Omar Shehata

The Best Zoom Call I've Ever Been In

From Omar's notebook.

The best video call experience I've ever been in was the opener for the New-Public Festival, a performance run by Lars Jan.

This was an interactive experience that kicked off right after the introduction and a short keynote. I watched a live-stream of it because the Zoom call was full, so I technically was not participating. And yet, it was one of the most memorable and incredibly emotional virtual experiences I've ever been in.

How good can a video call really be? Well, let me try and put this into words.

Explaining the rules

Lars starts off by explaining how this is going to work. He speaks in a calm, soft voice. Slow and deliberate. He's wearing a plain white shirt, glasses, and his video quality is excellent.

He tells you he's going to ask you a series of questions, ok? These are all going to be yes or no questions. To answer yes, simply lean forward in your chair. To answer no, lean back.

You'll keep your position from each answer, so if you answer "yes" 3 times in a row, you continue to lean closer to the camera, so you don't need to lean too much each time! Just a little bit. Do whatever feels the most comfortable and natural for your body. If it's easier for you to lean left/right instead, just do that.

Ok? Now set your Zoom view to gallery mode, so you can see everyone else.


The questions

Now I'm not on the Zoom call, but I follow along anyway. He starts firing off these questions. He pauses only 2-3 seconds after each before going to the next one.

At first the questions are pretty straightforward, feels like some fun icebreakers:

But very quickly the questions become more profound. And yet there's still only a second or two to think about and respond to each one.

I feel vulnerable and somewhat exposed, despite not being on the call. I want to pause and reflect but there's no time. I try to keep up as my mind races, juggling the current question with the past ones.

Some of these questions hit me hard. Like, I answered yes to so many things I am privileged to have, I wonder how many others around me, participating in this same online conference, don't have these. But also, I did lie on some of my questions. Why did I?

And for some of them, I just didn't know because I'd never even considered reflecting on something like that and now all I want or can do is think about it! Those are my favorite kinds of questions. It just kind of expands my world. It's like opening a new door in your home that you've never noticed before. You didn't even know it was there and now you need to know what's inside.

The finale

He slows down at the end with this theme of whether someone in the audience can help you, or if there's someone you want to connect with. He stops the questions and gives you one final instruction:

Click on the left/right buttons in the Zoom call to scroll through the pages of participants' cameras. Don't think too hard. Just let your personal algorithm guide you. Look at people's faces. Look at their names.

Is there someone here that you recognize? Perhaps someone you've heard of. Someone you already know?

Or someone you'd like to know?

Just whatever it is that draws you to a person, just find that person. Look at them. And wave.

And Lars waves.

And so they all wave. To only the one person. To everyone all at once.

Thanks for being here. I hope you all have a wonderful festival.