How to be a great listener, even on video calls

How much of your week is spent on video calls? Research suggests that since the pandemic, there has been a 120% rise in time spent on video calls. Are you struggling to be attentive?

Zoom, WebEx, MS Teams and others can take up a large proportion of our day. As well as the call itself, research suggests that the average employee spends 47 minutes preparing for a video call and takes an average of 18 minutes to become productive after the call. 

Despite this preparation and downtime, Zoom fatigue is very real. You may find that you find it hard to concentrate during a video call or that you’re zoning out when others speak.


Are you zoning out with Zoom fatigue?

If you do find yourself struggling to fully focus during a video call, then you are not alone. Zoom fatigue is a common phenomenon. There are several reasons why Zoom fatigue is so prevalent:

  • Close-up eye contact is highly intense for the brain
  • Watching yourself is mentally draining (imagine spending all day presenting, giving, and receiving feedback in front of a mirror)
  • Eye movement is very limited to just one set field of view
  • There is a higher cognitive load during video calls.

Make video calls count

So, with so much time spent on video calls, how can you make sure to showcase your skills and make each call worthwhile?

How can you:

  • Ensure video calls aren’t wasting time?
  • Avoid switching off in a video call?
  • Prevent getting caught-out when someone asks you a question?
  • Avoid feeling anxious about being on camera?
  • Ensure you engage in team meetings?
  • Avoid embarrassing video call blunders?

The answer to these doesn’t lie in your presenting skills but in your active listening. It can be hard to be in ‘active listening mode’ at home, especially when you’re attending to home-schooling, pets, deliveries, the washing machine. 

However, by not using this skill, you miss out on a chance to really connect with clients or co-workers, may suffer awkward miscommunications or miss out on valuable information or a chance to learn something new. 

“I zone out during video calls; does it matter?”

Listening is a fundamental workplace skill. Listening, and I mean really listening, is key if you want to really understand people and make positive changes. 

“But, not listening on a video call isn’t a big deal!”

Okay, there may be some video calls that aren’t worth the hassle. However, it is still important to engage your listening calls as much as possible; over the long-term, a lack of listening may mean you miss out on:

  • Learning opportunities 
  • The chance to provide input on a course of action
  • The opportunity to challenge ideas
  • A chance to thank and acknowledge others
  • Opportunities to get involved in new tasks or projects
  • Helping others by sharing your expertise
  • A chance to showcase your brand

Furthermore, not listening can lead to:

  • Loss of motivation
  • Upsetting co-workers
  • Decreasing motivation in others
  • Driving your anxiety levels
  • Reduced efficiency if the presenter has to repeat themselves
  • Awkward blunders and embarrassments. 

What’s your video call frustration?

I find myself switching off during team calls

I feel I can’t ask questions in video meetings 

I get irritated on video calls as it feels I am just being talked over, and it is always the same people talking

Video calls are starting to cause me anxiety

I have started to judge people differently since I shifted to working from home more

Ten ways to stay engaged on video calls

A good place to start is to practice active listening. A lot of reading associated with active listening focuses on face-to-face interaction, but the fundamentals are just (or more) valuable for those of us who work from home:

1.     Be attentive (harder than it sounds, right?)

You may think it is easy to look attentive, but we can often fall at the first hurdle! A great place to start is making sure you’re on time and attentive from the beginning of the presentation. Then, while others are presenting, make sure you’re on mute.

It is important for your listening, and as a courtesy to the presenter, that you eliminate distractions, which means turning off your phone and email alerts! Even if you think you’re being covert, it could still be off-putting to the presenter. 

Don’t be that person that mumbles when suddenly asked a question – everyone knows you weren’t listening

Aim to replicate how you give feedback in the same way you would do face-to-face; if you agree with something, show this by nodding and your body language. 

2.     Stop judging

Hold off on making snap judgments about the presenter or the content. Let go of any expectations or judgements and make it a habit to join meetings with positivity, an open mind and commit to respecting the presenter.

If you have decided that you already know how the presentation will go or know what the content will be, it will be hard to stay engaged. 

For example, you can see the mess in the background and assume their content will reflect this. Making judgments about someone based on their virtual or real-life background can lead to a strong bias and reduce your learning opportunity.

Remember that the presenter may already feel judged by the audience, so don’t add to this pressure.

