Video conferencing helps us connect and communicate. In this blog post, I am sharing my thoughts and experience with it.
We, humans, are wired to communicate and relate emotionally.
The emotional brain – the limbic system, or amygdala – evolved millions of years before the cerebral cortex, the part that helps us with logical reasoning. I read about it the first time in Bert Decker’s You Have to be Believed to be Heard, that the emotional brain is way more developed and advanced, compared to the cerebral cortex or the neocortex. I have seen the analogy, comparing the capabilities of the emotional brain with the computing power of a supercomputer, and logical brain with a desktop calculator.
When I communicate with a group of people face-to-face in a room, so much communication happens with non-verbal cues. The facial expressions, eye contact, the way a person would show reaction even before speaking provide a powerful context and communication medium. It happens automatically, integrating with the thoughts, or ideas I want to develop whether I am working with a team, brainstorming or discussing ideas, or when I am presenting to a group standing up. We, humans, can feel and sense way more than what can be conveyed merely in words.
Emotions pull a lot of weight. The eye contact allows me to draw on those emotions to make an empowering connection.
The video conferencing is one more tool along the fascinating journey of communication.
The video conferencing tools such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, Microsoft Teams, or Google Hangouts integrate the video camera and microphone on my computer to create my video stream in real-time. It also allows me to see video streams of others joining with me in the video conference. This way, I can see and listen to others and vice versa.
It is a blessing to be able to communicate while we are working together with others spread throughout the whole world. It is a boon to collaborate with social distancing. However, I think video conferencing also brings challenges with it.
ONE: If I want others in the video conference to feel my eye contact, I look at the green light of view-cam on my computer. When I look at the view-cam, others in the meeting think as if I am looking directly at them. However, I don’t get to see the reaction of others since I am not looking at them.
If I want to see the response from others in the meeting, I can look at their video boxes on my screen. However, when I do that, they see me looking down and not at them.
The powerful, direct, one-on-one eye contact that is giving me so much context and ability to communicate when everyone is in the same room is lost when I am video conferencing. Especially when I am presenting in front of a group, I am so used to counting on my one-on-one eye contact with others in the room as a cue to understand others and adapt.
TWO: When there are several participants in a video conference, they show up in rows of video boxes on my screen. If there are two or three or four of them, I can manage to see them and lead to react a little bit based on cues. However, if there are more people and video boxes, it drains me. I saw a very insightful article on it from National Geographic. One analogy in that research drove it home. When I am trying to seek real-time visual feedback and cues from several video boxes on my screen, the equivalent workload on my brain would be as if I am trying to read a book, and cook, listen to music, try to talk to someone, and a few other things at the same time. Is it any wonder I feel tired, saturated, and exhausted?
What I Can Do
What can I do to make my video conferencing experience more engaging and less exhausting?
- Be aware of splitting my time looking at the green light of the view-cam, and looking at others’ video boxes. At least half the time, if not more, I have to show my love for the green light.
- I can build more interactivity in my presentation. Prompt for feedback, maybe, or use questions to create more conversations.
- Use real-time polls to seek feedback. I can plan it ahead of time, and launch polls for others to chime in. I think another convenient tool is a chat messaging to cultivate context among participants, for what I am trying to develop. Since everyone is connecting over the internet, other social media tools can potentially help as well to keep the juices flowing.
- I can use the visual slides to reinforce what I have to convey. In business meetings, slide presentations are a norm, anyways. Video conferencing naturally lends itself to use visuals. I think an empowering shift here is, everyone can see the visuals on their end, on their screen. Also, for me, coordination between my message and slides is much simpler compared to when I am presenting using slides in front of people in the room – the reason is, with in-person presentations, I need to think about the setup and what is the situation. Whereas with video conferencing, my “set up” is the same as I am pretty much presenting from my work desk. While I can’t convey as much to others’ eyes using my body language and eye contact, my visuals can help me make up for it a little bit.
- Learn from the feedback – the video conferencing tools allow you to record the meeting very easily. Watch it again to learn from it. I cringe at the prospect of watching my recording; it is always an eye-opener for me as well.
Video Conferencing – What is the opportunity?
What I am doing in front of my computer is the same whether I am talking to two people, twenty people, or two hundred. I can expand my reach much faster.
I can connect and work with people anywhere in the world.
I can create opportunities to show and tell in front of my computer. I can move things very close to the view-cam, and my audience will feel as if I am inviting them to zoom in and see it at the same time. In a physical room where the meeting is in person, I might have to walk around in the room to show it like that.
I don’t think video conferencing can or will replace the value and impact of face-to-face communication. However, I also think video conferencing is here to stay – it is going to be an integral part of the new normal going forward.
I have a newly found love for the green light of my computer view-cam. 🙂
NOTE: See more on my journey in the realm of emotions in this article.