Presenting and Teaching

It Is Time to Drop the Zoom Events

19 Jan 2023  

The Super Bowl is coming up, and the Kellogg Super Bowl Advertising Review along with it. For me, it is a particularly busy and fun time of year. There are campaigns to study and brands to analyze.

I speak at a lot of seminars and programs before and after the Super Bowl, discussing advertising trends, the hits, and the misses. My colleague Derek Rucker and I have a unique perspective; we’ve been studying Super Bowl ads for many years, and, unlike advertising executives, we don’t have a vested interest since we don’t work on any of the spots.

This week someone approached me about doing a Super Bowl program for their group. I was open to the idea; I always enjoy talking about the spots. But then everything fell apart as they said, “We’d like to do the event on Zoom.”

I quickly declined the opportunity.

The Power of Business Seminars

Business programs are terrific. These events are usually sponsored by business school alumni associations or other community groups. Sometimes the events are hosted by companies for their employees.

The format is usually the same: a group gathers before or after work, there is a talk lasting perhaps an hour, then some food and drink.

These events provide a lot of benefits.

First, it is a chance for learning and skill development. It is all too easy for people to become focused on their daily tasks and work. Stepping back to hear a different point of view is a chance to reflect and learn. Sometimes the content will be immediately applicable. More often, the talk will provide a few interesting ideas and concepts to think about.

Second, these events are a great opportunity for networking and creating relationships. Formal networking events can be forced and awkward. Who attends a “networking event”? Often it is people looking for a new job and consultants looking for a new client. That isn’t a great combination.

A development program focused on content is different; it attracts a range of people, many drawn by the program and the learning. The content provides a topic for conversation, “What did you think of the speaker?” is an easy starting point when you meet someone new at the event.

Third, it can be fun. People in business usually like talking about business. Almost everyone appreciates food and drink.

For presenters, these events can be appealing. Many people enjoy talking to a group about their research or book. It is always fun to interact with an enthusiastic audience. The events are a great chance to meet new people.

The Problem with Zoom

At first look, Zoom seems like a perfect platform for these events. It is easy for people to attend; more people will usually sign up for a Zoom program than an in-person program. It is easier to put on: you don’t need a venue. It is cheaper, too, since there is no cost for food or drink.

But it is time to recognize the reality: Zoom programs are terrible.

Networking on Zoom rarely seems to work; there are no opportunities for informal, spontaneous conversations on Zoom. If you really want to meet someone attending the same Zoom program as you, well, you won’t.

The programs aren’t very fun. There is no food or drink. Who wants to stare at their computer for a few more hours? Nobody laughs.

The learning isn’t good, either. With an in-person program, there is some social pressure to pay attention. There is more to look at, too, which makes it all interesting and engaging. There are other people. The speaker is moving around. On Zoom, it is supremely easy to check your email during the program or wander away to organize your socks.

For speakers, Zoom programs aren’t fun. They are more exhausting than in-person programs, and there is no real benefit for the speaker. Nobody looks great on Zoom, so you aren’t enhancing your brand. You don’t meet anyone. You don’t even get to hear people laugh or clap.

Back Together

It is time to give up on Zoom for business seminars. Instead of taking the easy road and hosting a Zoom, organizers should focus on doing a few quality events that will bring people together.

Speakers should decline Zoom programs, too. Better to show up for an event that will delight an audience and enhance your brand, than struggle with a Zoom program that will be mediocre at best for all involved.


2 Responses

  1. Justin Kim says:

    I’m with you on this one but Zoom events do at least offer access to content that may otherwise not be available to some people due to travel or budget or other limitations. For example, there was a small-ish, one-day, in-person professional development class in Seattle just a week ago I would have wanted to attend but I could not travel from NYC due to family commitments. I attended via Zoom. Not the best but a good back-up. I agree, though, the biggest challenge with Zoom meetings is attention and engagement. It’s just not the same as in-person.

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