When Is Video Face-to-Face?

TED founder Chris Anderson talks about the significance of the growth of online video and its revolutionary potential for "crowd accelerated innovation."

It’s good stuff. Anderson includes some wonderful stories about how video is fueling innovation in fields as diverse as dance and community development.

But Anderson’s points about video also got me thinking about the definition of “face-to-face” communication. People watch TEDTalks as much for the non-verbal information they contain as for the ideas, Anderson said. Most of the speakers’ ideas have already been expressed elsewhere, he said, but it is in the nonverbal portion of TEDTalks that there is “serious magic.” That magic occurs, it seems to me, between the speaker and his immediate audience. Would TEDTalks be as popular as they are without TED conferences?

Reading and writing are actually relatively recent inventions. Face-to-face communication has been fine-tuned by millions of years of evolution. That’s what’s made it into this mysterious, powerful thing it is. Someone speaks, there’s resonance in all these receiving brains, the whole group acts together … What Gutenberg did for writing, online video can now do for face-to-face communication. So, that primal medium, which your brain is exquisitely wired for … that just went global.

Anderson didn’t specifically address this, but it seems to me that his remarks make a powerful argument for hybrid meetings, where speakers interact with live audiences as well as with virtual ones. I get a more connected feeling when I see video of a speaker addressing a live audience than I do when I see a lone speaker talking to the camera, even if the speaker is addressing me, the virtual audience.

What do you think? Do you feel the same way?

Barbara Palmer

Barbara Palmer is senior editor and director of digital content.

  • Adrian Segar

    Perceptive comments, Barbara. I didn't catch these nuances when I watched the Chris Anderson video.

    Two weeks ago, when I ran a couple of sessions at Event Camp Twin Cities, was the first time I've worked with simultaneous local and remote audiences. And there's no question that the feedback from the folks in the room was important and affected me while I was speaking. There were a few moments when I was describing something only relevant for the remote audience, and it was an eerie feeling to talk into the camera lens without any visual feedback. I felt disenfranchised when I couldn't see my audience.

    Perhaps this is just because I'm a video novice, but I think the issue you describe is real and important. You get the more connected feeling, Barbara, when you watch the video of the speaker talking to a live audience because most speakers respond to a local audience's feedback even when it's non-verbal, and we can detect that response from a decent quality speaker video.

    There is quite a bit of research about our abilities to detect emotions on faces (Google Paul Ekman) and, in my experience, most people are better at it than they think they are.

    I believe that Event Camp Twin Cities would have had a very different, "flatter", feel to remote attendees if there had been no local audience present. And I suspect this may be true for most solely-virtual events.

    Something to bear in mind in our rush to embrace the webinar…