Turn off your video

Conversations are important; they’re how we create impact.
Conversations work best when everyone involved focuses.

2 years ago, millions of office workers shifted to video meetings.
The social & corporate pressure was high for everyone to turn on their video,
But the amount of critical thinking about this radical change was almost nil.

Here are my observations.

The Problem with Video: You Can’t Ignore Faces or Motion

We’re a social species. You can’t help but focus on faces.
We are a predator and prey species, you can’t help but focus on motion.

With video on, your brain prioritizes looking at faces and motion.
This distracts us from the conversation.

[Observe your brain in your next video meeting; where is your brain focused?]


Unfortunately, that means that when we’re 

  • trying to understand a complex business situation…
  • trying to build a point of view…
  • debating an important decision…
  • reviewing a slide deck/talk track
  • working on how to make a demo better
  • critiquing copy for a web page…

If video is on, we’re thinking about 

  • what Brad’s expression means
  • why Jasmine looks so excited
  • why Alex keeps spinning in his chair 

As a result, we do a worse job.

The Distraction/Information Conundrum

Each of our channels of communication (face, voice, words) performs differently on

  • how important we think the information is
  • how accurate our data transmission & interpretation is
  • how intentional that transmission is (signal? or noise?)

The question is how to optimize our performance in a conversation… given the dynamics around focus, accuracy, and intention.

Your Hard-Wired Prioritization of Channels

A human prioritizes and weights information channels in this order:

  1. Faces 
  2. Voices
  3. Words

We most heavily weight information from faces
Whether that transmission is intentional or not
Regardless of the accuracy of that information.

Next heaviest weighting is on voices. 
Vocal tone, pacing, dynamics tell us a lot, and more accurately than with faces.
And voice information is often intentional.

Your lowest hard-wired weighting is on words, even though word information is highly intentional, and the most accurate for sending/interpreting.

You cannot change how your brain weights all available information.
But you can remove the most distracting and least accurate channel.

Get rid of the faces and motion.

Turn off your video.
Focus on the voices and the words.

You’ll be less distracted, 
and you’ll have a better conversation.


There are a few exceptions.

  • Emotions and bad news – if you need to apologize to someone, or someone needs to tell you bad news, the information (sympathy, emotions) in both your faces is more important than the simple information in the words. So turn your camera on.
  • First contact – if you’re talking to someone for the first time, the content of what you say is not as important as deciding whether you trust each other. Camera on is okay here. Not always best, but case by case.
  • Broadcast cheerleading – if you’re getting the whole company, or a sales team, excited about powerful new positioning, or a new product launch, your face will be a big help in transmitting your excitement and confidence. Camera always on for this.

Try a better way. Turn off your video.

From the front porch in Moss Beach,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s