Feb 28, 2024

How to Enliven Zoom Meetings

And while we’re at it, what to feed unicorns

By Ed Goldman

How to Make Online Meetings Less Boring,” the Wall Street Journal promised to tell us in its Workplace Technology section last week. 

What followed were such trenchant ideas as Keep the Meetings Small, Give Crucial Information in Advance, Warn People About Multitasking and Make It Easy to Give Nonverbal Clues.

Edgy Cartoon

Too much too Zoom?

To all of which I say: You puny earthlings! Have you learned nothing about people, technology, boredom or meetings?

I asked this column’s Zoom rep, Hymen A. Hurry, to dash out a list of his own 10 suggestions to make these online/on-air/ennui snooze fests less somniferous. Here’s what he came up with:

  1. Require all participants to insert toothpicks in their eyes (vertically, of course; this isn’t an Est seminar).
  2. Cater the meeting but only on your end. With the prospect that at some point you’ll find a way to share with your fellow Zoomers the pâté, caviar and flutes of Moët you’ll be seen enjoying, you’d better believe they’ll pay attention. They’ll do it even if what you’re eating is really Alpo on a Saltine.
  3. Use as your background the video of a Playboy mansion party, circa 1972. Sure, some of the participants are by now either long-in-the-tooth or long-dead; but who among your attendees won’t stay tuned in, hoping there’ll be a pause so they can ask you just what in God’s sake is going on behind you—and are those people really Barbi Benton and Fabio?
  4. At a crucial point in the agenda, have yourself “arrested” on-camera by the “FBI” (really, your next-door neighbors Lars and Gudrun Torlakson, wearing dark suits and brandishing what appear to be government-issue Glocks but are really chocolate replicas your kids made in Extended Day).
  1. When your window “lights up” to signify you’ve joined the call, have a Kermit the Frog puppet or a photo of the late Charles Nelson Reilly on-screen, acting confused because they thought they were going to be on a revival of “The Hollywood Squares.”
  2. At the 20-minute point, have one of your adorable children walk into the frame saying, “Mommy says you’re getting a divorce.” Extra points if you can get the kid to say, “Don’t you wuv me anymore?” I can’t guarantee that your Zoom meeting might break up at that moment but even if it does, it won’t be due to boredom.
  3. Get a friend to dress up like a mobster, approach you on-screen and demand your fellow meeting-goers pay him a ransom of $50,000 if they ever want to see you again. Having him add as a faux-afterthought, “And I accept Venmo,” would be a nice touch. 
  1. Appear to take a phone call during the meeting and pretend it’s an obscene one. You won’t have to utter a single profanity; remember, only you can hear the “caller.” Just say things like, “I could never do that, clothed or not” and “But that’s not humanly possible,” then make like you’re all embarrassed and hang up. We promise that your Zoom attendees will stay glued to the screen and probably pepper you with questions. Caution: One or two may even try to reach you after the Zoom session has ended, in which case, you’re on your own.
  2. Tell your colleagues you’re not really you, just a 3-D avatar your 12-year-old niece created with an A-I program she received for Confirmation. Tell everyone this call will therefore be partly business/partly beta test and ask them to jot down their reactions throughout the session. “The main thing we’ll want to know is, ‘Do you like me better as a robot or a person?” Be prepared to receive not entirely self-esteeming responses.
  3. Lastly, as the meeting begins, demand to know if everyone else on the call is a robot. Put up grids containing photos of city scenes and ask them to i.d. pictures in which they see sailboats. To keep things going, make sure none of the pictures contain sailboats.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).