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Neurologists on How to Optimize Virtual Meetings
10 Tips to Zoom Like a Pro

Article In Brief

Since the advent of COVID-19, the virtual Zoom meeting and videoconferencing has become the norm for meeting. Here, our most active neurologists on that front share best practices for how to make the most of those Zoom meetings.

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Zoom participants use their emojis throughout the meeting—(top row, left to right): Drs. Lyell K. Jones, Neil A. Busis, Orly Avitzur; (middle row, left to right): Drs. Anant Shenoy, Gillian L. Gordon Perue, Olivia Begasse de Dhaem; (bottom row): Dr. Jennifer J. Majersik.

We have now spent a year and a half on Zoom and other video platforms holding meetings and running educational sessions. It was the way we stayed in touch, reached our colleagues and taught our trainees, and shared our experience, knowledge, and advice in the face of the most devastating pandemic of our lifetime. Even as we resume getting together in person there will be some advantages to hold meetings by Zoom—among them, avoiding travel, including global experts, and eliciting fewer disruptions to our day jobs. It looks like Zoom is here to stay, so Neurology Today asked colleagues on social media to share their best practices. Here are ten solid tips on how to make the most of Zoom.

  1. Adjust your Zoom settings: Did you know you can change your name, include your pronouns, add a profile picture, suppress background noise (dog owners, listen up!), adjust for low light, and even look well-rested and younger? By using Emojis, you can express shock, happiness, sadness, surprise, confusion, agreement, disagreement, love, and much more— without interrupting the speaker. When sharing a screen, you can now annotate your screen share with the use of a stamp like an arrow or a checkmark as well as draw, erase, and write on your presentation using a vanishing pen.
  2. “The bugs in the system have been fixed and crashes will be less likely, and you will be able to enjoy these latest features,” said Neil A. Busis, MD, FAAN, chair of the AAN telemedicine subcommittee and clinical professor of neurology at NYU Langone Health.
  3. Take advantage of those shortcuts: Dr. Busis uses for temporarily muting and unmuting the audio by pressing and holding the spacebar, or pressing Alt+A with Windows or Command+Shift+A with MacOS. “You can use the PageUp and PageDown arrows with Windows or Ctrl+P and Ctrl+N with MacOS to view all 25 faces in the previous/next video streams in Gallery view. If you want to see 49 participants, rather than the default 25, select this option in Preferences, or hide non-video participants and maximize your 25 in Gallery view.
  4. Keep your participants engaged: To make sure you're engaging to meeting participants, be sure to make eye contact, just as you would in a face-to-face meeting. To do so, “exit the full screen, and move the window close to the camera on your device,” Dr. Busis advised. “This way the gallery view is smaller, and all the faces are close to the camera, making it easier to maintain eye contact.” If you use a tablet or a phone in landscape mode, remember that the camera is on one side or the other, he added. If you look at the screen, the audience will see only your profile.
  5. Turn on your video. Unless you are driving, turn on your video. “My school age kids turn off their videos when they are about to check out; video off, generally, (though not always) means that ‘I'm just not that into you,’” Nassim Zecavati, MD, MPH, FAAN, associate professor of neurology at Virginia Commonwealth University and director of epilepsy at the Children's Hospital of Richmond, said. If you don't like staring at your image, you can hide yourself without turning off your camera. Simply go to Gallery mode, right-click your video and choose “Hide Self View” from the menu, said Jennifer J. Majersik, MD, MS, FAAN, chief of the division of vascular neurology at the University of Utah Health.
  6. “Sometimes I find I'm looking at my own image, rather than the person I'm supposed to be engaged with, which can result in missed cues, and is strangely fatiguing, particularly for introverts. So, I now cover my image once I'm sure I look ok!” Dr. Majersik said.
  7. Pick up on those Zoom cues: “If you are leading the meeting, watch for virtual hands, chat messages, attendees coming off mute, and audience facial expressions,” advised Lyell K. Jones, MD, FAAN, professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN, and chair of the AAN Quality Committee. “It is much harder to catch nonverbal cues during virtual meetings than when leading in-person meetings,” he explained. “If you can't see all your participants on one screen, task someone to help you watch and engage the group.”
  8. Simultaneously lead a meeting and take notes: To ensure participants are engaged , while also recording the meeting minutes, Neha S. Dangayach, MD, assistant professor of neurology and neurosurgery at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai shares her screen with the meeting agenda and then takes live minutes.
