When I first started teaching and then writing about how to communicate through the camera, my vision was rather narrow: I wanted to teach people how to handle presenting on camera in a studio setting. Only a few years have passed since that initial kernel of an idea and the focus of my writing and teaching has widened exponentially.

  • Cameras in the hands of the masses (quite literally) have democratized the use of video-enabled calls, conferences, and chat.
  • “FaceTime” is now a verb.
  • The “bloop” sound of Skype is almost as familiar as the voice of Siri.
  • Companies have clamored to acquire videoconferencing (VC) capabilities or have expanded their use of them.

According to Andrew Davis of Wainhouse Research, “The bottom line is that VC is not just for meetings anymore, but, like voice, is rapidly becoming a mainstream communications tool for employees up and down the organization chart.”

However, just because you own the tool doesn’t mean you can wield it well. You may have a table saw in your garage and a wood lathe, but that does not make you a furniture maker.

We must take what we learn about on-camera best practices in studio settings and apply and adapt that knowledge to improve our virtual presence and performance via videoconferencing and Web chats.

Changes in Where and How You Work

As anyone can attest by listening to the traffic reports around the country, there are still plenty of people who commute to work by car, train, or bus. But there are an increasing number of people whose commutes require navigating the halls of their own homes.

According to a report by Wainhouse Research, “more and more knowledge workers find that working from home, remote offices, or even public spaces provides them advantages in flexibility, downtime, and lower stress from commuting. As a by-product, companies are finding that many offices are empty very often.”

Consequently, if you can’t round up your employees for a meeting on site in the corporate conference room, you switch to a virtual meeting model where users can join from the device of their choosing.

While such virtual meeting models tend to be audio-based only, that’s changing. Andrew Davis of Wainhouse Research explains that while there’s still a long way to go, “More people are becoming comfortable with videoconferencing as a replacement for audio conferencing.”

That may not be welcome news for my colleague who has a weekly conference call at 5:00am with her counterparts in Europe, the Middle East, Africa (EMEA), and Asia-Pacific. While she has the option to turn on her webcam, she has absolutely no desire to do so. It’s a lot easier to sound bright-eyed and bushy-tailed before dawn than it is to look that way. In some cases, a voice-only call is a safer option than a video call where your pajamas would definitely be a no-no.

A major shift in office demographics, however, may change virtual-meeting expectations and could make audio-only teleconferencing seem almost as passé as the rotary phone.

Make Way for Millennials 

As a mom of two boys, I have historically been in charge of scheduling my children’s playdates, a common phrase in parenting parlance that roughly translates to “friends getting together to socialize.” If I were going to host, I knew in advance when my boys’ buddies were going to be dropped off and picked up so I could make sure my house was neat and tidy for visitors—since young boys are always concerned about clutter. (Okay, so my obsessive-compulsive tendencies were a little misplaced.)

Today, my teenagers regularly invite guests into our abode, but I am often ambushed by their presence. In fact, I rarely hear their friends come in. Why? Because they don’t come in through the door—they come in through a screen. The teenage version of a playdate is one often held over FaceTime, Skype, or whatever video chat app is trending.

Usually, I have no problem with their friends hanging out at our house virtually, but it can be disconcerting if you are caught unawares. What if their buddies see the laundry that hasn’t been put away? The horrors!

My boys are among a generation that has grown up communicating through cameras. Not only do they feel comfortable doing it, they expect to always be able to do it . . . and research bears that out.

Wainhouse Research compared the use of VC—both personal and professional—with employee age and the trend is clear. The younger you are, the more likely you are to use VC to connect with friends and family and to conduct business (and these digital natives are projected to make up 75 percent of the workforce by 2025).

Thus, Millennials expect to be able to use VC or at least video chat, and if a company does not offer it, they will likely be seen as “way behind the times.” Companies will want to recruit the best graduates, and how they equip their employees to communicate may be a valuable tool in the talent war.

All Things in Moderation

Of course, while the younger generation has a distinct advantage in terms of their level of comfort communicating through the camera, they are at risk of being almost too comfortable.

What is appropriate for a casual FaceTime session may not be for a virtual video meeting with a colleague or client. Eating a piece of pizza while Web chatting with a friend? Just fine. Scarfing down leftover Chinese takeout while videoconferencing with the leadership team? Not so much.

Learn More: On-Camera Coach

If you found this information valuable, check out my book, On-Camera Coach: Tools and Techniques for Business Professionals in a Video-Driven World, now available from Wiley Publishing. On-Camera Coach aims to take the mystery out of communicating through the camera and provides specific tips and techniques that can make your message sing—and you, the messenger, feel confident in a job well done.