Photo by Magnet.me on Unsplash

Want to Make Your Next Zoom Meeting Not Suck? You Only Need These Two Things.

And the odds are you already have them.

Hey, are you looking forward to all the zoom meetings coming in 2022?

Didn’t think so.

Even with pretty zoom background or funny filters, a real connection through the screen eludes us. It’s hard to look forward to another year of “Hey, you’re on mute.”

Bring low-tech magic into your high-tech meeting.

Start with something like this in your next zoom invite (and in whatever messaging system your workplace uses):

Hey, everybody! For this next meeting, have some scratch paper handy (a legal pad, printer paper, even a handheld whiteboard) along with a marker or two to write on it. We’ll be using it during the meeting. Let me know if you have any questions!

Somebody will.

Somebody always does, right? Those are the two ends of the bell curve of any meeting attendees: some suffer tremendously from the anxiety of wanting to be prepared, wanting to have the right things with them at the meeting. Balanced on the other side of the curve by those who are late because they didn’t realize there was a meeting.

That’s why you keep things simple: Just bring a marker and something to write on. Something they can hold up to their webcam as needed.

Some people will ask if they can bring their giant collection of colored markers. Sure!

Some will claim that they only have an old sharpie from their junk drawer. That’s also fine!

Some will ask if they can just use a digital whiteboard, or their iPad, or something. Absolutely not!

Be firm: this is paper and markers.

There are a lot of reasons for this, from the pragmatic (it’s hard to see handheld screens with a webcam) to the psychological (markers don’t beep notifications) but honestly, just answer any objection with “because that’s what you need for this meeting.

You don’t have to justify it — and if you really need to swing a big stick, add it as an agenda item: 1A. Equipment check: everyone equipped with paper and marker.

It’s possible someone will say they don’t have anything like that. While it’s unlikely that it’s true, there may simply be nothing you can do about it.

That’s ok. Boundaries are worth respecting, and the best path forward is to simply let them see what they’re missing out on and make a more informed choice.

Paper + Marker = Magic

Preschool teachers have always known this.

When you give someone a marker and a blank piece of paper, the urge is going to be to make some marks. It’s that simple.

And when you’re struggling to hold someone’s attention in the zoom meeting, that paper and marker are what will bring them all back.

“Let’s start with one big word in the center of the paper, answering a question: How are you today? You have 10 seconds, starting now.”

Suddenly you have given people an assignment. A personal one, an opportunity for self expression, but only 10 seconds worth — which means people who hate assignments won’t have to suffer long (they’ll be the ones who write fine. ).

And the people who want to make graffiti masterpieces won’t have time to do more than start the word — but odds are they’ll be doodling and embellishing that piece of paper as the meeting goes on. That’s a form of focus.

The benefits of doodling during meetings is well-established; by giving them this outlet, you’re setting up an alternative to checking twitter, messages, or scrolling through Pinterest.

Oh, and this works on you, too; brain chemistry is as brain chemistry does.

Use the paper and markers as a universal interface.

Billions of dollars have been spent to try and make digital versions of paper and markers — and no one has done it yet. Why keep struggling with interfaces and learning curves and lag time, when you can just use a technology that has worked for millennia?

The intro question of “how are you?” is just the beginning.

  • OK, everybody in favor of this change draw a plus sign. If you are against it, draw a negative. We’ll hold up our votes in 3…2…1.”
  • “Let’s take some time to think about this question. The timer is set for 2 minutes, so everybody write your answer down, and we’ll hold them up when the buzzer goes off and see where our ideas overlap or complement each other.”
  • “We need to set the metric for this KPI — everybody take a moment to write down a number they think would be best.” -”We’re going to take a 10 minute break in a moment. Write down what you wish was in your mug when you get back. And yes, it’s fine to make a wish — personally I could really use a cosmo right about now.”

That’s why people bring along multiple pieces of paper — so that it doesn’t matter how many they use (recycled, of course).

It’s important that you model the engagement you want to see. Have fun with it. Be serious when the question is serious and silly when it’s not.

Part of what makes this work is that you are giving people permission to reach back into the childlike delight of just making their mark on a blank page.

Using a paper and markers lets people focus on the meeting without the screen.

Try it out — even if it doesn’t fit your team, it at least shows them that you are aware of how hard it can be to zoom in our pandemic workplace.

There’s a reason paper and markers have been around so long: they work. Make them work for you.

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Gray Miller

Gray Miller

Gray is a former Marine dancer grandpa visualist who writes to help adults figure out what they want to be when they grow up.