How to beat Zoom fatigue and harness the power of audio

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audio zoom fatigue

May is National Walking Month in the UK. When I was speaking at the Global Women in PR Inside Stories event recently, I talked about the rise of audio and how its popularity is due largely to the fact you can listen while you walk, drive, run or clean.

During the hour session I shared some key statistics about the use of video and audio. I shared some of the science behind Zoom fatigue and the research that explores the role audio can play in engaging your audiences.

Audio has had a recent burst of interest with the launch of Clubhouse and Twitter Spaces but podcasts have seen consistent growth in recent years, partly due to advertising investments, but also technology. Smart phones and easy access to audio is what has catapulted our access to audio content.

The interest in audio in 2020 and early 2021, with new channels coming to the market, is also driven by our boredom of video conferencing tools. The novelty of Zoom calls, Microsoft Teams calls (work and social) has worn off. And while many will talk about the demise of the office permanently, I see little evidence to suggest people won’t return to the office at all.

So, is this fatigue of video conferencing tools real?

Jeremy Bailenson, a professor of communication at Stanford University thinks so. He has identified four reasons for video calls causing fatigue and draining our energy:

  • The excessive amount of intense, prolonged eye-contact
  • Increased self-evaluation from seeing ourselves on screen
  • The lack of mobility
  • The increased “cognitive load” required to interpret virtual gestures and other non-verbal clues.

The way we interact with each other in a physical meeting vs online is very different. If someone is presenting, we are looking at them, not everyone at the same time. All of it is too much for us – this is what we mean by an increase in cognitive load.

What doesn’t help, is poor meeting governance. It’s why I created the downloadable PDF that covers seven tips to running better meetings online. There are ways to make the meetings more engaging, more efficient and less time consuming.

We don’t have to default to a video call. We can have a normal, audio only phone call. The last 15 months have altered our behaviour, but we have to be aware of it, acknowledge it and explore whether it is right for the long term.

In a crisis, you lift and shift. We have lifted what we did in person and shifted it online. That doesn’t make it the right long-term solution. A magazine that became an online PDF didn’t stay an online PDF forever. It had to evolve as technology changed and consumer behaviour changed. This is the same now.

Here are some things to consider when it comes to overcoming Zoom fatigue and where audio can play more of a role:

  • Benefit: does it need to be video? What benefit does it bring to see the person on screen?
  • Focus: we pay more attention to the person speaking when it is audio only
  • Convenience: is it convenient to video call? Not everyone is at their desk and obviously it’s not safe to video while driving!
  • Preference: decide what you want to use as a preferred communication channel. If you want to use a phone call, use a phone call.

We can easily get swept up in thinking that we must do things a certain way. We might think we have to use Zoom or Microsoft Teams all the time now. We don’t. Take the time to explore what is right for you, your teams and your organisation before the chaos hits!

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