The Science of Effective Video Conferencing

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While geography once defined a business’s boundaries—who it could hire, who it could serve, and who could invest—today it’s almost more common for customers, investors, and often even employees to be scattered across the globe than to be locally situated. Phone and email initially empowered the dissolution of those geographical boundaries, allowing us to communicate quickly, efficiently, and cheaply with colleagues and clients in any location.

However, today, we’re seeing another shift in far-flung communication platforms as video conferencing—one a high-tech luxury—becomes a reliable, affordable option for businesses of any size. A recent WR survey of over 250 decision makers across 200 commercial enterprises found that the average respondent interacts via video in 45 percent of their meetings.

And it’s no surprise this number continues to grow. Like other digital communication platforms, it eliminates the need for costly travel, allowing remote team members to participate in meetings they couldn’t otherwise attend and salespeople to work even more closely with faraway prospective clients. However, video conferencing also has several advantages over email or audioconferencing when everybody can’t be in the same room. It’s more engaging than audioconferencing, and the visual aspect prohibit users from putting their phone on mute and listening with one ear while they focus on something else. Face-to-face communication, even over video, also keeps far-flung teams more closely connected than phone calls or slack messages, giving them a truer sense that they’re working together rather than in silos.

But most importantly, video conferencing enables stronger communication among parties. A recent report from Zoom and Forbes finds that, relative to audioconferencing, 62 percent of executives agree that video conferencing significantly improves the quality of communication. In high-growth companies, that figure increases to 73 percent, and 50 percent of respondents also believe video conferencing also improves the degree of understanding.

Why Does Video Conferencing Enhance Communication?

In a 2009 article for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers Michael Cohen, Todd Horowitz, and Jeremy Wolfe found that “…auditory recognition memory performance is markedly inferior to visual recognition memory,” meaning our ability to recall and store visual stimuli is much stronger than our ability to recall and store audio-only information. As such, adding video to an audio-only conference makes it far more likely participants will absorb and remember the meeting’s key takeaways.

From a communication perspective, this makes sense, too. In face-to-face communication—whether we’re on stage or one-on-one with a friend—we use facial expressions, gestures, and other visual cues to underscore our messages, helping the audience follow and internalize what we have to say.

Additionally, we use a subconscious technique called “mirroring,” to build trust and improve engagement in face-to-face conversations through a phenomenon called “emotional contagion.” You can read more about the phenomenon from a psychological perspective in our recent blog post, but the bottom line is that, when we’re communicating face to face (and video is an effective way to simulate face-to-face communication), we have the power to control the tone of the conversation by “sharing” our emotions.

How Can You Make the Most of Video Conferencing?

Of course, to make videoconferencing truly effective, there are several best practices to keep in mind.

1.   Prepare Your Space

Like any communication event, preparation is the foundation of a successful interaction. For a video conference, you’ll want to prepare like you would for any other meeting—reviewing agendas, notes from previous discussions, etc. and preparing any key talking points. But there’s an extra layer, too.

You’ll need to prepare your space, especially if you’re working from a home office or some other not-quite-professional location. Be sure the area within the video frame is clear of clutter or distracting items, and do your best to defend against outside sounds like music, conversation, or (a common one among Quantified employees) barking dogs. Additionally, check the lighting in your space to be sure you’ll be clearly visible, with no glares or dramatic shadows. The more you can eliminate distractions and create a true meeting environment, the more effective the videoconference will be.

2.   Prepare Yourself

You also need to prepare yourself. While you may be able to get away with pajamas on an audio-only conference call, a video call does require one step up in professionalism. So brush your hair and put on some professional clothing before you show up on video. (For some insights on which colors work best on screen, check out our blog post on color psychology.)

And part of preparing yourself is preparing your tech. The truth is, many videoconferencing platforms still aren’t quite as reliable or intuitive as we’d like them to be, and there’s nothing worse than starting an important meeting with five minutes of “can you hear me?” So login early or do a test call the day before, especially if you’re using a new platform for the first time. Be sure your microphone and speakers are both working, and you know exactly how to connect to the call when the time comes. Additionally, remember silence notifications on your phone and computer during the call.

3.   Treat a Video Conference like an In-Person Meeting

Just because you’re not actually in the same room doesn’t mean you can just “phone it in.” When you’re communicating via video, keep in mind all the communication techniques you’d use in a face-to-face conversation. Make eye contact with your audience, use appropriate gestures and facial expressions to clarify and emphasize key points, and listen actively to both verbal and nonverbal feedback so you can adjust your own communication style as needed to make the meeting as productive as possible.

Additionally, be careful to limit “uh-huhs” and “okays” you might usually use as signals of agreement or indicators that you’re listening in everyday conversation. On video, there’s often a little bit of a lag time between what the other person is saying and what you’re hearing, so these signals of agreement are more likely to come off as distracting interruptions than encouragements. Signal your attentiveness with your eye contact and facial expressions instead of verbal cues.

With 70 percent of people working remotely at least once a week (and 53 percent working remotely for at least half the week), the need is only growing for communication styles that empower remote collaboration and engagement. With a little thought and effort to create the most productive experience, video conferencing can be a powerful way to connect employees, customers, and key stakeholders wherever they are.