Zoom Fatigue Drives the Need to Reconnect at In-Person Events

‘Zoom fatigue’ is real and will see a return to in-person events as soon as it’s safe! During April, the number of meeting participants using the video conferencing app, Zoom grew by 50% to 300 million daily log-ins. That’s 100 million more online delegates than the previous month, forced to switch from physical to digital meeting interactions due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Although all this extra screen-time has been a necessity for maintaining MICE activity during lockdown, it has resulted in some surprising psychological effects.

Those of us who do several daily Zoom, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp or FaceTime meetings, often experience increased fatigue and may become moody and depressed.

These emotions can, in part be attributed to the increased performative pressures of speaking in front of all those faces staring directly back at you from the computer screen (anyone who has presented live on stage can testify to how exhausting it makes you feel afterwards).

But psychologists have also identified other factors which differentiate meeting online from meeting in a physical environment.

What is meeting virtually doing to our brains?

Woman With Hands on her Face in front of a Laptop

Factors identified by psychologists include:

  • Our brains need to work harder during a video call to consciously process non-verbal cues like facial expressions and tone-of-voice. This results in increased tiredness.
  • The confinement anxiety of conducting our work lives and social lives in the same small virtual space can lead to unconscious increases in stress.
  • The intensity of seeing all our own facial expressions played out on the screen in front of us can build insecurity and fear for how we’re perceived by others.

In addition, frustration with lagging connections, background noise, and whether or not to have our cameras turned off or to be on mute, can also be associated with a heightened sense of stress and fatigue.

How does this compare with meeting ‘in-person’?

In contrast, when we meet ‘in person’ we process nonverbal signals automatically in order to make sub-conscious evaluations of someone’s credibility, trustworthiness or friendliness. That leaves our brains to fully concentrate on what we’re being told by the speaker on stage or by the person in the meeting.

In a conference environment, delegates move around from the plenary hall to break-out rooms, exhibition areas and coffee lounges. This simple act of relocating to a different room is energising. It improves creative thinking and it presents more opportunities to speak with other people and to vary our own social behaviours.

Behavioural variations result in a wider range of emotional responses, which are ultimately key to influencing decision-making.

If every leadership decision had to be taken following the same formulaic video conferencing call, that person’s decision-making would quickly become impeded by the dilution of those emotions more keenly felt in a face-to-face physical environment – namely empathy, engagement and social connection.

Ways to overcome ‘Zoom Fatigue’.

Zoom and teaThese cognitive differences in how we meet in the physical world compared with how we’re currently meeting in the virtual world are key to understanding why in-person organised events will return. But, the learning curves that have been sharply thrust upon us actually leave us in a good position to put both in-person and virtual events together, resulting in hybrid events.

Though ‘zoom fatigue’ is a problem, it is not one that can not be overcome by mixing good event organisation practices with this new world of virtual events. Engagement tools such as mobile apps, polls and surveys can re-energise attendees at points when the conversation is dwindling or can simply help to keep attendees connected with one another.

That benefit of moving from room to room can still be achieved by utilising breakout rooms along with a bit of willingness. Why not try using the Zoom functionality to move your attendees into breakout rooms and encourage them to actually move physical rooms if they can. From the dining room desk to the living room couch or the kitchen worktop. Or work time in to simply allow everyone to make a cup of tea and come back to the table.

A return to in-person events is required.

We know that nothing beats an in-person event. But with some great tools and out of the box thinking you can shake up your virtual meetings too and try to limit the amount of ‘zoom fatigue’ your attendees may suffer.

Though we are confident in-person events will return, how MICE activity returns is a different matter, since social distancing and digital hybrid elements will certainly have important roles to play.

However, the importance of physical communication to build human connections, address sensitive issues, gather feedback, plus enhance credibility and trust, will ensure that live ‘in-person’ events are very much a part of our future. We simply need to journey this road together and try not to become too fatigued by all those Zoom calls along the way.


Mike Fletcher

Written by Mike Fletcher

Mike has been writing about the meetings and events industry for almost 20 years as a former editor at Haymarket Media Group, and then as a freelance writer and editor. He currently runs his own content agency, Slippy Media, catering for a wide-range of client requirements, including social strategy, long-form, event photography, event videography, reports, blogs and ghost-written material.