Whether as a conversation point or a way to set the tone, virtual backgrounds in apps like Zoom and Microsoft Teams can be more than a pretty picture. Here’s how to make them effective tools for meetings.
Outside of skateboarding Fleetwood Mac fans on TikTok, virtual backgrounds on video call platforms such as Zoom and Google Meet might be the biggest digital trend of 2020.
Love them or hate them, these backgrounds create the perfect opportunity for employee, attendee, and volunteer engagement. They can be goofy—referencing popular films like The Shining or Pulp Fiction—or just a taste of the outside world that not a lot of people are getting these days.
And they can be great ways to build event engagement—as they can be fun, timely, and attuned to everyone’s personalities.
Here are a few strategies that associations can use to take advantage of virtual backgrounds:
Event icebreakers. What’s your favorite movie? Favorite book? How about the first album you ever owned, or maybe where you would be vacationing right now if it were safe to travel? When trying to warm up a conversation, backgrounds that directly reflect participants’ personal interests can help set a fun tone and steer the conversation in a lively direction. It can be as simple as asking people to set their virtual background to something fun, says Eugene Korsunskiy on the Medium blog Future of Design in Higher Education. “Then you can go around and have everyone talk for a few seconds about what they chose and why,” he writes.
Micro-incentives. Can virtual backgrounds be a way to recognize your superstars? Using backgrounds to motivate people could add a little fun to virtual meetings. (And there’s research to back it up: A 2018 Cornell University study found that people who received small rewards for completing small tasks were happier at work.) Create a custom background that honors the team player, and allow that person to show it off in the next team meeting.
Create a theme. For virtual event settings, digital backgrounds can establish a vibe that transfers from session to session, writes Victoria Copans on the Event Manager Blog. While not a replacement for event design in physical spaces, it can be an effective way to set an overarching theme for the meeting. “Virtual events have the disadvantage of not being able to immerse attendees in a physical event space, so it falls to visuals within the digital environment to bring the theme together on screen,” she writes. “Focus on images and designs that help convey the event’s story.”