To cam or not to cam?


You may not look  relaxed when you’re on camera.


Should speakers use webcams during webinars?

Yes. And no.

Let’s look at the pros and cons and then I’ll deliver my conclusions.


Here are the pros:

  • Seeing a face engenders trust (or should)
  • People like to put a face to a voice
  • It shows the event is real, not a recording
  • For non-native speakers of your language, it could provide valuable extra visual cues

What about the cons?

  • Video takes up bandwidth
  • Presenters can be concerned about how they look
  • What real information does an immobile talking head add?
  • What else could you do with the space you’d use to show the video?

So – to cam or not to cam?

Building a rapport with your audience is vital to hosting a successful webinar. If you think showing your head talking is a crucial part of that (as with providing non-verbal cues to non-native speakers of your language) then by all means cam, but don’t use video because it adds vital extra information to  your presentation – it doesn’t.

For me, the killer point remains bandwidth. If you really to include anyone, anywhere globally, they need to have as light a data load as possible. That rules video out.

A compromise
A good compromise: some presenters use webcams before the session starts, during the introduction, and at the end during Q&A, to increase the sense of interaction with a real human. This has all the advantages of intimacy and engendering trust, yet doesn’t have any impact on the main presentation in terms of distraction, use of screen real estate nor bandwidth.

If you do plan to use a webcam in your session, it’s best to use an external camera, mounted at or slightly above eye level. Cameras built into laptops don’t usually provide a high-quality image, and they usually force you to look down at your audience. In addition, hunching over a keyboard is probably the worst possible posture for a clear speaking voice.

I have used a Logitech C920 for a couple of years. It provides an HD 1080 image and also has a high-quality built-in microphone.

But I only use it for Skype calls.

I almost never use video for webinars, for one simple reason. I’m confident that I can sound good most of the time. The same isn’t true for my appearance.

Looking good while I’m reading chat, delivering a talk, looking at my notes, checking audience feedback and keeping an eye on the time? Not so confident. In fact I’m pretty sure my face must be a mess of taut concentration rather than the relaxed intimacy I hope my voice suggests.

That’s not something I’d inflict on my audience. For now, I’ll stick to audio.


2 thoughts on “To cam or not to cam?

  1. Hi Don. I agree – “yes and no” – but for different reasons.

    Recently I discussed webcams with Ellen Finkelstein (PowerPoint MVP and webinar buff). She’s in favour of using a cam the whole time, to engage people (as though it’s an in-person talk).

    Normally I find cams distracting (not just of no value). But Ellen has a 15-minute sample where I liked seeing the webcam, so wondered why. I came up with 3 reasons:

    At 15 mins, it’s short enough that most things would be OK!
    She had an interesting backdrop (yet it wasn’t distracting).
    Crucially, the webcam was zoomed out enough to include her gestures.

    When I use a webcam myself, I tend to zoom in on my face (like in the shot at the top of your post), since I thought the main things to convey were my eyes, smile, etc. But now I’m thinking gestures could often be a key factor. (Eye contact’s pretty hard in a webinar, unless you (almost literally) know the “script” with your eyes closed, and you’ve got a host minding the chat too.)

    I reckon using the cam just some of the time means you meet 3 audience needs (namely “variety, sparsity and democracy”). Would love to hear your views on that model, or Ellen’s video.


  2. Pingback: 9 tips to design presentations for webinars – critique of Ellen Finkelstein’s post [Part 1] | Remote Possibilities

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