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Camera: On/Off? (Re-write)



Last week, I joined a Zoom webinar, sharing a laptop with my wife. We had logged in an hour after the session had started, and I wanted to eat a sandwich, so I thought we should be off screen.


Unfortunately, we clicked "hide self," not "stop video." The result? We couldn't see ourselves, but everyone else still could. How did I know? A private chat: "Bon apetit, Andrew!"


Embarrassing, yes. Not as bad as this Spanish news anchor: https://www.the-sun.com/news/755792/news-anchor-caught-cheating-naked-woman-video-call, but still.

Almost everyone has a "horror story" to share, begging the questions: Is it better to turn your camera off? And what about attire?


Lights, Camera, Action?

Even though we're all actors now, some prefer not to be seen. If that's your wish, learn from my mistake and remember: "Stop Video," not "Hide Self." Depending on the meeting's purpose and your company's policy, this may work. However, if you're hoping for close to a real meeting, you'll want your camera on. It's odd to see some boxes with names, others with photos, and then some with people on live video.


You can break longer meetings into "cameras on" and "cameras off" time slots. Remember, these high-intensity interactions are stressful for even the most extroverted among us. And turning cameras off will help some focus more on content. But if your aim is to foster a lively meeting or recreate an interactive classroom, I recommend "cameras on."


Dress Code?

So many views on attire! Some stick to their work dress code and bristle when colleagues don't. "They're being paid, they should at least look professional," wrote a board member. Another manager requires employees to "wear their battle fatigues." But then there's this: "Look! In the middle of a pandemic, two kids at home, I'm trying to get my work done, and now I need to dress up for a meeting too? Forget it!"


If my boss were the board member, I'd suit up. A friend adds, "At least above the waist," but what if you need to stand up? And if you're dressing to convey a professional presence, why split yourself in two? Your counterparts may not know that you're wearing shorts & sandals, but you and your subconscious do.


Video Conferencing for the Long Run

We all want to get back to normal, or to a "better normal," and guess what: That will include video meetings. So let's perform better on them.


And who's to say video meetings are any worse than co-workers, students and workshop participants all wearing masks? In the past, during allergy season, I'd see one or two of a given group wearing a mask, and believe me, it's hard to tell if they are getting the message or just wanting to get out of the room. And their voices muffle.


"It's not the strongest or most intelligent who survive, but those who can best adapt to change." I'm inspired by that cleaned-up paraphrasing of Leon Meggison's summary of Sir Charles Darwin's famous theory. We're all dealing with challenges (and embarrassments) with new technology, with new ways of communicating. But if we keep adapting, we're much more likely to survive, and even thrive. So here we go: Lights...CameraS...ACTION!

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