What Kinds of People Prefer In-Person vs. Zoom?

In these Covid times, we’ve all done more video chatting than ever before. Some people love it. Some people are missing in-person.

What are the personality, cognitive, and communication style correlates with someone preferring Zoom/video chat meetings to in-person or vice versa? This is not an exhaustive list of pros and cons of video vs. in-person companies or meetings, but specific to the individual personalities of people who seem to prefer one over the other.

People who prefer in-person meetings tend to be:

Extroverts. Extroverts report that socializing makes them feel *more* energized, whereas introverts get their batteries drained and then need solitude to recharge. In-person involves more energy transfer between and among the people involved than on a Zoom — either energy addition (for extroverts) or energy subtraction. (H/t ToddS)

Kinesthetically communicative. With physical touch, hugs, slaps, rubs, hand gestures, etc.

Good at reading other people’s body language. These tend to be people with a high degree of emotional intelligence which helps them read eye contact, body gestures, and “wayfind” in a conversation through subtle cues.

Physically attractive. And aware of how to use attractiveness in the room.

More “quiet” or reserved in meetings. Because they can get shouted over or interrupted more easily on videochat. In-person it’s easier for them to signal to a group, “I want to speak.”

“Personal” relationship builders who don’t always prioritize short term efficiency. These people bridge to personal topics as well as professional ones in meetings, broaching intimate topics based on the trust that’s usually only established in-person. Even if it means going off the agenda and “wasting” time to explore these areas.

People who prefer video chat meetings tend to be:

Introverts. For the inverse of the extravert reason above. Energy transfer in-person is more draining.

Focused on efficiency and productivity in meetings in the micro sense. There’s less random chit chat on a Zoom. On a video meeting, you get straight to the agenda, usually. If you don’t love small talk, you get to skip a lot of that when doing a video meeting. Easy to do a 15 minute video call; not easy to do a 15 minute coffee meeting.

Focused on efficiency and productivity in the macro sense. You can do 12 back to back Zooms in one day. No travel time. No walking between meetings. No down time. All meetings, all the time.

People who are socially awkward in person. Or people with body image issues. If your physical appearance isn’t a plus — Zoom helps level the playing field.

People with high computer cognitive skills and good multitasking skills. They can multitask while on a Zoom and get more done. In-person, you can more easily be “caught” and seen as rude if you’re multi-tasking in a meeting.

The fourth dimension

Myself? I find a lot to like about both videochat and in person. One of our founders recently said: In-person for innovation; remote for iteration. I think that captures it well: In-person seems superior for the most complex conversations. Videochat works well for small iterations on top of an agreed plan.

I don’t think we’ll ever go back to having as many in-person meetings as we did pre-Covid, given how effective Zoom is in so many use cases.

Nonetheless, I suspect that when people return to sustained in-person interaction, post-Covid, they’ll realize just how unsatisfying so many of their video calls are in comparison. They’ll remember the richness of being in person. I’ve certainly experienced this in the outdoor meeting I’ve participated in since Covid.

I’m reminded of a Po Bronson line: “Physical affection is a fourth dimension: You can get through life without ever knowing that it’s there, but it sure adds something to the experience when you open up to it.”

Confidence Placebos

When it’s time to perform — on stage, in the boardroom, in the bedroom — confidence is the essential mental component to strong execution. Even solo activities, like being able to fall asleep at night, are aided by self-confidence (“I’m a good sleeper!”).

The substantive way to increase your confidence in life, it seems, is to rack up a series of wins. Experience = confidence (usually). Of course, accumulating experience takes time. And if you’re always pushing yourself into uncomfortably new situations, as high performers tend to do, you often won’t have experience to draw upon that can fuel your inner confidence.

So there are a range of more “shallow” ways to increase confidence — tips and tricks and hacks that function like a placebo effect for confidence. Things that make you feel more confident, even if, as a matter of fact, there’s no substantive reason why the hack should increase your real-world performance.

Superstitious routines come to mind. The baseball player who taps on home plate with his bat a few times, in exactly the same way, before each pitch. The public speaker who re-ties her shoes in exactly the same way just before going on stage.

Following a “meaningless” routine can calm the mind, which creates the space for quiet confidence to flood the mind. A hyperactive mind is rarely a confident one.

