We came across an insight about face-to-face interaction in an unlikely place. Namely an interview on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

“Kids are mean, and that’s ‘cause they’re trying it out.  

They look at a kid and they go ‘You’re fat!’, and then they see the kid’s face scrunch up and they go ‘ooh, that doesn’t feel good to make a person do that’.  

But when they write ‘you’re fat’, then they just go ‘mmm that’s fun, I like that’.”

You may be aware that the nature of a lot of conversation online is very combative, if not blatantly offensive, with endless thumb-sweeps of people sniping at each other in comments sections. What could be a friendly debate often devolves into a game of (atrociously spelt) turd volleyball where no one comes out clean. 

What the example above nods at is the fact that people at large do not conduct themselves in the same way when they communicate using the written word as they do when they can see the non-verbal reactions of the people with whom they are speaking. 

Seeing the effect of our words on other people through their body language and facial expressions is a key part of how we learn to socialise as children.

While at URfeed there is a high degree of importance placed on users being respectful, and engaging in productive discussion, the very medium itself is also nudging people in the right direction.

Video Communication Is In Its Infancy

Video is everywhere, and while television still seems to be one of the most popular places for it, the digital world (as far as it is relevant to say that with TV becoming predominantly digital) is seeing an explosion not only of the amount of video being created, but the places we have to put/use them.  I’m expecting my calculator to add stories any day now.

However, our exposure to video and the norms around the way we make and interact with it are in their infancy.

When movies and television shows were first being made they resembled stage performances, with one static camera and two-dimensional backdrops.  It took people a while to get inside the medium and start to explore its potential. Filmcraft continues to evolve to this day, and everyone expects it to continue to change as the years go on.

The same is and will be true of self-generated video, video created for mobile devices, and video as a communication medium.  Much as it might seem to be everywhere, there are still many ways for it to become even more present in our lives.  

Personal shoppers could provide a kind of semi autonomous VR shopping experience, where the client dials in while they walk round a store anywhere in the world.  Video calls may well become the norm for contacting medical professionals for minor ailments.  Video clips could overtake voice clips as our preferred mode of asynchronous communication.

Studies on nonverbal communication going back to the 1960’s seem to indicate that a great deal of what is communicated when we speak is done through body language and tone of voice, rather than the words we say.  As such one could argue that it is unsurprising that we are drawn to video as a communication medium.

The people behind the browser based application Loom know this.  The app enables you to be a talking head in one corner of the screen, adding some important colour and context to whatever is on full-screen.  One is able to present a deck, for example, in a way that people can watch in their own time, reducing the need to coordinate schedules in order to get on a call.

Video & Introverts

Believe it or not, introverts are benefitting from the increased prevalence of video communication in our lives.  A phenomenon whose fires have been greatly fanned by the movement control restrictions relating to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a conversation with professor Rowan Young at the National University of Singapore, he shed some light on how this has impacted his students.

He typically has 40-50 people in his online lectures.  When it is time for people to work in groups, he can at the push of a button randomly divide the large group into groups of 5.  This eliminates the need for students to discuss who will be in which group, something that most people would concede comes with at least a small dose of social anxiety.

On top of this, people whose voices he had rarely heard in person are speaking up, sharing their thoughts, and asking questions.

While the act of video calling may still feel a little clunky to most of us, we tend to have a high degree of control over the experience compared to in-person interactions.  From where we decide to take the calls, to how the screen is layed out.

Having the screen set to see only the speaker, for example, affords us a little suspension of disbelief.  We can pretend we are having a one-on-one conversation, or at least more easily forget that there may well be 50 sets of eyes on us.

Taking calls in a comfortable location that is very much our own (an office, bedroom, or any preferred workspace), means that there is only a small, flat part of the room (the screen) that is in any way out of our control.

Even the screen has aspects of it that we can use to make ourselves more comfortable.  Beyond having control over the layout, we can control volume, positioning (seated, standing, downward dog, foetal position), brightness, and whether we decide to look at the screen at all.

This increased control appears to be empowering less outspoken people to field their ideas publicly, and to be more forthright in their communication.  In educational systems where speaking up is often equated with engagement, introverts are at a disadvantage.  As such, video seems to somewhat level the playing field.

Video Communication As A Distinct Part Of Our Personal Skill Sets

Several of our early contributors on URfeed have had a similar insight.  The impact of recording high volumes of video clips where they talk through their standpoint on a particular subject has had a positive impact on how they communicate in other scenarios.  

By being able to hone their delivery (while no doubt honing their position) in the relatively low risk setting of an online discussion with other URfeed users, they were able to derive a benefit to their in-person communication.  Confidence and capability grew as a result of using video.

Combine this with the kind of research that has been conducted (by the likes of Christine Porath at Georgetown in the United States of America, Gary Lupyan from University of Wisconsin-Madison, and University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross) which shows that the emotional impact of words is considerably greater when they are said out loud, and all of a sudden (so long as we are being civil with one another) video is starting to potentially look like a superior option to the written word.

This isn’t to say that video is about to replace email (although we do have a theory that eventually the world will feel the same way about email as we now do about fax machines) but video does appear to have some significant advantages.  Moreover, given that humans are fairly new to video communication, compared to the written word or phone calls, we collectively have a long way to go before we spontaneously capitalise on all the opportunities for video to help us get the best out of our communication.

Our muscle memory leads us to send texts, voice clips, emails, or write messages on Slack, whereas there are many scenarios in which video can help us get our ideas across more clearly.

This gap is where much of the potential lies for video, and where there are opportunities for us to raise our communication game.  Video literacy will start to (if it doesn’t already) appear on job descriptions. People are starting to invest more in cameras, lights, and backdrops (both physical and digital).  HR departments are using video clips to screen candidates for open roles.

With the importance of video and the potential to apply it growing every day, we all owe it to ourselves to hone our video related skill set, and be comfortable delivering our thoughts in this medium.  

We are not saying that everyone needs to be able to create great video (although that time may come) but that we owe it to ourselves to be able to deliver our ideas via video clip, or through live conversations, as well if not better than the more traditional means of communication.

Authors

Abhinav Gaur

After graduating from the The Business School (City University), Abhinav spent fourteen years climbing the ranks at American multinational company, General Electric (GE). During this time he worked across multiple disciplines, countries and industrial verticals, 5 years of this was spent executing aircraft lease transactions across Asia. After a period on deep introspection & clarity on where he wanted to lead his life, Abhinav made the leap into launching into his entrepreneurial journey by quitting his 14 year career with GE. Abhinav has since co-founded the video community platform URFeed and is currently organising Firestarters: A Virtual Festival of Conversation.

Oliver Osborne

A seasoned management professional with over 19 years in leadership roles, across 10 countries, and rich experience running companies from a founder, director and investor level. In September 2013 in Singapore, Oliver set up Osborne Holdings as a marketing and events agency. In late 2014 they launched Eyes To The Front, which became the music and events arm, adding artist management to our activities, while Osborne Holdings continued to operate as a marketing agency.

Working with brands such as W Hotels, Samsung, Ultra Music Festival, Topshop, Zalora, and Zouk, and our reach includes Bali, Malaysia, Thailand and Hong Kong. Osborne Holdings now offers consulting services to a range of industries, from the Food & Beverage industry to Technology. 2016 saw the launch of a record label under the Eyes To The Front brand, and have seen industry leaders like &ME, Culoe De Song, Dennis Sulta, Rampa, and Stefano Ritteri playing their releases.