I’ve noticed two diametrically opposed approaches to the facilitator using a camera in VILT. The first is to leave it on all the time, intending to create the feel of a live instructor and the second is to leave it off altogether. I land in the camp of “put the camera on when you’re on – and only when you’re on.”
The problem with leaving a camera on all the time is that chances are pretty high that at some point in your presentation, you’ll need to look at something on your desktop, or look away from the camera. In those moments, the audience gets a close up look at you, their fearless facilitator, rifling around your desk or with a less than confident look on your face. One of the most painful attempts at Virtual Instructor Led Training that I’ve ever participated in was delivered from a conference room with the camera left on at all times. Various people passed through the conference room, which was distracting but worse of all, the facilitator had a habit of pressing his thumb and forefinger across his forehead as though he had a headache. I found myself so distracted by this movement that I often lost track of the training content. It just didn’t work for me.
The converse is to leave the camera off completely. Many facilitators like this approach: they never need to worry about the audience seeing them or their desktop. The problem with this approach is that it is rather analogous to the Great Oz. As a participant, there is a voice out there but it’s hard to connect to.
Being visual creatures, we like to know whom we’re listening to. Who does that voice belong to? And though it’s not impossible to create a connection with only voice, it is more challenging. If I’m going to engage my learners, I like to introduce myself to them within the first few minutes of the class. I put my camera on, begin with my best smile, give a brief introduction and statement of credibility and then, it’s camera off for the remainder of the session. What have I done?
First of all, I’ve created a visual connection to people – somehow they seem to feel like they know me and if they know me, they’re more likely to respond well to me in the virtual classroom. Secondly, it demonstrates my complete confidence and this creates safety for the learners. “If she knows what she’s doing, this just might be all right…” Third of all, it creates some level of accountability for my learners. I’m not just a voice behind the screen; I’m a person that deserves some small modicum of their respect.
A few tips for using your camera:
- Practice looking right at yourself into your camera lens. Participants feel as though you’re looking right at them!
- Pay close attention to your background: What will they see? Does it portray the image that you want it portray?
- Play with the angle on your camera, tilt it up or down and see how to create your ‘best look.’
And for a real treat you can create a nice backdrop for your presentation. Either a photo or poster with your company name on it, or Logitech cameras allow you to download backdrops that have a very nice effect.
In any case – have you’re camera on, when you’re on – and only when you’re on and you’ll create quick connections with your participants.