Luxury goods can generate a confidence placebo effect; in fact, I’d argue this placebo constitutes most of their practical value. Wearing a fancy watch, toting a fancy hand bag. These are things that do nothing to actually help you perform in the business room but they can lend a certain swagger to the person showing off the luxury good. Even if no one sees the watch on your arm the entire meeting — so there’s no external signaling going on, which is the other function to a luxury good — if you feel like a baller while wearing it, you’ll feel more confident doing whatever you’re doing.

Enhancements to physical appearance serve as a confidence placebo. Women wear makeup and sometimes don’t look any better physically as a result but feel more attractive, which results in confidence, and confidence tends to be a very attractive trait. Mission accomplished, if indirectly.

A subtle example of a confidence placebo in business is how we rely upon and invoke studies and data. Many studies about business and success are bullshit. You know how it goes: Seven graduate students hung out in a lab and one person who was wearing a brown jacket decided he didn’t want to buy the product and so now we must conclude a Very Important Fact about all humans who wear brown jackets. We cling to studies and reports and data in part because it gives us confidence in the intuitions we want to act on. It gives us confidence in the anecdotes we’ve heard and want to synthesize. When you’re a CEO and about to walk on stage in front of your employees to announce a pivotal decision, knowing that “some researchers at Yale” support some element of your decision gives you the confidence to announce, with a clear voice, your point of view. Confidence aids decisiveness.

If you’ve read a bestselling book about sleep that’s replete with faulty studies but your knowledge of the “studies” enhances your confidence about sleep — I’ve perfectly calibrated the temperature of the room to what studies say is the optimal temperature! — then you may well sleep better. And if the “data” behind power posing is questionable, well, hey, if power posing gives you greater confidence before performing, it’s probably still worth it.

There can be nothing wrong with placebos. And remember that — studies show! — that even if you’re aware that you’re benefitting from a placebo effect, it doesn’t fully negate the effect. So knowing which placebos help with confidence in-the-moment can give any performer an edge.

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When confidence is helpful for performance is an interesting nuance here. Obviously at the time of performance you want to be confident. But if you’re too confident too far ahead of the time of performance it might lead you to under prepare beforehand. Suppose you need to deliver a key presentation at work in a month’s time. If you’re too confident, too early on, you might not spend the cycles preparing that actually will improve performance substantively. Confidence placebos are ideal just before the time of performance.

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(Hat tip to Russ Roberts, Steve Dodson, and Andy McKenzie for conversations that inspired and helped make up this post.)

My notes from leading a session on Oral Communication

At the Village Global Founder Retreat 2019 this summer, we brought together 75+ of our founders for a couple days of networking, content sessions, and relaxation.

I moderated a session on oral communication and public speaking. Below are my rough notes/talking points for my facilitation.


Three premises from me:

  1. It’s an incredibly high leverage skill to develop. As CEOs, we are storytellers-in-chief. We’re always telling stories. Being good at it means adapting our storytelling depending on who’s around, who’s in the audience.
  2. Need to actually practice and develop this skill. It doesn’t come naturally.
  3. Storytelling per se is one element of effective oral communication. There are other elements to the broader skill set of oral communication.

A few principles for being better at oral communication, be it in a meeting with a few people and large presentation, much of it inspired from Own the Room.

First, content.

  • Eliminate weak language. RECORD YOURSELF on video and audio and you’ll hear weak language (ums and ah’s).
  • Paint a picture and evoke an emotion. Set a scene. A scenario. “Imagine…” as an opener…
  • Involve the audience with the content. Poll the audience. Body polls. Thumbs up. Thumbs down. Audience engagement is crucial. Prepare the points of engagement.

Second, tone.

  • RANGE. Change in tone creates energy. Speed differences. Voice modulation. You can talk quickly or slowly and be a powerful speaker. The key is to change it up.
  • Pause. Nothing as powerful as a well-placed pause.

Third, body language.

  • Big gestures that mirror what you’re saying verbally. Get creative.

Fourth, use space.

  • If giving a presentation, move your body with each point purposefully. For Point A, stand here. For Point B, stand over there. Don’t nervously pace aimlessly.

Misc:

  • Stories have beginning, middle, and ends.
  • Rehearse your jokes. Laugh lines should be prepared.
  • You’re not as good as extemporaneous speaking as you think you are. Prepare.

Why Do So Many VCs Say They’re Introverted?

I wrote a tweet a couple months ago:

Who knew that introversion/extroversion was such a hot topic?! It generated a lot of replies from people I respect. Here’s one:

And this:

And this:

The three replies above, as I understand them, all make a similar definitional point: A person can be introverted and still be highly social; it’s just that the social interactions drain them of energy and they need to re-charge alone afterwards. Fair enough and I appreciated the clarification.

