I participated in an online cooking class last week. A chef was leading about 50 of us through cooking a meal (fish tacos and margaritas) that had many steps and a lot of chopping. I think the whole class was about 90 minutes.
The chef is a woman who usually teaches in a big kitchen, in person. Instead, of course, we were all on Zoom. It was fascinating to watch because I could see that her natural teaching style was to make conversation as she cooked and demonstrated. However, we were all on mute, so her little comments and questions were met with silence.
With no casual back and forth in her kitchen, she lapsed into a monologue, and she would say, every so often, “Any questions?” I imagine that when she’s teaching in person, questions naturally arise and she can move around the room to see how people are doing. On Zoom, I would have had to indicate that I had a question, and then get unmuted, and my hands were covered in fish so I didn’t want to touch my laptop, and what would be effortless in person became a multi-step ordeal. Unsurprisingly, few people asked questions.
Video platforms work best when they’re replicating a situation when one person is speaking to many people, who are passively listening (like a TED Talk). They are much less effective when they are standing in for a situation when there would normally be conversational flow, question and answer, side comments, etc. I felt for this chef–she did a great job despite the odd circumstances, but the camaraderie and buzz of her normal classes was completely absent from this experience–for us, and more importantly, for her.
If you’re launching a Zoom/GoToMeeting/WebEx for an occasion that would usually have mingling and informality, spend some time thinking about how you might adapt. In this case, she could have had someone from her family with her also on camera, serving as a conversational foil for her, and perhaps being an audience stand-in for the cooking techniques she demonstrated.
Talking to no one is harder than it looks. Give yourself an advantage by thinking through what might be missing that you normally rely on.