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Why Your Brain Hates Webmeetings -- And What Leaders Should Do About It

We all know that webmeetings should be interactive, short,lively and effective. But more often than not they are flat, lifeless affairs that feel more like "Night of the Living Dead" than great workplace communication. The source of that zombie-like behavior may be in our brains. The good news is there are things you can do about it.

As an unrepentant brain geek, I have interviewed numerous people on how our brains work. One of my favorites is Dr Ellen Weber. In a recent podcast interview she talked about how our brains work, and took the time to specifically address why meetings, and particularly webinars and distance communication are frequently unproductive.

Here are some reasons our brains rebel, and how to engage our people online:

  • Your amygdala runs the show and it hates technology. Just the act of trying to log into a webinar can stress people out. If you have ever been locked out of a meeting, or had your computer freeze, or one of the 17 other things that can usually go wrong you know that your folks are probably not jumping up and down with excitement at the thought of being on another webmeeting. The amygdala, which controls how you emotionally respond to a stimulus, gets overheated at the thought of all the upcoming frustration and puts you on the defensive before the meeting even starts. Learn to use the simplest technology that will accomplish what you need to accomplish. Don't frustrate your audience before you even start. Help them learn the tool and interact with it early (often through polling or insisting they send you a chat message on login) so that they become more comfortable and can focus on the task at hand.
  • An agenda helps the brain focus. Our brains love to sort and organize information. If we have a clear agenda and stated outcomes, we know what to do with each piece of information we receive in that meeting. If we are unclear where the speaker is going, we tend to try and sort it out right then and there creating a firestorm of conflicting thoughts that stop us from focusing effectively, which leads to more confusion, stress and the cycle of madness continues. Help your audience by letting them know the agenda as well as the desired outcomes of the meeting. Then they can zero in on the useful information and know what to do with it. Of course it's up to the meeting leader to make sure you're not overloading people with information that is off topic.
  • You need to do different types of activities to engage your audience. Just sitting there quietly doesn't count as an activity. Even the best brains retain less than 5% of what they are told. This explains why lectures are a terrible way to learn anything. Retention can go up to 90% if people actively engage with the learning... ask questions, discuss solutions and brainstorm. Webmeetings have the huge advantage of interactive and collaborative tools such as white boards, application sharing and chat. If you don't use those tools, you'll just become a broadcast tool and the audience (even with the best of intentions) will zone out and forget what you've shared with them.
Are you consciously planning your webmeetings or just letting them happen? How's that working for you?

You can learn more at Dr Weber's Brain Leaders and Learners Blog or hear her interview with me on The Cranky Middle Manager Show podcast. Read more

photo by flickr user Jayel Aheram CC 2.0