When you ask co-workers to turn on webcams during an online meeting, some will say “Sure!” and appreciate the social connectedness it brings. Some will reject it faster than a bushman afraid of losing his soul. Everyone wants to look their best at work, but why is webcam video so different than a face to face conversation? When should you turn it on? After unscientifically polling my co-workers, I uncovered some interesting answers:
Why turn it off?
- The camera adds “weight” to my appearance.
This usually has more to do with bad lighting than the camera itself. Typical office lighting is designed to be functional, not flattering. Remember your childhood friend’s Barbie make-up mirror with the Day, Night and Office settings? Lighting makes a big difference (not that I, uh, ever really played with the make-up mirror.) TV studios do not use harsh overhead fluorescents or bright window backlighting on the evening news! Before abandoning video altogether, why not make some adjustments on lighting? Set up your camera at eye level near your screen (and please avoid the dreaded up-the-nose shot.)
- The camera’s close-up view exaggerates my flaws.
Don’t you think people across a conference table will notice spinach in your teeth faster than online folks? Besides, your warm smile and passionate presentation will overshadow any blemish or bad hair day every time. And if you’re really good, you will make eye contact with that soul-stealing black-hole of a camera lens. It actually can help you connect with multiple people at the same time… something you cannot do in a conference room.
- I will be caught multi-tasking during the meeting.
We could write a book on this one, and it would be a philosophy book. Basically, if your boss’s management philosophy includes you paying full attention, show that you are paying attention by turning on your camera. Turning OFF your camera is like hiding under the conference room table, isn’t it? If the meeting leader is relaxed about multi-tasking, go for it. We could write another book about meetings you should never be invited to in the first place.
- I don’t like the loss of control.
This was the most intriguing to me, a comment about not knowing who is looking at you and when. If someone is staring at you across a table in a room, you can usually sense it with your peripheral vision, and react by smiling or giving them the evil eye. However, when your “image” is being broadcast “who knows where” and being “scrutinized for facial flaws and signs of weight gain,” you “feel” like you have lost control of your image. This is not online dating…try to relax and focus on work.
Why turn it on?
Why bother making adjustments to get past all the mental barriers above? Choosing to use video is very situational, and sometimes it matters more than others. But here are some good general reasons why you SHOULD turn it on…
- Build rapport.
My friend Gus Ruiz uses his office environment to break the ice with sales prospects. He’ll even place artifacts in the background as conversation starters. “Yes, that IS a signed Mickey Mantle ball… I’ll show you a close-up. Are you a baseball fan?” People like seeing you have some fun and it makes you appear more human. I usually get a laugh when people see my noise-cancelling-but-ridiculously-large headset. It cancels the dogs barking at my home office, but it looks like I’m landing a 747.
- Social connectedness and trust.
You’ve heard that “seeing is believing.” Why not REALLY make your presence known by turning on your webcam when you can’t physically be at the meeting? We are social beings (well, most of us) and video adds a human element you cannot get with voice alone. If you pay attention, you will also benefit from telling facial reactions, body language, and eye contact from your audience. (Like when someone is throwing their head back in silent laughter while you are being totally serious.)
- Show your passion.
When it is your turn to sell an idea, you want to make a positive impression and be memorable. I’ve seen colleagues who have raised their desks in their cubes to allow them to stand and deliver, with a range of gestures and vocal power similar to projecting on a stage. Your video image can augment your voice, help get attention and hold it with your audience.
Do you agree? I’d love to hear what you think. Can you share one of your online meeting experiences where the video either distracted you, or made a significant positive impact?