It’s time once again to revisit a controversial topic. Is the conventional wisdom about webcam presentations correct? Does having the presenters appear on camera enhance the experience?
Whenever I write about this, I have to couch the subject in disclaimers. People get passionate about the subject and sometimes make arguments against things I haven’t said.
1) I’m talking about presentation-oriented web events. Not peer-level meetings or participatory discussions.
2) I’m talking about presenters sitting in front of a fixed computer webcam on their laptop or desktop. Not videography of people standing and using full body language and movement.
In addition to those caveats, I have to say one more thing… A good presenter who has practiced their presentation, is conscious of camera considerations, has a good technical and environmental setup and plenty of fast, reliable bandwidth is almost ALWAYS going to be more engaging, influential, and interesting on camera than voice-only. I’m all in on using video when done well.
Unfortunately, the people who fit the preceding description seem to be a vanishingly small percentage of the people who present on business webinars.
I repeatedly see presenters on camera who look down at a script on their desk. Or look offscreen at a monitor positioned off-axis from the camera. Or use a laptop camera pointing up at their nostrils and the ceiling fan above their head. Or appear in shadow because of more light behind than in front of them. Or who never change their facial expression once during the recitation.
What do we feel is being gained by forcing these people to appear on camera? Is the hosting company benefitting by broadcasting a public image of “technical inadequacy?” Are attendees benefitting by watching a small window of a head that never moves and never maintains virtual eye contact?
Get these people some training. Get them a proper technical setup (yes, companies… I mean actually pay for your public spokespersons to have lights, a backdrop, and an external microphone and webcam). Give them compensated time and job performance recognition for rehearsing and being able to deliver a presentation without reading a script on the desk in a monotone.
Until you do that, you might as well just work with slides and vocal narration. At best, you’ll make your presenters more comfortable. At worst, your audience members will wish they had the quality video experience you weren’t going to give them anyway. To paraphrase the old adage, “It is better to use voice-only and be thought to be ineffective with video than to turn on the camera and remove all doubt.”