3.     Create ‘virtual’ eye contact

If you are on mute, replace your usual ‘a-ha’ or ‘yeah’ that you would use in real life with nodding, smiling, a thumbs up, or if available, use the live reactions (heart, calling, thumbs up).

This will not only help you build the habit of listening, but it will also help the presenter feel someone is actually listening to them.

Think about what makes you feel valued when presenting; how can you demonstrate this to others?

4.     Avoid the temptation to interrupt 

Other options if you feel your question is relevant:

You may have a burning question or want to tell them that: ‘you know exactly what they mean as it happened to you’. If you do have a question for the speaker, wait for them to ask.

  • Post it in the chat or Q&A window to the whole group or the presenter
  • Use the tool to ‘raise’ a virtual hand to let the speaker know there are questions 
  • Drop them a note after the meeting

Remember, if you were attentive at the beginning, you might have heard instruction on how they want feedback and questions.

Make notes during the presentation to remember any pertinent questions and the context so you can ask questions at a convenient time and really demonstrate your listening.

5.     Pay attention to what the speaker is saying and how they are saying it

When listening, remember that the words convey only a fraction of the message. Look out for levels of enthusiasm, the difference between a nervous and a genuine laugh, a subtle sigh, eyebrow raise, or looking away to fully understand their message. Try to put yourself in their shoes and understand what they might be thinking or feeling.

If your co-worker looks anxious and has clearly spent a lot of time preparing for a meeting, think about how you can support them? Sometimes it takes just one person to ask a question or share feedback to get the ball rolling. Something as simple as a ‘smile’ in the chat window can also encourage the presenter and help relieve any anxiety.

If the speaker is sharing slides still, try to focus on their video, don’t get distracted by the bookshelf in their background.

6.     Clarify and confirm

Only ask questions that help you understand the speaker. You want to understand, and the best way to do this is to ask questions that look for confirmation. Similarly, you can ask if you have understood correctly; this is a great way to demonstrate active listening. 

This technique not only shows them that you are listening but also reduces the chance of you (or your co-workers) missing something.


7.     Provide feedback 

Aim to provide one piece of feedback, which can be as simple as saying ‘that was helpful’ or ‘we appreciate the update’ or ask a question in each meeting ‘what do you need from us?’ or ‘when is the next update?’. This shows listening, understanding and respect to the presenter who will want to know that they have been heard and valued. 

Paraphrasing or reflecting on what you’ve heard can be a fantastic way to confirm understanding and showing your listening skills. 


8.     Don’t go to everything 

Feeling burned out and missing important information as your habit of not listening grows?

Take a step back and look at your calendar – do you really need to attend all of these meetings?

It can help to ask yourself:

  • What happens if I don’t attend?
  • What do I hope to gain from this meeting?
  • Does my team, client, or co-worker need me in this session?
  • Can I listen to the content at another time when I feel more motivated or awake?
  • What might I learn?
  • Can I get the info some other way?

Turning up with the camera off, the mute button on, and being on your phone might make you feel better, but it is unlikely the presenter and your co-workers are fooled; sometimes, it might be better just not to show up at all.

9.     Share your tips

Do you have some tips on how to engage audiences? Why not share this with others and make suggestions? Don’t sit quietly; if you have knowledge that can help the presenter, share it. Is there a favourite new feature in Microsoft teams, found a way to improve sharing content in Zoom, or have a great tip for getting feedback via WebEx? Share it. 

Don’t assume others know how to use virtual backgrounds, turn on ‘adjust for light’, change their screen name, or use a new feature.

If you know what can make video calls run smoother, you’ll be helping others and make video calls more enjoyable for you too.

10.   Respect the presenter

And finally, remember to give others a break. Presenting can be hard, particularly when it can be more challenging to read the audience when all you see is a sea of thumbnail faces.

How can you show your appreciation for the presenter’s information and perspective?

Looking to improve your listening skills at work?

Are you looking to improve your listening skills at work?

Perhaps you’re looking for someone who will genuinely listen to you and help you work towards your goals? As well as being an active listener, I am also a Progress Coach and here to help you get the most out of every opportunity. 

Whether you want to develop your listening and understand how active listening can improve both professional and personal relationships, I can help. 

Perhaps you’re looking to unburden your thoughts, feelings, and concerns with someone that truly gets you; then I’m here for you.

Let’s start listening today by booking a free consultation call.

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