‘Who’s Zooming Who?’
I doubt Aretha Franklin had any idea that her 1985 hit song would take on a new meaning and a new relevance 35 years later. But it has.
If you’re like most people, you’ve started to use some form of videoconferencing, like Zoom, for work or school. And, if you’re like most people, you haven’t had the time to consider the differences between a live meeting and a videoconference.
Sorry, I fooled you to make a point. If you clicked on the link in the previous paragraph to find the differences between a live meeting and videoconferencing, you got a surprise.
There is no such link!
Google it and you get comparisons of electronically mediated forms of interaction such as videoconferencing and live streaming. That’s it!
If you’re not aware of the subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle differences) between a live meeting and any form of videoconferencing, your may be working against yourself.
There are advantages and disadvantages to each. Your success in either forum will be, to some extent, the result of how you understand these distinctions and how to use them to advance your objectives.
In a live meeting, you present yourself as, well, yourself. Meeting participants see your height, your weight, etc. In a videoconference or live stream, you are likely to be less than 16 inches tall in the eyes of observers. Do you think that might that influence your ability to get your point across in that meeting?
When you’re live, you can position yourself strategically in relation to others in the room to gain an advantage. In videoconferencing, your position in front of the camera might be even more critical to your success. In this setting, it is good to be average.
When live streaming, some people place themselves in front of the camera so that their head is the size of a watermelon. Others check in as a good-sized apple or pomegranate.
In videoconferencing, members of a group may appear as indistinct as a bunch of grapes, often referred to by experts as a group of mini-heads. You must be aware of these factors to create strategies to present yourself effectively.
As an expert in nonverbal communication, I’m sensitive to an additional consideration that doesn’t seem to factor into successful videoconferencing. When you move from a live meeting to live streaming, you move from a three-dimensional to a two-dimensional interaction. Is that a big deal? I think so.
It’s the difference between looking at a sculpture and the photo of a sculpture.
When you surrender the third dimension, you lose texture, the characteristic that defines the physical composition of something. In human interaction, texture can be a substantial part of the interaction or it may be subtle and understated, but it is always a contributing factor to the experience. In videoconferencing, it is an unappreciated or even forgotten aspect of the communication.
While you’ve lost that additional dimension, it is still possible to create a sense of texture online that will enrich your self-presentation.
If you think the only thing left with any degree of integrity in streaming live or videoconferencing is the quality of speech, you might need to rethink that idea, too.
If you look closely, you will find that when you’re listening to a speaker on a videoconference, it’s the one that was built into your computer and not the one you see moving her lips on the screen. All sound is electronically altered.
The voice of a meeting participant has been encoded into electric impulses, projected over miles and miles of open space, and then decoded by your computer to be played through that hidden speaker in the computer, itself, or fed to a headset or ear buds.
So, as with every aspect of mediated communication, there is an alteration of some kind. We look past these subtle differences because it is efficient to do so. It’s easier to focus on the big picture and look past the fine details.
But wait! There are advantages and disadvantages to each type of interaction. Mediated communication is faster and less expensive. It allows you to connect with others, to grow your business, and share your ideas with unprecedented ease. With all that, why wouldn’t you think that face-to-face communication is about to become a thing of the past?
I’ll provide the answer to that question by sharing a discussion I had with one of my students a short while ago.
‘Who’s your favorite performer?’ I asked.
‘Garth Brooks,’ she replied without hesitation.
‘Do you have him on your iPod?’ I continued.
“Are you kidding?’ she answered excitedly. ‘I have everything he’s ever done on my iPod. I even have him on video.’
‘Have you ever seen him in concert?’ I probed.
‘Twice!’ she cried. ‘He was amazing.’
‘Why’d you do that?’ I inquired.
‘What do you mean?’ she asked.
‘Why’d you go to see him in concert?’ I asked again. ‘You have everything he’s ever done on your iPod. You even have him on video, right?’
‘Hmm hmm,’ she agreed.
‘So why did you pay to see him live?’ I asked.
‘Are you kidding!’ she replied enthusiastically. ‘There is nothing to compare with seeing him live. The energy, the excitement of the crowd, there’s nothing like it!’
I nodded because I understood.
You might have the music and the videos, but there is nothing like seeing it live.