Ten minutes that will transform your (Zoom) board meetings

I’d guess that most of us have held more board meetings virtually than in person over the last 18 months. Remote meetings, still a rarity two years ago, are business as usual and here to stay.

We’re learning how to make the most of them: 

  • To interpret non-verbal signals (aka body language) from only our colleagues’ faces; 
  • To stop people talking over each other, most of the time;
  • And to manage the unusual constraint that everything we say and every facial gesture is seen by everyone else in the meeting. There’s no ‘one-to-one’ (outside the ‘Chat’ box).

But there’s one aspect of living on Zoom[1] where many of us seem to have learned nothing in the last 18 months – our own welfare. Who hasn’t been stuck for hours, barely moving, staring at their board colleagues through lengthy meetings, where the breaks are dictated by the strength of the chair’s bladder?

We all know about people’s limited attention spans and the benefits of regular physical movement. Yet, here we are, ignoring both, in the supposed interests of getting through our meeting. 

In a physical boardroom, we have the luxury of being able to move in our chairs, or even to move our chairs; we can look from side to side directly at our colleagues around the table. Some boards even provide a side table with refreshments through the meeting, so that board members can stand up and move around, without missing any of the discussion. 

None of those luxuries is available on Zoom. Like a well-trained gun-dog, a hungry leopard, or a cat that’s spotted a mouse, we sit motionless – except that we’re staring at a screen 60 centimetres in front of us and often well below eye level. I don’t know the potential long-term harm or risks of this behaviour for humans, but I do know at the very least that it’s hard to stay fully focused on the discussion for hours on end. 

Here’s my simple but powerful solution: every hour, call a ten-minute break – not five, but ten. Ten minutes gives people enough time to stand up, attend to their physical needs and make a cup of coffee or respond to that urgent email request. In comparison, a five-minute break barely allows time to do one or the other.

Since I began this approach, taking regular and longer breaks, my meetings have become livelier and more engaged, and it’s a tempo you can sustain for pretty much as long as you need. And, once they’ve tried it, nobody has complained (to me anyway) that we’re wasting time.

A few little tips to help even further:

  1. Let people know at the start of the meeting that this is what they can expect. 
  2. When you break, tell people exactly what time you’ll be starting again.
  3. And please, when you take that break, remember to turn off your camera and microphone … need I say more?

Just try it. Then let me know your experience.


If you’re reading this post on LinkedIn and want to follow my blog, you can do so at my site chairingtheboard.com

[1] Zoom, or any other video-conferencing app

Published by westlakenz

Experienced board leader and chair; Teacher, mentor and adviser to boards, chairs and CEOs; Governance presenter, commentator and conference speaker.

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