How to talk on Zoom

In a study last year, people who were face-to-face responded to yes/no questions in 297 milliseconds, on average, while those on Zoom chats took 976 milliseconds. Conversational turns — handing the mic back and forth between speakers, as it were — exhibited similar delays. The researchers hypothesized that something about the scant 30- to 70-millisecond delay in Zoom audio disrupts whatever neural mechanisms we meatbags use to get in sync with one another, that magic that creates true dialogue.

And the data:

The result is the largest-ever database of one-on-one Zoom conversations. It’s called CANDOR, short for Conversation: A Naturalistic Dataset of Online Recordings. Reece and his colleagues examined more than 1,600 conversations — some 850 hours and 7 million words total. The researchers paired volunteers, people who had never met each other, and asked them to hop on Zoom for half an hour about any old thing — with Record turned on. Which means that unlike most conversational databases, CANDOR didn’t just encode their words, which were transcribed automatically, by digital algorithms. It also automatically captured things like the tone, volume, and intensity of conversational exchanges, recording everything from facial expressions to head nods to the number of “ums” and “yeahs.”

And some results:

But loudness, it turns out, isn’t as good a metric as intensity — maybe because intensity is more subtle, a combination of the frequencies and sibilance of speech and the emotion conveyed by everything from tone to body language. To help the computer to assess something so ineffable — like, what is this thing you humans call love? — the CANDOR team fed it the Ryerson Audio-Visual Database of Emotional Speech and Song. That enabled the candorbots to draw on more than 7,000 recordings of 24 actors saying and singing things with different emotional shading, from happy or sad to fearful or disgusted. The machine found that women rated as better Zoom conversationalists tended to be more intense. The differences among men, strangely, were statistically insignificant. (The reverse was true for happiness. Male speakers who appeared to be happier were rated as better conversationalists, while the stats for women didn’t budge.)

Then there’s nodding. Better-rated conversationalists nodded “yes” 4% more often and shook their heads “no” 3% more often. They were not “merely cheerful listeners who nod supportively,” the researchers note, but were instead making “judicious use of nonverbal negations.” Translation: An honest and well-timed no will score you more points than an insincere yes. Good conversationalists are those who appear more engaged in what their partners are saying.

Here is the full Adam Rogers article, and most notably the participants did not dislike talking on Zoom per se.  Via the excellent Samir Varma.


Comments for this post are closed