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Hackernoon logoHow to Avoid Awkward Virtual Events by@lblewisauthor

How to Avoid Awkward Virtual Events

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@lblewisauthorL.B. Lewis

Nominee for "2020 Contributor of the Year - Women in Tech." I write about modern culture.

While her pajama set was nice, I was wondering what type of crowd this was. Even before the March shelter-in-place orders, I would have never thought to wear pajamas to an in-person social event. 

In a recent survey, only about one-third of participants had something positive to say about the virtual events they’ve attended. With one virtual event platform seeing growth of over 1,000%, the remaining two-thirds of us are wondering why virtual events continue to be awkward, boring and sometimes a waste of time.

To be frank, We’re All Socially Awkward Now due to the pandemic as described by Kate Murphy in The New York Times.

It’s true we’ve experienced a range of pandemic emotions and some of these may influence our behavior. I’ve attended over 100 virtual events since March and I definitely think my attention span is getting shorter. Simultaneously, I’ve found myself asking more questions about how I spend my time and what matters most to me now. Here are some questions to ask to avoid awkward virtual events. 

How Do You Feel?

Dating as a rule is awkward. Combining the pandemic, cabin fever and technical challenges, the speed dating event that I attended left me feeling like one of those dreams you are caught in public wearing your pajamas. I may have taken it too seriously only to feel disappointed that my soul mate, or someone close to that, decided not to show up that day. 

October is Emotional Wellness Month and World Mental Health Day is October 10. We know stress, anxiety and depression are on the rise during this “mental health pandemic.” Getting in touch with our feelings and finding the support we need are all part of caring for ourselves. 

If you’re feeling unbalanced before an event, the event itself may or may not help you. It’s good to check in with yourself about what you’re feeling before, during and after the event. You may decide to put yourself on mute or join via phone to avoid the video interaction. Some organizers are fine with these options. However, it can get awkward when the event requires you to turn on your camera when this was not clear from the initial invitation. Organizers need empathy and sometimes helpful feedback to facilitate better experiences. 

And, if you’re up for it, humor can go a long way to elevate awkwardness. So can the “Leave Meeting” button. 

What Are Your Expectations?

From Harvard Business Review to the BBC, Zoom fatigue and Zoom Etiquette have become hot topics. Like any social situation, sometimes our expectations are not realistic of ourselves or others to adopt new online etiquette.

In June, I was on a book panel speaking about my trilogy. One panelist was speaking from her bed. It challenged my expectations of what I thought the professional level of the panel should be. And, I wondered what, if any, explanation needed to be given. A reader wrote me later and mentioned that the panelists were more casual than he expected, too.

We’re all continuing to learn more about ourselves and others in different ways during this COVID era. While my needs were met during the book panel event, I also learned more about my expectations of professionalism. In hindsight, I probably would have asked more questions before I agreed to be on the panel. Whatever your needs and expectations are for attending or organizing an event, it’s good to make those crystal clear to yourself and others initially.

Could This Be Your (Virtual) Tribe?

When I saw the woman in pajamas at the virtual event, I was confused. I stayed a few minutes to see if perhaps my first impression of the event was inaccurate, but left shortly after I realized it wasn’t. It turns out that 1/10th of a second is about how long it takes us to make a first impression, according the Association of Psychological Science

It can be amusing to think about The Brady BunchThe Muppets, Hollywood Squares, and Zoom all putting people (and muppets) into boxes. Admittedly, these boxes might contribute to that awkward first impression or somehow subconsciously urge us to categorize people in certain ways. 

Thinking outside the box about your initial impressions of the event and attendees is a good skill to strengthen. For example, if you’re struggling to introduce yourself or ask a question these are indications that this may not be a good fit. You might be the type to give the event more than 1/10thof a second or you may choose to message those people directly that you resonated with. To avoid future entanglements be honest with yourself at the onset about your impressions and if need be, move on to groups that will better support you. 

In the end, awkward events can be embarrassing. But, not only can they make interesting stories to write about, they also can provide insight into who we really are and bring us new experiences, no matter how long we stay at the virtual event. 

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