Now, if we accept the premise that VC is an extremely social enterprise, does this mean that VCs who consider themselves introverts by this definition — capable of being highly social — do these VCs find themselves drained of energy at the end of most days?

Mike Arrington replied and said yes:

Brad Feld has also written about how he is “fundamentally an introvert” and, similar to Mike, the venture work stream drains him completely once a year:

About once a year I completely use up my extrovert capacity.  I drain it completely to zero. … The last sixty days have been awesome but extremely intense. My ordinarily full days had the Do More Faster book tour layered on top along with a bunch of other public appearances, interviews, speaking engagements, and events.  About two weeks ago I started feeling a fatigue that I couldn’t get in front of and the last two weeks pushed me over the edge.

For those for whom this is true, who am I to judge their career decisions? It’s hard to perfectly match career to personality; no job will ever be 100% perfect. And this dimension of social/energy is just one consideration on whether VC is the right fit. Both Mike and Brad have been extremely successful in tech and venture capital. I don’t know Mike personally, but I do know Brad, and I know that on balance Brad loves what he does. The VC job, on balance, appears to be a great fit for him.

My point is that, in general, most of the VCs I know are highly extroverted. And this would be logical, because people tend to gravitate to jobs where a primary piece of the job description energizes them, not drains them. So with respect to VCs and introversion/extroversion, I believe there are not as many Mike Arringtons out there as we may think — i.e., people who are “painfully introverted” who do the job well even though it leaves them “exhausted.”

Among this crop of extroverted VCs I know, some still call themselves introverted, which perplexes me. They’re highly social and do not seem — at least to me — not very drained by all the socializing. Yet they nonetheless refer to themselves as introverted.

What’s going on?

First, as mentioned in my original tweet, the “introvert” label has come to be associated with adjectives like thoughtful, intellectual, wise, evolved. Introversion may be a higher status description than extroversion. Extroversion is associated with smarmy networkers. I don’t read many extroverts declaring themselves proud extroverts in public. I do routinely read about people proclaiming their introversion.

I’m fascinated by the evolution of terms and connotations. As “networker” has evolved from being a cutting edge business skill in the Dale Carnegie era to now being term to describe the worst excess of that original skill, so too has “introvert” evolved from formerly describing a shy, awkward minority to now being a broad term that connotes a refined, thoughtful, intellectual air about life that seemingly a majority of people now claim.

Second, the comparison set. VCs in general are among the most extroverted humans on the planet. They (we) are professional meeting-takers, emailers, phone callers, conference attenders, deal makers with others humans. (To be sure, I appreciated the point in the reply tweet embedded above that 1:1 founder meetings is a different type of “social” activity than big group meetings, and VCs do a lot of 1:1 small meetings.)

When you work in venture, you’re comparing yourself to other VCs. I know VCs who take 7-8 calls/meetings a day and then a long dinner, and they do this 4 days a week. But, they look around and see another VC who does all of the above PLUS post-dinner drinks followed by an all-weekend conference, and the first VC thinks, “Gosh, I’m an introvert compared to that guy.” It’s LeBron James comparing himself to Steph Curry and concluding, “I’m not a very good three point shooter,” when LeBron’s 3 is better than 99% of all humans’ 3 point shot. So, it’s a comparison / frame of reference issue.

So, to recap my thinking here:

  • You can be introverted and be highly social. If this is the case, you probably find those social interactions draining. But you can do it successfully.
  • Some VCs are introverted, successful, and are simply drained by the social part of the job.
  • The vast majority of VCs in my experience are highly extroverted, which makes sense in terms of trying to align career with personality.
  • Many more VCs describe themselves as “introversion” than who probably are. Perhaps because of status considerations. Perhaps because of their comparison set.

Thanks to everyone who replied to the tweet and emailed me about it. Definitely pushed my thinking. Happy to hear any additional feedback on these points in the comments.

The Wisdom of John Donahoe

I interviewed John Donahoe, CEO of ServiceNow, for a Village Global masterclass. Video of our conversation embedded below and linked here. John is one my all-time favorite CEOs, and a real inspiration. We were in a private meditation retreat together and got to know each other well a few years ago. In this conversation, we talk about ServiceNow, leadership, what he learned as CEO of eBay, and from his board service at Nike and other legendary companies.