Over 55% of communication is nonverbal – this is why video conferencing is vital

Technology has made a lot of changes to the way we communicate, yet many of the key aspects have not changed for thousands of years. Nonverbal communication – such as body language, eye contact, posture and facial expressions – still make up over half of the overall message we are trying to convey*. When you remove these signals it can have detrimental effects. Video conferencing can ensure we don’t lose these important cues in the modern workplace.

I’m a fan of the Channel 4 TV show, First Dates. If you haven’t seen it before, I think you can guess what it’s about from the name. More often than not you can learn more about how the participants are feeling from their body language than what they are saying. It’s easy for a person to say they’re having a great time. But if they’re shifting awkwardly in their seat or avoiding eye contact when they do so, they’re probably not telling the truth.

Do not underestimate the need to connect visually

Despite being more connected than ever before, nothing builds trust like face-to-face communication. When you can’t see the person you are talking to you are missing out on important social signals. In the rush for productivity, mobility and flexibility we should not underestimate the need for people to connect on a personal level.

For example, on an audio conference call, a supplier might be enthusiastically agreeing with your request. What you can’t see is that they have their head in their hands. If you could see this, you might question whether or not they’re really able to deliver.

What else do we gain from face-to-face communication?

  • Affirmation – from a peer or manager that what you are saying is correct
  • Agreement (or disagreement) – in the form of body language and small facial expressions
  • Attention – we can instantly see who is listening and engaged or just not bothered at all
  • Reassurance – of how well work is progressing and the direction it is going in
  • Empathy – through subtle changes in tone of voice and body language
  • Confidence – to do more and push the boundaries when someone shows their support
  • Doubt – can you trust someone or are they hiding something

Can technology really replace face-to-face communication?

It’s is not easy to replicate human interaction. Anyone who’s used Siri can tell you that. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t embrace and use technology if it makes communication and collaboration more effective.

We don’t need to let technology completely replace these important factors in our working relationships, they can enhance and facilitate it.

In our latest report, Economy of People, we asked employees and executives about the effectiveness of different technologies at making employees more productive at work. 78% of employees rated technology to assist remote working as effective at making employees more productive at work.

This shows there is a desire among the workforce to embrace technology if it means their working day is more productive, but I’m certain more people could be adopting video conferencing – and those that are could be using it more.

Video conferencing technology doesn’t have to be complicated, you just need to have the confidence to use it

There is still a misconception that you need a fancy video conferencing suite in order to hold video calls. Nowadays there are many browser-based applications available that means you don’t have to be in the office, you can video conference anywhere. But perhaps there is resistance to use it because we don’t feel comfortable on camera.

13 video conferencing etiquette tips to help you get started

1. Make video conferencing the norm

If you’re having regular meetings with employees or clients who are not based in the same office as you, make it a video call. Encourage attendees to enable the camera so you get the full benefit of seeing each other.

2. Be professional, be ready

Prepare for the meeting in exactly the same way as you would for a ‘normal’ face-to-face meeting: send out invitations in advance, including a reminder the day before, and have everything you think you may need in front of you.

3. Dress appropriately

Even if you’re working from home, dress and look as you normally would in your office.

4. Don’t be late

Treat the video conference call and participants with the same respect you’d expect for an office meeting. Be prompt in signing in to the call. If you are using new software, download and test it before the meeting is due to start.

5. Normal meeting rules apply

If you are the host, start with some introductions, the purpose of the meeting, the agenda, how you want to handle questions etc so everyone knows what to expect. Otherwise, normal meeting rules apply to keep it on point and productive, which we’ve covered on a previous blog post.

6. Camera position

Try to position the camera at roughly eye-level, the best way to do this it to sit at a table or desk. Avoid resting your laptop on your lap, as extreme or unusual angles can be distracting and unflattering. When speaking try to look at the camera, not at the image of yourself speaking.

7. Find a neutral background

If you are at home you may not need to hide it but try not to advertise the fact. Set-up to achieve a plain, neutral background and check that your surroundings do not include anything too distracting.

8. Mute your microphone

It’s always a good idea to mute your microphone when you’re not speaking. This will avoid any unnecessary or awkward noises in the background.  But be sure to unmute well before you want to make any verbal contribution to the meeting as it may take a few seconds to connect. If you are delivering a presentation it may be useful to mute all other participants as you start. Invite them to unmute themselves if they have questions towards the end or ask them to post a question on the chat facility.

9. Speak slowly and clearly

When you do speak, speak slowly and clearly but be enthusiastic. Sometimes you have to compensate a little for not actually being-there but I find it’s always best to be yourself and imagine you are in a room with everyone.

10. Don’t all talk at once

One of the most difficult elements of video conferencing to master is when to raise your point. It can be even harder to hear when everyone speaks at the same time. If you’re unsure when to jump in, notify the chair of the meeting that you’d like to say something by using the chat facility.

11. Know the system you’re using

Become familiar with the features of your video conferencing solution. When you know how it works you are more confident and that will come across when you use it.

12. Do a test run

If you are relatively new to video conferencing, arrange a trial run or test the process with a colleague in advance. Pay particular attention to any content that you have on your screen that you do not want to unwittingly or accidentally share if you plan to use the screen-share feature.

13. Don’t forget you’re on camera

Always remember that you are on a video conference so don’t roll your eyes or put your head in your hands as this will be seen. Don’t be tempted to start checking your phone, looking at emails or generally trying to address work outside of the conference call – even if you are doing genuine work, it can come across badly to others watching.

Does your company have a video conferencing guide? If not, feel free to repurpose the above to get your business started. Like anything, the more practised, confident and prepared you are, the more you will get out of video conferencing.

Read the Economy of People report for more insights into how you can align people, place, process and technology to deliver increased performance and wellbeing. To download your copy, fill in the form to the right (or below if you’re mobile).

Mark Ivens

Product Marketing Manager at Ricoh UK

Read all articles by Mark Ivens