Zoom doesn’t have to suck

A crash course on the creative use of video conferencing for wineries, distilleries, and distributors

Imagine you could teleport—be anywhere in a flash. You could see and talk to distant family. In a blink, you could shuttle across the continent to convene with co-workers. A decade ago, this was a dream. Now it’s a nightmare with a name: Zoom fatigue. It didn’t even take that long for Icarus to fall from the sky. Google searches in the US for “Zoom fatigue” hit their peak only six weeks into lockdown last year.

Beyond the necessity of using video conferencing for sales meetings, Zoom and its counterparts seemingly ruined the good work stuff, too.1 We used to eagerly anticipate the occasional happy hour with colleagues. Zoom morphed it into something dreadful—drinking alone staring at a screen—like a corporate picnic, a twisted type of “required fun.”

How did we get here? The answer is simple: we were all given a technology we were never prepared to use. Like amateur jetpack enthusiasts, we set ourselves up to fail by thinking all we needed to understand were the controls.2


Zoom isn’t bad and Google Meet isn’t evil. They are merely tools. They are tools that most of us haven’t been trained to use. Much like a hammer can be wielded to build a house or tear one apart, video conferencing can similarly serve to unite and energize or divide and fatigue us depending on how it’s used.

Start by familiarizing yourself with best practices. Zoom has several cool features—from “touch up my appearance” to “share screen - whiteboard”—that seem to rarely ever be employed. Once you know more about the functionality of the program, here are five creative ways for wineries, distilleries, and distributors to harness its power:

  1. Map things out. We all have that errant friend or colleague who puts up a photo of a beach or a dumpster fire as a background. It was funny once, and that was over a year ago. However, given that we work in an industry firmly bound to geography, the use of a relevant map as a background is both fun and practical. Now a portfolio manager or winemaker can play the part of “weatherperson” and gesture to a region or a particular vineyard. Distillers can post a diagram of their still set-up or a flowchart of their production so that they may walk participants through their process. If you’re feeling fancy, use Google Earth to create a video background that serves as a virtual tour of any place on the planet.

  2. Gamify everything. One reason Zoom meetings stink is that they aren’t usually participatory or interactive. A person can only stare at talking heads for so long before they become numb to information, no matter how interesting or useful. Create sales meeting Bingo. Use the chat feature as a way of having participants answer trivia questions about topics discussed. Having a happy hour? Use the “share screen - whiteboard” feature to play Pictionary or hangman. Want to take it to the next level? Download a Powerpoint template for Jeopardy or Family Feud and channel your inner game show host.

  3. Better tasting through annotation. Hosting a meeting where everyone is going to taste the same thing? Screen share a tasting rubric. Let the team collaboratively annotate a tasting note by putting dots or checks on the rubric. Everyone will benefit from the visual aid as well as being on the same page with their descriptors.

  4. Get rid of guesswork. Want to know what your team is thinking? Poll them! Running a business isn’t usually a democracy, but soliciting feedback is essential in addressing the concerns of your team. Plus, if there’s a choice between two or more things—labels, incentives, where to host the holiday party—now you have an instant focus group.

  5. 20 (blind tasting) questions. Use breakout rooms to form smaller groups of up to five participants as well as a sixth person who will be tasting. It works well if that sixth person is a portfolio or brand manager, brand ambassador, winemaker, etc. They will have a mystery wine or spirit in their glass, but it’s the rest of the team’s job to guess what it is. The team can ask the taster to describe any aspect of the beverage’s color, aroma, or palate. The questions can only be about the impressions the taster gets from looking at, smelling, or tasting the wine or spirit. How would you describe the tannins? How long do you think it will mature? What’s the level of acidity? What would be your ideal food pairing? The taster keeps track of the number of questions the group needed to identify the wine or spirit. The goal is to identify the beverage in as few questions as possible.

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For the sake of clarity, I’m using Zoom as a stand-in for all video conferencing software and apps. This includes Google Meet, WebEx, and any other similar programs. You should be able to apply the techniques referenced here in any of these programs.


Of course, even when we know how to use said Zoom controls, we still occasionally forget to unmute ourselves.