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 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.