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Screened Out!

"Live is Life." -- Opus (Austrian band), 1985

How I miss the "Live House" experience! Whether it's up on stage or in the audience, nothing compares to the sensory overload that comes with a packed room, flashing lights, spilled drinks, and Marshall amps blasting at a real live performance. Coming in a distant second place is watching an amazing movie like Shine a Light, Bohemian Rhapsody, Great Balls of Fire, or Ray, four of my favorites. Or how about a great music video? Just before sitting down to write you today, I watched, for the first time, the original video from the quoted song above, "Live is Life." I knew the song packed some kind of punch (Europe's Number 1 in the summer of 1985) but I had no idea how corny the video would be, or how accurate it is in a deeper sense: Live music is transformative.

I turn to the screen for inspiration, and for a break from....the screen?! I watch the new Michael Jordan Netflix documentary, "Last Dance," then flip over to shorter one on John Stockton where one of the biggest compliments he gets is that even as a "scrawny" point guard, he was always ready, willing, and able to set a screen on giants like Shaquille O'Neal. "Setting a screen" means to block out a defender so that your teammate can get an open shot. It's a tough move. You can be called for a foul or get seriously injured both in setting and running into a solid screen. In basketball, it's no fun being screened out. And as many of us are finding, it's no fun in business, either: Now we're all "screened out"!

I noticed this yesterday, after facilitating a New Member Orientation for the American Chamber of Commerce (ACCJ). There was just a handful of us in that particular Zoom session, unlike many video conferences or classes. Still, I felt the frustration level rise and then reflected on why.

First, while I've conducted hundreds of these orientations in the ACCJ boardroom, this was only my second time attending (and first time leading) a session over Zoom. The previous one I attended was at noon. This one took place from 18:30 - 19:30. That was one big difference. One participant said she had been on Zoom calls since 7:30 that morning. Oh boy! Interestingly, despite her apology for "losing her voice," she was fully engaged and lifted the energy of the call. I'm super grateful for her presence.

That can't be said for everyone on that or any other call. It's understandable: it's the end of the day, people are tired of being "present" for one more call of any kind. Prior to COVID-19, those end-of-day interactive presentations had always been a highlight of a given week. But it's one thing to head over the ACCJ, mingle with new members around a buffet, share a cocktail, get into a presentation, meet some great people, and then walk on down to BAUHAUS for some rock music on my way home.

Quite another to gear up for one more session of what Psychology Today calls "high intensity virtual connecting." In an April 4 article, Suzanne Degges-White writes about "Zoom Fatigue" and warns, "Don't Let Video Meetings Zap Your Energy."

Personally, I wish video meetings would zap (and not sap) my energy, but that's just a left-over word choice from a short management book I enjoyed years ago, Zapp! The Lightning of Empowerment. In that book, William Byham's powerful message is to seek out "energy zappers" and avoid "sappers." Both Deges-White's article and Byham's book share a common theme, and it's the same as Star Trek's command: Energize!

Any given Zoom call can be more enjoyable for everyone when we realize that each of our contributions (or non-contributions) makes a difference. We have yet to work out the best etiquette for all video conferences but let me make a couple suggestions based on what I have seen so far.

1) Engage. Whoever is leading a video conference is working harder than they do in person. Just as there's more bandwidth used over the internet for video conferences, the call leader's personal "bandwidth" is being stretched as she or he monitors participants, checks who is muted or not, fusses with slides, videos, or other media, strains to hear clearly, and confirms understanding (demonstrably less than in face-to-face meetings). You can take some of the burden off the leader by engaging positively, asking good questions, and helping drive the call toward its goal. That said,

2) Be concise. Please! I'm going to keep saying this till it gets through. Until 5G gets here, there are no real-time, natural social cues to let you know that you're being long-winded. If you have a tendency to go on too long in a real conversation (and have the self-awareness to know), be aware that a video meeting exaggerates the effect. Some tend to think, "I've got the mic" as if they're at a karaoke party, and they go on for the length of a song, or longer. That's 2 - 3 minutes too long. A 30-second comment or question is generally the sweet spot.

3) Again, ENERGIZE! Energy is contagious. These days, we're all tired of something. Tired of video-conferences, tired of "shelter-in-place," tired of anxiety, tired of watching the scale go up, or for some, tired of watching it go down. But in a video meeting, you can choose to bring the energy UP. Your tone of voice, your posture–try standing up!–your comments, all of these and more can and will make the meeting go better or worse, for yourself and for everyone else.

If you need a break, and you have 5 minutes, stand up, head over to Youtube and check this video out right now or right before your next video meeting. or, for a less-corny version, and to see how the song has aged pretty well, here it is performed live in 2017: . Wait, I wrote "or" in each of the previous two sentences. A better choice might be "And." Watch, listen, sing, and dance to both, right now, and before your next video meeting.

"Live is life!"

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