The "Zoom video grid" is now forever etched on our collective consciousness. After constantly appearing over the last few months on countless TV commercials and news shows, that multi-camera screen view is as much a symbol of the global coronavirus pandemic as anything else. When we think of an "online meeting" now, whether it's a 10-minute impromptu chat with our co-workers or a professional webinar with hundreds of attendees, we instinctively assume that live video of the participants must be a part of it.
Not so. While live webcam video has been a standard feature of most webinar platforms for years now, thousands of successful webinars are still conducted every day with just audio and slides. There's a good reason why. While live video might seem like a great idea on paper, using it can have serious consequences on the quality and effectiveness of your webinar.
Here are three reasons why you may want to think twice about using live video during your next webinar:
1. Live Video Gobbles Up Bandwidth
I recently posted an article about how webinar audio is getting worse over time. As technology has evolved to become more convenient and efficient—smart phones have replaced landlines, Wi-Fi has replaced Ethernet, Bluetooth has replaced wires—the quality of webinar audio has declined because newer wireless technology doesn't offer the stable, reliable results of older wired technology. That's not a big deal in most everyday situations. It is a big deal if you're hosting a webinar for 500 of your most important customers.
If the quality of your webinar audio is already compromised due to Wi-Fi connections and wireless microphones, you'll put even more strain on it when you introduce bandwidth-gobbling live video into the mix. Above all else, webinar audiences want good audio. They'll take good audio over live video with bad audio any day.
Another audio-related consequence of using live video is due to the fact that presenters don't like to wear headsets on camera. Rather than using a high-quality USB microphone, they resort to speaking directly into their low-budget built-in laptop microphone. Once again, you end up sacrificing audio quality for the sake of video.
Even if your audio turns out fine, you're still using up a lot of bandwidth with your video. A presenter with a slow internet upload speed might unwittingly broadcast choppy, unstable video of themselves with unsynchronized audio. Even if all presenters have high-speed, wired internet connections, an attendee with a slow internet download speed might experience the same problems. And, of course, most presenters will be broadcasting themselves with their low-budget laptop webcams pointed at odd angles from poorly lit locations. Suddenly, the webinar you hoped would provide a professional showcase of your organization's thought leadership, services, or brand doesn't look very professional at all.
This amusing commercial from Progressive Insurance pokes fun at the many hazards of using live video. Sadly, it doesn't stray far from what you'll actually see and hear in many real-life "professional" webinars.
2. Presenting on Camera is Hard
Imagine you're up on a stage giving a talk to an in-person audience. If you glance down at your outline or look around the room, it all seems perfectly normal and natural to the audience. But during a webinar presentation, your audience can't see anyone else in attendance. From their perspective, if seems like you're talking directly to them. And if you're not focusing 100 percent on your camera, it seems awkward.
There's a lot going on during a webinar that can distract a presenter from their camera. In addition to referencing your notes, you may need to advance your slides by tapping a key on your keyboard or clicking an icon on your screen. You may need to monitor a private chat box for important messages from the webinar producer. If you're by yourself, you may need to screen questions in the Q&A area.
Without the burden of a live webcam, a presenter has a lot more freedom of movement and the ability to take care of business in the midst of giving a presentation. It's still a lot of work; trying to multi-task while delivering an articulate and engaging presentation requires a lot of practice. But it's a heck of a lot easier than trying to do all that and broadcast a live video stream of yourself at the same time. The most important part of any webinar is the content and the delivery of that content. When you let your presenters focus on their presentations without having to worry about how they look on camera, you increase your chances for an organized, effective, and successful webinar.
3. Video Webinars Are Difficult to Edit
No webinar is perfect. Whether it's a speaker forgetting to unmute, a presenter forgetting to advance their slides, a cough or a sneeze, or something more serious, there are always edits that need to be made to a webinar recording to produce a final, polished product.
These edits need to be made because a webinar recording is as important as the webinar itself. It's not uncommon for around 50 percent of webinar registrants not to attend the live event. The day or time doesn't work with their schedule, but they register anyway because they expect to receive a recording of the webinar after it's over. In some ways, a webinar recording is even more important than the live event. If you're posting a webinar recording as an on-demand piece of content, it may live on forever, generating many more views than the live webinar ever did.
When you're working with just audio and slides—no video—cutting out a sneeze here or a cough there, or removing a long pause where a speaker forgot to unmute, is a piece of cake. The audio that remains before and after the edit can be spliced together perfectly and since slides are simply static images, it's a seamless edit and the viewer is none the wiser.
But when you're working with video, even the smallest edits are nearly impossible to make. Any edit you make to audio will be obvious to the viewer when the previously smooth video suddenly jumps at the edit mark. Or, if you're working with multiple individual tracks (audio, slides, and video), an edit will put the audio out of sync with the video.
Considering the importance and permanence of webinar recordings, it's vital that major blunders and mishaps can be cleaned up. Unless you don't mind pulling back the curtain and showing viewers exactly where you made every edit, using live webcam video during a webinar severely limits your ability to fix problems in post-production.
You Don't Have to Appear on Camera
For most webinar organizers, putting your presenters on camera seems like a no-brainer. The technology exists, so why not transform your webinar into a TV-style news show with real-time talking heads? But does it really make sense? Is it worth jeopardizing your brand and reputation? Does the reward outweigh the risk?
Sometimes it does. If all of your speakers are using high-quality desktop microphones with high-speed, wired internet connections, that's a recipe for a successful video webinar. If your webinar features a conversation-based panel discussion rather than individual slide presentations, that's a good use case for live video. If you happen to be a well-known personality and your audience is expecting—even demanding—to see your face, you probably have no other choice than to turn on your webcam.
But does your audience really need to see your director of product management during a marketing webinar? Is it necessary to show a presenter on camera as they narrate a content-rich slide presentation? Wouldn't it be better to offer your audience clear audio by using a high-quality USB headset rather than making them struggle to understand what you're saying as you speak into your noisy, built-in laptop mic?
You don't have to appear on camera. Just because you can doesn't necessarily mean you should. For your next webinar, ask yourself whether there's a compelling reason why the audience needs to see the presenters. If you can't come up with a good answer to that question, then the reward definitely does not outweigh the risk.
Clark Webinar Consulting provides hands-on expertise and support to help businesses, nonprofits, and other organizations conduct and deliver worry-free, professional webinars. Learn more about our full range of webinar services.