Is Video Really Important for Effective Virtual Discussions?

Virtual Class 26 May 2021
Dr. Sanjeev Raman

Before COVID-19 and the pandemic, audio podcasts and NPR (National Public Radio) have been holding online/on-air conversations around topics of interest to their audience for years. Their participants are loyal and even pay to subscribe to listen to them and engage in conversation.

So, it begs the question if video is really needed to have an effective virtual conversation?

Clubhouse is the new invite-only, audio-only app that Silicon Valley says is all the rage to how we engage in virtual conversation in the future. Millions have downloaded it already, including celebrities, musicians and tech CEOs like Oprah Winfrey, Drake, Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg and even the White House chief of staff.

Why are Clubhouse and other similar apps gaining popularity? A professor from New Jersey Institute of Technology explains people are so exhausted with Zoom. Even Eric Yuan himself, the founder of the video conferencing tool, admitted to experiencing Zoom fatigue at Wall Street Journal's CEO Council Summit. When you have a camera, there's a lot of effort that goes into self-presentation. But when you only have audio, you eliminate everything except for your voice. Therefore, people can focus more on the quality of the content and story-telling, than worrying about their make-up and how they look in front of the camera (and in some cases what is happing in their background). So, it provides a lot more opportunity for imagination. NPR has learned this 50 years ago.

Some may debate that unfiltered, hours-long chats can be mind-numbingly dull or feel like a rambling TED talk.  However, a leadership coach that uses Club House to host her “Office Hours” says it has been very effective for her. She uses a virtual room to just workshop through decisions in life and business with a focus on leadership and people. The moderator can set the “rules of engagement” to ensure a better experience to the participants she further explains.

There will always be certain circumstances and situations where video plays an important role in facilitating the meeting. Some examples are getting to know each other for a new team of people that plan to collaborate on a project or goal, celebrating an achievement by having a virtual happy hour, etc.  But in other cases, when the content being conveyed is the main focus or when you have a lot of people in attendance, is video really important?  Some people say video is a way to see if people are listening to you and paying attention. If this is the main reason for video, then you should ask yourself how can you improve your content delivery to ensure better engagement from the participants.

As an Agile coach, I have consulted with clients who had a strong emphasis on video and other clients that were not bothered by it, as long as the content being conveyed was high quality and productive. I would say the latter produced better results for the organization from my experience. Would love to hear other feedback and perspective from the community.