How do you get the most out of the new technology? Finito World spoke to business leaders and society etiquette expert Liz Brewer to find out
If you want to know the essence of an era, look at its new word-coinages. This year, which has been so seismic in every way, saw a wealth of new words enter the vocabulary. These include, of course: Covid-19, corona, lockdown, social distancing and flatten the curve.
But the word ‘Zoom’ is perhaps the most commonly used of these. Like Covid-19, it is ubiquitous and liable to be used many times a day, as all our meetings accrue. But like social distancing it can be used both as a noun and as a verb: we are ‘on Zoom’ but we also ‘Zoom’.
Perhaps of all the words in the language it most resembles ‘Google’ in the way a company name has so suddenly entered proverbial usage – and with gratifying results for founder Eric Yuan who has seen his company’s value skyrocket to near the $50 billion mark.
This new technology isn’t going anywhere. So here in seven easy steps we explain how to make it work for you:
Get the lighting right
Liz Brewer is a world-renowned events organiser and expert in social etiquette who has thought long and hard about how to present herself in a call. ‘This is a visual medium so check how you appear on screen and adjust height,’ she says. ‘Position yourself so you’re seen not sitting too close, too far, high or low, with a suitable background.’ This rings true: we’ve all misjudged the lighting once in a while and found ourselves sitting in shadow like James Bond villains – but that’s not a good look for an important meeting or a job interview.
Don’t be vain or distracted
Brewer also argues that it’s ‘best to turn off self-view’. Vanity exists in most of us and it’s easy to spend an entire call sneaking views of yourself rather than engaging with the person in front of you. It is best not to give yourself the option of assessing the calamity of your Covid-19 haircut, or that special lockdown exhaustion etched on your features. In the same way, Brewer advocates turning off everything else on your computer: ‘You are on screen and will be observed so it’s important to close or minimise all other distractions, screen windows and silence mobiles,’ she says.
Embrace the possibilities of the medium…
Many of us have now seen the interiors of one another’s homes, and thus have a sense of how people live. ‘I enjoy the informality,’ says the MP Robert Halfon, and even encourages the presence of children on a call. For some that can create a sense of camaraderie that can progress an understanding of the person you’re talking with. For many the informality is to be embraced and might even create deeper relationships.
But realise its limitations…
When we catch up with the architect Thomas Heatherwick, he argues that the medium is unhelpful in at least one respect: ‘Video conferencing doesn’t create new relationships. You can sustain a connection, but you don’t grow a deep connection.’ And so while it’s important to embrace Zoom now, we should all have an eye to those we connected with during lockdown: make sure you meet face to face with people you felt you had a connection with once it’s safe to do so.
If you’re a CEO, check in on your team separately
‘We’re all so tired with Zoom call after Zoom call,’ says Carol Leonard of the Inzito Partnership, and argues that we need to think beyond Zoom. ‘Think who might be vulnerable in your team. At Inzito, we have little informal social programmes to check in with people, and we do mindfulness virtually twice a week.’ Thomas Heatherwick agrees: ‘It’s amazing how stressful these calls are.’ So don’t think all the company’s HR needs have been taken care of by that one collective Zoom.
Remember the emotions of your co-Zoomer
Thomas Heatherwick realised after a while that he was tired of what he calls ‘flat half people’. He adds: ‘If we met people face to face I would never sit facing that person: it would be too confrontational. Instead I’d sit at a slight angle. Even before we’d begun talking, we’d have a sense of each other and the peripheral vision can see how confident a candidate is when they walk in.’ So though it feels like your talking to an avatar, always remember the humanity of the encounter.
Remember to laugh
Collective behaviour doesn’t quite happen on Zoom,’ Heatherwick observes. ‘it’s ping pong. You press a button and you’re next in the conversation. You don’t chuckle together or cringe together.’ Brewer says that it is up to the host to make sure this gap is closed. But she also recommends other things like running ‘speed tests to avoid freezing moments’ and ‘bluetooth headphones’ to ensure that the sound quality facilitates the conversation.
And if all else fails…
‘Well then you can always excuse yourself,’ says Brewer. And for many of us that’s the best part of any Zoom call.