read nonverbal cues when communicating with others. For people spending hours each day conversing and collaborating virtually, while stuck in often less-than-ideal workspaces, the result is an overtaxed, tired mind. 

Countless studies have documented the negative effects of fatigue, including “degraded performance,” which may include errors and miscommunication. For spokespeople responsible for fielding media interviews, presenting at virtual events and hosting webcasts—where anything they say may appear in quotes—such effects can lead to anything from professional inconveniences and moderate embarrassment, to reduced credibility. 

For the time being, we’re living and working in a new normal. In it, communications professionals and company spokespeople need to be mindful of Zoom fatigue, and take steps to ensure it doesn’t spoil potential media wins or other public-facing opportunities. Drawing on expert recommendations for combatting Zoom fatigue, as well as general PR best practices, we’ve compiled a set of tips to help on this front. 

  1. Skip the video. Video meetings introduce a myriad of distracting stimuli—faces, expressions, settings and background noise of numerous meeting participants—that make it difficult for the brain to keep up. This is the core underlying cause for Zoom fatigue, and why video meetings should be kept to a minimum. In a pre-COVID world, video was rarely, if ever, used for media briefings. While most people now default to video conferencing as a means to replace in-person interactions, in most cases, there’s still little reason for conducting a media interview by video. Save yourself—or your spokespeople—the headache, and stick to the tried and true phone call, unless a reporter has explicitly requested a video chat, or there’s some other legitimate reason for a face-to-face virtual meeting (like demoing a product or screen-sharing slides that are integral to the discussion).                                                   
  2. Don’t come as you are. Working from home is not a free pass to dispense with business etiquette. A professional appearance and presence is a win-win, whether you are speaking in-person or virtually. For one, the mental tax of staring at the video reflection of ourselves, and worrying what impressions we are making on meeting participants, is a major contributor to Zoom fatigue. Spokespeople presenting via video have enough to worry about without the inner voice of judgement clouding their focus. Professional attire and a tidy background setting can go a long way in easing some of this stress. Plus, a put-together appearance naturally makes a speaker seem more credible and suitable to the audience. Don’t be like the lawyers who have made headlines for joining video court proceedings from bed—it’s not a good look, and will just cause unnecessary distraction for you and your audience.                                                                                                                        
  3. Prep excessively. Extensive preparation as a best practice for speaking engagements and media interviews isn’t exclusive to combating Zoom fatigue. No matter the scenario, spokespeople need to be practiced at their key messages and fielding a range of friendly and challenging questions. But in our new, Zoom-fueled world, preparation is even more important. You should have an understanding of your interviewer, his/her focus and the audience. Practice enough that the subject matter, speaking points and responses to anticipated questions come as second nature. And remember that your audience or media contact might also be dealing with Zoom fatigue. The more prepared you are, the more concise you will be—and thus the easier you will make it for the people on the other end of the line to absorb what you are trying to convey.                                                                                                    
  4. Take a breather. Carve out some time prior to speaking or joining an interview to wake up your mind and body. Turn off the screens and separate yourself from outside distractions (roommates, dogs, children) as much as possible. Take a short walk, make a cup of tea, have a snack. Whatever works best for you to get the blood flowing and help you focus. More generally, practice self-care—yes, really—to stay healthy and sharp week to week.                                                                                               
  5. Don’t multitask. A Harvard Business Review article on Zoom fatigue reported, “Because you have to turn certain parts of your brain off and on for different types of work, switching between tasks can cost you as much as 40 percent of your productive time. Researchers at Stanford found that people who multitask can’t remember things as well as their more singularly focused peers.” Spokespeople shouldn’t be multitasking during interviews and presentations anyway, but avoiding multitasking is particularly crucial to ensuring a smooth delivery during video meetings, and preventing Zoom fatigue. Silence notifications, put secondary devices away and focus wholly on the conversation at hand.  

Anyone trying to remain productive during extended remote work should take steps to curb the impact of Zoom fatigue. For spokespeople, though, the stakes are even higher. Address Zoom fatigue proactively, so your company can keep making headlines for its greatness, not for its spokesperson’s slipups. As an added bonus, when leaders use Zoom the right way, and follow these tips, teams and employees will be able to stay connected without the energy drain. 

– Ashley Allman, Director of Content 

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