Are you finding some people reluctant to turn their camera on during virtual meetings and training events?

Are you finding it hard to establish rapport with a blank screen?

Here, Sarah Barber shares some red10  tips for getting those cameras turned on.

Why do we recommend “cameras on”?

I work as a volunteer for a Duke of Edinburgh centre getting young people ready for expeditions in the hills. As the pandemic dragged on, much of this training and preparation needed to be delivered over Zoom.

During the meeting, I found myself facing 25 muted blank screens. No doubt schools encouraged this for “online” lessons, but in my role, I felt I was talking into the ether with no idea whether the young people were engaged – or indeed even present behind their screens.

The lack of feedback was truly daunting.

That same lack of feedback can be felt by anyone speaking up in a meeting or making a contribution in a training course.

What causes people to switch off their cameras?

A small study reported in HBR – “Research: Cameras On or Off?” (Gabriel, Robertson and Shockley) suggests that having cameras on leads to increase in self-reported fatigue and a decrease in feelings of engagement.

The authors suggest that this is associated with feeling self-conscious, especially for introverted people and noted that women seemed to suffer more acutely.

One possible solution is to turn off “self-view” so that people see other participants on screen, but not themselves.

It’s interesting to note that the HBR report didn’t measure the negative impact on others from people having their cameras turned off.

What are the benefits of “cameras on”?

We believe that being able to see each other brings a number of benefits:-

  • It is easier to get to know each other better.
  • We can build connections and rapport.
  • It increases psychological safety because we can see people’s reactions to what is being discussed.
  • It is easier to “bring in” a participant to contribute to the discussion if you can see them.

Whilst we have to face up to camera reluctance with empathy, the benefits of being able to see people mean that in red10 we encourage “cameras on”.

Hints and tips to encourage people to turn on their cameras

Firstly, let people know in advance that your training course or meeting will be cameras on, mentioning the benefits of this approach. This little piece of “pre-suasion” allows people to be mentally prepared.

If a cluster of people are joining together in a conference room, pre-ask them to have their laptops too with laptop camera on in addition to the conference room camera. This allows each person access to their individual chat box and other tools like whiteboard, and also enables everyone to see each other’s faces equally. It is often hard to see an individual’s facial reactions when the camera is zoomed out on multiple people in a conference room. Read more about red10 ‘s advice for hybrid meetings here.

At the start of the meeting, allow time for people to connect as humans – sharing something personal with each other – even if it is as simple as what they had for breakfast. Whilst this is going on, thank those people who have cameras on and give praise highlighting the difference it made to how you received their contribution. At the same time, call out by name any people who have their cameras off, explain that this is a camera-friendly environment and make a request to them to switch on their camera.

If you can build in some time in “breakout rooms “early in the agenda, this can help. If you place a person with their camera off in a small group in which everyone else has their cameras on, it may be less stressful for them to switch on to match everyone else – and stay switched on when they return to the main meeting.

Finally, ask people to give their good and undivided attention to others who are speaking – just as they would like to receive when they are speaking. It is really only possible to demonstrate this attention giving behaviour when cameras are switched on.

Exceptions

Occasionally, issues with bandwidth mean that people cannot reliably connect to meetings with their camera on. In these situations, be patient with technology, keep stress low and make an extra effort to give this person space to speak – using “hands-up” icon or checking in on chat.