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WebCams: a blessing or a curse?

December 12, 2011 | Hogan Keyser
A recent article on the CNN Money/Fortune site started me thinking about webcams. The writer was talking about virtual meetings but spent most of her time discussing about the video component. This raised the question: is video all it's cracked up to be? Because in the real world, it seems, video is both a blessing and a curse.

December 12, 2011 by Wayne Turmel via -- Obviously people are visual creatures and we all like to put faces to names. Additionally, the rapid improvements in bandwidth, and the fact that it's practically impossible now to buy a laptop or tablet that doesn't contain built-in camera, mean that it's no longer technically challenging to connect people. (It's often a bigger challenge to get your IT people to lighten the heck up and let you use it!)

The article made a couple of assumptions about camera use and the quality of the conferencing tools that I'm not sure I buy into. For example, we don't all need high-level video conferencing tools, and I'm not sure the camera should be on everyone all the time.

Here are some things to think about when planning to use webcams in your online meetings so that you're getting the results you want:

Does it need to be high-quality
, or is down-and-dirty good enough? If it's a project status meeting with team members who all know each other, a $20 webcam does just fine. If it's the CEO of a client company, you're meeting with, you might want to spring for the Telepresence and decent lighting.

Does the camera need to be on everyone the whole time?
Video is great, but it sucks up bandwidth, which can create problems for people on slow connections or with older computers with low memory. Additionally, once we've all seen each other, the monitors can be a bit of a drain on attention spans. Personally, I like to have the camera just on the speaker (which gives them the floor and helps people engage with what they're saying) and then turn other cameras on for Q and A.

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