Leaders must learn how to read the Zoom room

In today’s workplace, the ability to read the Zoom room is a very important skill for a leader to have. Even though many of us are back in the office, it’s looking like virtual workplaces are going to become more prevalent and more permanent. So this skill – reading a Zoom meeting that has several people in it – is crucial.

In this episode, I discuss some common things to look for when reading a Zoom room.

Read the Zoom Room – Listen Now!

Having an agenda will help you read the Zoom room

First things first when you want to read the Zoom room – have an agenda and stick to it.

If you find some of the people on the call aren’t saying much, or they are looking away from the screen, or seem distracted – read the Zoom room and notice those nonverbal cues! Share the agenda ahead of time – the description area of a calendar invite is a good place to do so. When you get the meeting started, go through the agenda points and get the agreement of the people in that meeting to stick to it. And leave a place for new business on the agenda – that’s where you put something that comes up during the meeting, but that isn’t on the official agenda. You can also provide a place on the agenda for general conversation at the start or end of the meeting.

Most people like structure, and they like to know what is coming. An agenda provides both of those things for meetings – and they’re especially important in a Zoom room.

Watching body language is a big part of how to read the Zoom room

Pay attention to the body language as you’re going through the meeting to help you read the Zoom room.

At my company, I have several note-takers who keep great meeting notes, which gives me the flexibility to pay attention to the nonverbal cues of everyone there. Are they leaning in? Sitting back? Are they distracted by something off screen? Frustrated with a furrowed brow? Confused? Or are they smiling and nodding in agreement? Those are ALL cues to watch for while you read the Zoom room – and you can adjust what you’re saying accordingly.

Another point here is that knowing when to NOT to say something is crucial. This too is about reading body language, but you also must LISTEN to tones of voice. Sometimes you can get into a conversation that circles around a sensitive point for the people on the room – or maybe just one person there.

Actually, I did that recently, and I went a bit too far in the meeting. I needed to stop talking about an issue and then follow up with a team member individually. Because I was paying attention to what the team member was saying, and their body language, I didn’t go that far beyond the point where I should have stopped. I corrected course quickly and told that team member we could talk about that “off line”, and then followed up. But if I had kept going, I was going to make everyone on that Zoom uncomfortable.

While you read the Zoom room, pay attention to who is/isn’t talking

It’s VERY easy for one or two people to dominate a zoom meeting and have everyone else feel very left out. I’m not a fan of forcing someone to talk about something, especially in a group setting like a Zoom meeting, but at least check in with them and ask them what they think. Some people just prefer one to one interactions, or to send emails and Slack messages. You know who those individuals are on your team, but just make sure they have the opportunity to be heard in these Zoom meetings.

And, if you need to reign in the ones who love to talk, you can always say, “Thanks Matt for your thoughts. Does anyone else want to add to them or jump in here?” And if no one offers to add anything, you can call on people who seem a bit disengaged. It’s ok if they say, “No, I don’t have anything else to add to this. I like Matt’s ideas.” That’s fine. But giving them a space for their voice is important.

Nonverbal communication makes up the majority of our communication. It’s why the phrase, “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it,” is a cliché (and for good reason). When you’re meeting virtually, those nonverbal cues become even more important, but unfortunately, they are harder to read than if you were physically sitting around a table in a conference room.

So as we continue to move forward in our new normal of video conferences, your role as a leader is to read the Zoom room and pay even closer attention to the nonverbal cues of the people in those meetings. Make sure your team members feel heard and stay engaged.