Camera On Or Off? 3 Tips To Ease The Stress

I’m going to start this post by asking you to cast your mind back to the last online meeting you had. And more specifically, I’m going to ask you to envisage what you saw on the screen.

Were there rows of boxes with just a person’s name showing? Were there any profile photos alongside any of the names? Or were there any people showing their actual face – you know, looking how they would if you were sitting across a table from them?

And the question I really want to ask: was your face on show?

After nearly four years of Teams and Zoom meetings being the order of the day, choosing to have your camera on or off is still a hot topic that divides people’s opinions.

The camera camps

Generally speaking, there are four camps people fall into.

One camp feels online meetings should replicate an in-person meeting, so it’s camera on and face visible for the majority off the time.

Another camp feels the camera should be turned on in small groups, but anything over a certain number of attendees and it stays off.

Another camp predominantly keeps the camera turned off, but will turn it on if asked specifically to do so.

Another camp are steadfast in keeping their camera off – even if it’s a meeting with only one other person.

The reasoning

Although I reside firmly in the first camp, I understand there are a host of factors that lead others to keep their cameras off.

For some it’s having poor broadband or glitchy tech. For some it’s not wanting the state of their home or other humans/animals to be on show. For some it’s the state of themselves they want to remain unseen. For some it’s being able to multitask – either with work or personal stuff. For some it’s anxiety and mental fatigue from being on screen.

They’re all valid reasons from the viewpoint of the person with their camera off, but consider the other viewpoint: that of the person who’s doing the talking. (I’m speaking here from my own experience of delivering countless online personal brand sessions.)

Talking to yourself

Speaking up in a group is hard for a lot of people. Even seasoned presenters like me still have a mental worry about how our messages are landing.

When that group of people are faceless, giving you no indication of whether they’re listening, let alone if they’re understanding, agreeing, disagreeing, interested, uninterested, etc that’s tough.

When you have to keep talking, essentially to yourself, alone in a room, for minutes on end with zero feedback from your audience – that’s tougher still.

But if even a few people have their camera on, showing there’s a human who’s listening, responding through their facial expression and body language, it makes the world of difference. It frees your mind. It raises your spirits. It makes you engage more. It makes you more engaging.

The middle ground

So I have a proposal for the camera-off camps: instead of staying faceless to make yourself feel better, consider turning your camera on to make someone else feel better – but do it in a way that works for both of you. And for that, I have three tips to ease the stress:

Tip #1: Say hello with your face on show

Enter the meeting with your camera on (and your background blurred if that’s your preference). Smile, maybe do a little wave if someone says hello to you. Let them know you’re present. Then, maybe five or so minutes after the meeting starts, turn your camera off and only turn it on again when you’re speaking (the benefits of which I’ve outlined in this previous post).

Tip #2: Tell them your reason

Although you know why you’re turning your camera off, others don’t, so it can help to explain with a little note in the Chat box. It may be: ‘My broadband is playing up so I’m keeping my camera off for now to stay connected’. It may be: ‘I’m still here but I’ve had a lot of camera time today so I’m going to conserve my mental energy by keeping it off for now’.

One delegate I saw set up his profile picture to include a message that read ‘I’m still listening’, so it appeared automatically when his camera was off.

Tip #3: Respond in other ways

Much as you might nod your head or make a “Uh-huh” sound to show you’re listening in-person, consider doing the same online by using the reaction buttons or adding the occasional note in the Chat box.

I had a delegate do just this on a session I delivered, where their camera was off but they let me know their thoughts with the occasional thumbs up or smiling face. It really boosted my mood and helped me to know my messages were landing as intended.

Of course, the biggest reason I’d give anyone for turning their camera on is its ability to make you stand out from the crowd and get you remembered in a way that being a faceless name on a screen won’t. And if you’re serious about your personal brand, that can only be a good thing!

Like this? Share it or join in the discussion…

4 responses to “Camera On Or Off? 3 Tips To Ease The Stress”

  1. Gill Davidson says:

    As ever, really helpful and sensible advice. Thank you! I have learnt to be more understanding of those who want to be “off screen” and have found agreeing ‘rules of engagement’, very similar to your recommendations, to work really well and a positive way to set up a meeting.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      Yes, I too have had to become more open and accepting of people having their camera off Gill. Thanks for your comment.

  2. Gila Stockell says:

    I’m a camera on type of ‘gal’ – but appreciate not all are so these are great tips to share with others. Thanks

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      Thanks Gila. Maybe part of this is generational too. Those of us who began our careers full time in offices, where the only remote communication was phone or letter, have a greater desire for the personal approach than those who began their careers WFH.

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