Cameras on?

Photo by Scott Graham on Unspla

Scrolling through my twitter feed I often come across the odd post bemoaning the fact that someone has been teaching or facilitating a meeting and there has been some resistance to the “Camera on” instruction. It causes a virtual tug of war but in the end, the cards seem to fall with the host. After all, there is always the Ace of being excluded from the session that they can play if they wish to. But a year on from the mass roll-out of virtual meetings and teaching, are we starting to evolve our practice… is “Cameras on” still a reasonable requirement?

As a face-to-face turned virtual facilitator, I know how hard it can be to host a session where I can’t see all the participants. When I facilitate, my energy comes from the participants. I rock up to a session not knowing who will be there or how the session will “feel”; part of my role is to quickly sense the mood in the room and pick up on those subtle nuances that will make or break the interactional success of the day. Who has had the stress of a delayed train, who is anxiously looking at their phone because they have a poorly child at home and a text might come through at any moment and who just wants to sit in the corner quietly with a coffee because they have a headache? How am I going to make all participants feel comfortable and able to engage well with the session?

I like to think I’m pretty flexible, really, when I facilitate. I meet challenges head on and try to adapt to the extent it won’t affect the other participants. That’s always been my philosophy. However, I can’t understate the importance of being able to interact effectively with all participants in order to maximise success.

So how then to adapt when someone doesn’t put on their video? I don’t know if others have noticed but I tend to find unless there is some sort of specific instruction at the start, enough people leave their video off for others to follow and before you know it you can’t see anyone! Does it really matter? Well yes, I think it does. I think it can make a lot of difference to the richness of a session’s content. Group work, in particular, and the ability of the facilitator to “read the room” can be significantly compromised.

Why don’t people put their videos on? Well I’ve come across a range of reasons, most very valid to be fair. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered someone just being stubborn or not bothering because they just want to flick around on their phone or do something random in the background. Some reasons include poor internet and a genuine fear the signal won’t hold out with video and voice (particularly true in rural Wales), kids needing a lot of attention in the background and a concern this will significantly distract other participants, no camera, Trust firewalls blocking Zoom meaning people have had to depend on devices such as a mobile and therefore having to use their own data – understandably not wanting to add to these costs. And these are just the reasons people have felt comfortable to share. I’m fairly confident there is also a sub-layer of issues we haven’t even properly got to yet…

So, some thoughts:

  • Firstly, I think it’s worth considering what it is the session is trying to achieve and if you actually need cameras on. Will it enhance the session enough that it’s worth having the general rule of “cameras on”?
  • Try, wherever possible, to communicate clearly what the camera expectation will be in advance.
  • If some people don’t turn their camera on and you feel strongly that they should, consider how you are gently, sensitively and privately going to explore this with them. It may be they can feel more reassured if they know that your dog might make an appearance or with a “background” on.
  • If it’s clear that someone is uncomfortable with the camera being on or can’t turn it on plan what you are going to do. I’d suggest: back-off and reassure! I’ve yet to come across a situation whereby having one or 2 people with cameras off significantly compromises the session. Just adapt as best you can.

What have other facilitators’ experiences been? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

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