Photo by Chris Montgomery on Unsplash
June 24, 2020

How can you communicate better via Zoom?

Big Duck CEO Sarah Durham explores ways in which COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions have made us all increasingly dependent on video conferencing tools like Zoom. She shares a couple of tips and tricks to get more out of each digital interaction and to also combat the accompanying screen-time fatigue. Listen in to learn how creating “pop-up rules” or norms can improve the experience for everyone involved.


Sarah Durham: Welcome to The Smart Communications Podcast. I am Sarah Durham, and I’m recording this in late May after about 10 weeks of working under shelter-in-place restrictions, which have made my life and probably yours increasingly dependent on tools like Zoom for both work and personal communications. And there have been a number of interesting conversations happening and articles written that address some of the challenges and opportunities of working in video conferencing ways increasingly. So I want to share a couple of the tips and tools and tricks that we are finding very helpful at Advomatic and at Big Duck, and that I hope will inspire you to get more out of the video conferencing you’re doing and also to combat the fatigue that comes with it. We have an optional book club that happens across Big Duck and Advomatic, those are the two companies that I run, both are agencies that do communications work.

Sarah Durham: And so the staff at Advomatic and Big Duck typically pick a book that has something to do with communications, is going to be useful in our work with nonprofits, and we read it in chunks and we meet periodically to discuss it and see what we can learn from it. And we are just wrapping up reading a book that we selected pre-pandemic. Ironically, called The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker. And once we were sheltering in place and we were no longer able to meet in person at the office, some of us said, “Gosh, you know, should we really be reading a book called The Art of Gathering when we can’t gather?” But we forged ahead and we found that actually there’s quite a lot of stuff that’s very, very useful for online communication, too. And I’m going to share with you a couple of the things in that book that Priya Parker suggests.

Sarah Durham: And I would encourage you to read the book or look for content about that book if you facilitate a lot of meetings, because there’s a lot of things that are very useful and I think applicable to a number of both personal and professional contexts. One of the points that the author makes is that when you bring people together for a gathering, a meeting, a party, any kind of gathering, what you’re trying to do is create a special space. A space where maybe work gets done, or maybe people celebrate, people come together and achieve something that feels worth the time and effort that it took to get together. And one of the ways you do that is by creating what the author calls “pop-up rules.” In the nonprofit sector, sometimes we call them “norms.” But these are basically guidelines for how this gathering is going to go.

Sarah Durham: And they are typically set by the host or whoever is organizing the event. I quite like the term “pop-up rule” because in my experience, when you’re facilitating a meeting with a number of people, particularly if they’re not people you work with all the time, it’s not necessarily appropriate or safe to assume that you have common etiquette or a common culture around things like, should you be on camera or is it okay to be multitasking during this meeting? So establishing at the beginning of your gathering on Zoom, on a phone conference, or in person what the pop-up rules are, what the norms are, that you want people to adhere to, will help make sure that you bring people into the room in a way that feels comfortable for everybody. And you’ll avoid that sort of tension where some people are really trying to be focused and other people are kind of distracted and there’s a sense that you’re not on the same page.

Sarah Durham: Priya Parker, also in the book The Art of Gathering, talks about the idea of being a generous host. Being a host who is strict and keeps things moving, keeps that gathering on track, but is generous about the participants’ experience and looks out for the participants so that they can get the most out of it. And pop-up rules actually go a long way towards doing that. One of the things I’ve always felt very strongly about is that starting a meeting on time and keeping an eye on the time and doing periodic time checks like saying, “Hey, we’re halfway through this one-hour meeting” is a great way to respect the time of your participants. If one person’s late for that meeting, and the 10 people who showed up on time are asked to wait five minutes, you’ve just wasted five minutes of 10 people’s time.

Sarah Durham: You’ve sacrificed that for one person who didn’t show up on time. So be a clear and generous host, but think about protecting the resources of the people that you’ve got. Lastly, I just want to share with you that there is an article about Zoom fatigue in the Harvard Business Review. It’s a very useful article, but it talks about that sometimes it’s better to not be on camera. Sometimes it’s better to talk on the phone if you can, or switch gears into a different channel. If you go to and you search “how to combat Zoom fatigue,” you’ll find this article. My advice to you is start on Zoom, and then depending on who’s in the room and your comfort and familiarity with that crew consider going off screen or consider switching just to phone. And you’ll find that if you give yourself permission to pace, to wander around, that sometimes that will help you or other people on the call focus and move away from the tension of active listening and nodding your head rigorously to show people that you’re following along. But do it with consent from the other people in the group, do it deliberately.

Sarah Durham: Don’t let it become an accident or a default. Okay, I hope this has been useful for you. And I hope wherever you are, you are safe and well.

Outro Voiceover: Are you passionate about nonprofit communications? If you are, Big Duck has other resources you might enjoy besides this podcast. Visit and just click on Insights to download one of our many free eBooks. You can also find two books by Sarah Durham about nonprofit communications on The first is Brandraising: How nonprofits raise visibility and money through smart communications, which explains what nonprofit branding really means in simple, mission-driven terms. The second is The Nonprofit Communications Engine: A leader’s guide to managing mission-driven marketing and communications. It explains what nonprofit communications teams can actually deliver and what they need to be successful. This is the smart communications podcast. Developing the voices of determined nonprofits. Brought to you by Big Duck. Big Duck is an agency that puts smart communications in the hands of nonprofits. We help our nonprofit clients develop strong brands, strong campaigns, and strong teams that advance their missions and achieve their goals. Connect with us at