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Zoom Fatigue is Real: Keep People Engaged by Appealing to the Visual Learning Style

In this series of blogs, TriviumU is exploring ways to combat Zoom fatigue by appealing to all learning styles. In my previous blog, I discussed the kinesthetic learning style. Here I discuss the visual learning style. This is the learn-by-seeing style. 

The research on visual learning is staggering. Dr. Lynell Burmarck points out that we process visual data 60,000 times faster (that’s right, four zeros) than we process textual or auditory data. We are also able to retain visual information more effectively. When we learn something by hearing or reading it, we are able to retain 10%-20% of it, but when that same information is visualized, we retain up to 65% of it! 

The reason these learning styles are so important is because research from Stanford University has made clear what most of us already know: Zoom fatigue is real, and its consequences are ugly. Screen-mediated communication makes it harder to connect with others and easier to zone out. This is because our brains have to use extra energy to focus, so we feel depleted earlier in the communication process. 

And it’s only getting worse. Gallup reports a 500% increase in remote-capable workers who have gone partially or completely online in just the last two years. So, despite all of the very real benefits of remote work, there are also very real costs. 

In other words, if you do not have a solid visual communication strategy in place, you’re fighting an uphill battle.

Here are 3 ways to engage the visual learning style. 

1. Prepare your surroundings. 

It is essential that you understand the difference between personal and professional space. Your audience does not want to be distracted by the thought that you may have just awoken from a nap. That’s why you need to prepare your space. Your background should look as much as possible like a neutral office, a place where you conduct your professional life. 

What may be included in the backgroundWhat should NOT be included in the background
– Orderly bookshelves
– Neutral colors
– Plants
– Warm textures (e.g. wood, brick)
– Natural lighting
– Non-distracting art
– Tasteful knickknacks and professional certificates 
– Minimalist arrangements
– Deliberate lighting that highlights your face and upper body. Incorporate natural lighting if possible.  
– Your kitchen
– Your bathroom
– Your bedroom
– Open doors into dark spaces (e.g. hallways or closets)
– Distracting art or other wall hangings
– Overly personal items (e.g. discarded clothing, kid’s toys, entertainment materials)
– Other people
– Clutter of any kind
– Poor lighting that casts you in a shadow or otherwise obscures your ability to be seen clearly

Above all, remember that you are the visual centerpiece. Think of yourself as the star of the show and your background as just the stage and set. It should be carefully designed, and it should not compete with you for the audience’s attention. 

Poor example:

Effective Example: 

2. Prepare your body.

The research here is clear, and a little depressing. Attractive people have huge advantages when it comes to persuasion and communication. But do not fret if you’re not Brad Pitt or Scarlett Johansson! Attractiveness is largely a matter of how fussy you are when preparing for the day. It includes attention to grooming as much as to fitness and genes. So, focus on what you have control over.

It also means paying attention to your body language. Imagine, how do you react when someone comes off as slouched, disengaged, exhausted, or otherwise bored when they communicate with you? These impressions are usually made by the way one appears. So take some extra time with your hair and choice of ensemble, but don’t forget to also mind your body language as you communicate. Here are some tips to make the right impression: 

Dress the way your audience would expect a professional in your line of work to dress. In other words, don’t wear a suit just because you think it makes you look classy. Instead, wear an outfit that is consistent with a confident and prepared person in your line of work. 

• Mind your hair and cosmetics. Unkempt scruff or an out-of-control cowlick may not rub everyone the wrong way, but some people regard these details as evidence of sloppiness.

• When you communicate, maintain an engaged, symmetrical posture. There is no need to be robotically symmetrical, but in general square your body to the camera and lean forward a little.

• Remember to gesture. People forget to gesture when they are on camera. It is important to remember not to gesture too much, given that you are on camera and your gestures will come off as a little exaggerated compared to in-person communication. BUT, do not let that stop you from gesturing. Use open palmed, purposeful gestures to punctuate your ideas. 

• Use facial expressions. It’s another uncomfortable bit of research, but that doesn’t mean it’s false. In fact, the mere act of smiling has an almost miraculous impact on your audience. People who smile more and have a more expressive face are rated as more attractive and altruistic. So, put a facial expression on, and remember to smile when you get the chance. 

• Make eye contact. Perhaps there is no more powerful visual communication tool than eye contact. Think about people who avoid eye contact. What message are they sending to their listeners? That they are insecure and unsure about their message, perhaps even that they are duplicitous, or “sketchy.” What’s more is that people who make genuine eye contact are rated as more intelligent, conscientious, sincere, and believable. Of course, in a mediated environment, achieving genuine eye contact is impossible, but you can get many of the benefits by making sure your eyes are not darting all over the place, and that you’re looking directly at the camera when speaking. 

Poor Example: 

Effective Example: 

3. Prepare your slides. 

A well designed deck has the potential to increase human bandwidth because humans can process visual information so much faster than they can process verbal or textual information. It’s not even close. This advantage is especially powerful in a mediated environment when the competition for your listener’s bandwidth is so intense. One study from the University of Minnesota found that effective use of visual aids leads to a 43% increase in persuasiveness and, remarkably, a 26% increase in the amount of money a potential customer is willing to pay. See chapter 5 of my book for more details on this research. 

The bottom line is this: Slides should complement, not compete with, your message. So, here are three strategies to ensure that your slides add bandwidth for your listeners and increase credibility for you: 

Use text sparingly. Remember the “rule” of 3. Do not write full sentences, let alone paragraphs on your slides. Instead, use words only as topic headings in short, bulleted lists. A rough limit of three bullets per slide and three words per bullet is a good guideline. 

Use high-definition images and graphics. Human beings tend to recall images, not words, when they look back on moments from their lives. Take advantage of this tendency by using visually potent slides. By pairing minimal text with clear images that add emphasis, you will dramatically increase the coherence and memorability of your message. But remember not to overdo it! Keep images and graphics, such as charts and other data visualizations, simple

Embrace color and negative space. Apply a standard of simplicity by embracing negative space. Think of people whose homes are packed and cluttered. How do you feel in such an environment? Anxious? Uncomfortable? Eager to leave? Give your slides an orderly, open feel by maintaining a consistent color strategy and a simple layout. 

Poor Example: 

Effective Example: 


The fact remains that most people are visual learners. For all of the talk about how “facts speak for themselves” and how we believe we’re not persuaded by packaging, the research tells a different story. We are profoundly influenced by what we see. That is why, if you are the one who is doing the influencing, it is essential that you mind the way you look. It does not take a lot of time or effort to address a few key areas to ensure you look competent, confident, and prepared.

Ben Crosby is a professor of rhetoric and a communication skills consultant. He teaches courses in public speaking and presenting, argumentation and debate, technical and professional communication, persuasion and selling, and the history of rhetoric.

His work is regularly published in his field’s top academic journals and conferences. He is also the author of Presentations as Performance: A Professional’s Guide to Better Speaking.

Ben’s areas of expertise are Public Speaking, Presentation Skills, Argumentation, Sales Training, and Professional Writing.

In his free time, he spends time with his wife, Rebecca, their four kids, and their cat, Arza. He is an avid Utah Jazz fan.

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