It seems like 2020 made everyone and their mama Zoom aficionados. Cute videos popped up all around, showcasing the love fest taking place worldwide as family, friends, and co-workers embraced video calls as their primary way of communication.
As with most fads, the love bug didn’t bite me. If I’d seen it, I would’ve swatted it away for attempted assault.
I’ve never been a fan of video calls, and I sure as heck wasn’t going to jump on board because everyone else was doing it. However, as with most things I refuse to do, I was met with resistance, mostly from family members I didn’t communicate with regularly.
It seems they’d watched the heartwarming think pieces on the news about families reconnecting during a time of COVID-19 and wanted in on that action.
Begrudgingly, I folded and participated in two rather painful Zoom calls with distant family members. I struggled through every minute of it and discovered I suffered from resting zoom face.
What is resting zoom face, you ask? It’s the inability to hide your disinterest while engaged in a video call. Try as you might, your face won’t lie.
As the year progressed and more people hopped on the trend, I found myself involved in Zoom calls for work, FaceTime calls with friends, and more video calls with family.
Along the way, I developed some techniques to hide my annoyance with video calls and would like to share them in hopes of easing someone else’s distress.
Here are my top 4 tips for surviving video calls:
1. Don’t Dawdle
It could be a generational thing, but I hate being on the phone for long periods as a millennial. After ten minutes of talking, I feel like the conversation has gone as far as possible regarding productivity.
Of course, there are exceptions to this rule. For instance, when I talk to a friend or a close relative after a long separation. Those conversations warrant a wholesome hour catch up at most, but it’d have to be a voice call.
I couldn’t imagine remaining engaged for an hour via FaceTime or Zoom. The thought alone makes me squirm in my seat.
I once had a boss who hated in-person meetings. So much so, whenever I wanted a pay increase, I’d draft an email proposal and then ask to set up an appointment to sit down and discuss the numbers. Without fail each time, I received a return email awarding me a raise.
Unlike my former employer, I prefer in-person chats over video calls. They feel too restrictive as I have to make sure I’m in the frame and not cutting off my head.
I’ve found limiting my Zoom and FaceTime meetings to twenty minutes at most to work best. Sure, I’d like to do ten minutes or less, and I often aim for this to be the case, but it’s not all about me. Some people love video calls, and I don’t want them to feel rushed or unimportant because I don’t.
If I’m talking to an acquaintance, co-worker, or extended family member, I inform them ahead of time I’m only available for a twenty-minute chat. I find the minute restrictions focus the conversation, and we don’t dawdle once we’re on the call.
Twenty minutes is more than enough time to have an effective and productive conversation without me feeling ready to jump out of my seat and leaves my counterpart feeling satisfied we’ve had a substantial talk.
Why couldn’t this be an email? I still don’t know.
2. Disguise the Fidgeting
I am a fully grown adult who fidgets, and I accept this. I’ve always found it challenging to be still, which is why pre-pandemic, I engaged in multiple activities to oust my excess energy.
There are many theories on why people fidget. Ideas range from a lack of interest to a way of focusing attention. The Surprising Science of Fidgeting article explores multiple hypotheses on why some people struggle to be still.
The multiple lockdowns in California over the year has made me come up with creative ways of exhausting myself at home, but I still have to sit down a lot during the week for work.
Zoom calls make it tough to fidget. Usually because the person you’re talking to notices and often asks you what you’re doing, thus making it weird.
I often jiggle my leg, drum my fingers, crack my knuckles, stretch, glance around, twirl pens, mess around with nearby cameras, and snack, all while on video calls.
Bad etiquette? No doubt. I maintain these things wouldn’t be an issue if we were on voice calls.
However, my workaround for this problem is still evolving, but the trick is to make it look like you’re doing something productive when you feel the need to fidget.
Instead of twirling the pen, doodle on a notepad. While doodling, be mindful. Take the occasional break to make it appear as though you’re taking notes.
Invest in fidget spinners to play with off-camera. Pull up puzzles in a side window on your screen, or print them out to work on at your desk, making it seem like note-taking, of course.
The key here is to appear busy yet attentive at the same time.
3. Frame for Success
How you set up your camera is critical. You want to make sure you’re framing yourself for a tight, medium close-up shot. If you’re using your phone, this includes your head and a bit of your torso.
If you’re on your computer, the lens is wider, and you can only get so close. In this case, choose a corner of your house with minimal background distractions.
For a visual example of a medium close-up framing, consider this post from Media College: Framing.
Some people are more curious than others and will ask you about your home decor while on a video call. You do not want to spend any additional time talking about non-subject related topics.
I made the mistake of having a voice call in my living room early last year and had a wide frame of my background. The offending caller wasted ten minutes of our time asking me where I acquired certain pieces in my home.
Keep your backgrounds minimal and straightforward. Zoom offers background simulations for users. I recommend these if you don’t have a cozy corner in your home that’s not too revealing or distracting.
Your framing will also hide any fidgeting you may be doing off-camera. Once you know your tendencies, set yourself up for success while framing.
Since you’re on this video call anyway, you might as well look your best. Sit in front of or near a window for ideal, even natural lighting.
If you live in an apartment without good natural light, point a lamp at a wall and position yourself in front of said wall. The light bouncing off the wall will produce balanced light on your face.
4. Small Gestures
I acknowledge you’ve already made a massive gesture by showing up for the Zoom call in the first place. Some won’t give you credit for this, but I will. Well done.
The saying small gestures go a long way is correct. It’s especially true while on a video call. Some calls are drier than others, and remaining engaged can be difficult.
I’ve found offering the occasional head nod, lifting of the eyebrows, or shrug to be quite helpful on calls. These gestures show the person you’re talking to you are interested in what they’re saying, even when you aren’t.
Mix these gestures up and make sure to time them appropriately. You don’t want to lift your eyebrows at the wrong moment, thus implying you have a question.
I know it’s hard, but do try to hide or suppress all yawns. Of course, you’re tired and probably bored. Yawns are bound to happen.
Try turning your face away from the camera and pretending to sneeze to cover up any yawns. If you have a few in a row, you’ll be able to excuse yourself from the call for a few moments reasonably.
Posture is also vital. You may want to stretch across your desk and put your chin on your arm but don’t. Others could take this as a sign of disinterest rather than a need to be comfortable while suffering through a video call.
A personal favorite of mine is to ask a question or for clarification on a matter. If you’re struggling more than usual, try parroting what’s said to you. This trick works wonders and often makes your counterpart feel like they’re getting their message across.
Terms of agreement also get you pretty far. Throw in a random ‘okay’, ‘yes’, ‘ah’, ‘hm’. These are encouraging phrases and will move the call forward faster.
Although video calls are not my friend, the person on the other end never suspects or feels my contempt for the practice. Swimming against the current in this instance will not do me any favors, and making my discomfort issues someone else’s is unacceptable.
“Learn to adjust yourself to the conditions you have to endure, but make a point of trying to alter or correct conditions so that they are most favorable to you.” — William Frederick Book.
I would love to believe Zoom and FaceTime calls will soon be a thing of the past, but I don’t see that happening. Too many people have given praise to the medium, and I suspect we’ve only dipped a toe in thus far.
We must adapt and set ourselves up for success no matter the given circumstances.
If you have other go-to coping mechanisms for video calls, please share them with me. I’ll be needing them.