  9. “This helps keep the meeting on track and everyone gets to reflect on each agenda item incorporated into the minutes in real time,” said Dr. Dangayach. She usually also closes the meeting by typing out the proposed agenda for the next meeting live. She adapted the technique after observing one of her research mentors, Kristen Dams-O'Connor, PhD, use it at a meeting. “I found myself paying a lot more attention while she took the minutes on a shared screen,” Dr. Dangayach said. She has since adopted it for a variety of engagements including administrative meetings as the co-director of the Neurosciences ICU, for bimonthly sessions with the data science team, mentorship meetings with both her mentors and her mentees, committee meetings for which she serves as chair or co-chair, and live editing of manuscripts, policy statements, etc. with multiple collaborators and more.
  10. Break it up with break-out sessions: Break-out sessions tend to be less formal and more relaxed, while also allowing for smaller groups which encourages quieter participants to speak up. “I find it sometimes harder to speak up in full Zoom meetings out of fear of cutting off someone who was about to speak,” admitted Olivia Begasse De Dhaem, MD, a headache specialist at Stamford Health Medical Group. Dr. Begasse De Dhaem said she feels more comfortable in smaller Zoom groups where she can observe everyone's reactions on video on the same screen. She also appreciates it when the leader of the Zoom meeting asks for the attendees' opinions one at a time to ensure everyone gets a chance to speak up. Dr. Begasse De Dhaem has participated in large group meetings in preparation for Headache on the Hill and Neurology on the Hill and in smaller groups collaborating with colleagues on research and advocacy projects.
  11. Devote time to presentations. Devoting some time to presentations can also lessen the monotony of a start-to-finish Hollywood Squares-style meeting. Clarimar Borrero-Mejias, MD, pediatric neurologist at the Institute for Brain Protection Sciences at Johns Hopkins All Children's Hospital, likes to show PowerPoint presentations to her participants. To share the presentation view while still seeing your own notes, even with single monitor, share the screen in Zoom, go to the advanced tab, then click ‘share portion;’ a green-squared frame appears that can be placed over the portion of the screen that you want the audience to see, she instructed.
  12. Use polls to break the ice. “I find polls on Zoom are very helpful to break the ice and create engagement in a large group meeting,” said Gillian L. Gordon Perue, MD, assistant professor of clinical neurology at the University of Miami and chief of neurology and stroke at Jackson South Medical Center. She uses polls when she gives lectures to students by screen-sharing a PowerPoint slide with a medical question along with multiple choice answers and asking the class to select one. Dr. Gordon Perue waits until at least 75 percent of the audience has answered before she closes the poll. “This is a great way of understanding potential areas of confusion, avoiding groupthink or having just one person answer all the time,” she said.
  13. Use polls to seek consensus: Dr. Gordon Perue has used polls in another way, too. When she started her position at Jackson South in the midst of the pandemic, she had to update all the stroke policies and protocols, which then required approval from 80 percent of the stroke council. After the documents were circulated, reviewed, and discussed on Zoom, Dr. Gordon Perue launched a poll. Participants could choose to select one of these options: approve, do not approve, and amend and review at the next meeting. (The protocols were unanimously approved.) It's best to keep it simple: Yes or no; true or false; or a simple letter answer for a multiple-choice response, Dr. Gordon Perue said. She aims to separate polls by at least five to six slides if part of a PowerPoint presentation or deploy only three polls per hour of Zoom to maintain balance between content sharing and engagement.
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“I find it sometimes harder to speak up in full Zoom meetings out of fear of cutting off someone who was about to speak.”—DR. OLIVIA BEGASSE DE DHAEM

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“I find polls on Zoom are very helpful to break the ice and create engagement in a large group meeting.”—DR. GILLIAN L. GORDON PERUE

Notwithstanding all the benefits of Zoom, most of us still miss the energy we derive from meeting together face-to-face. Certainly, we miss those breaks between meetings, in the hallways and at meals, when connections are best made.

“I gathered so much information during casual conversations during transition times immediately before and after in-person meetings,” recalled Anant Shenoy, MD, FAAN, chief of neurology at Mount Auburn Hospital and assistant professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School. “It's hard to make up for that, but I've budgeted extra Zoom time with my team members to make an intentional effort to try.”