Before your career ends, you will not be typing to people anymore. You will be seeing them, just like you see people on TV. It won't exactly be face-to-face, but it will be very close. One reason communication will have to be more visual is the fact that the baby boomers are past the age of 50. As our bodies get older, the dexterity in our fingers diminishes. As a maturing society we will demand an easier way to electronically converse than using a verbal banter of email messages. This evolution is inevitable. To prepare for the new age of visual communication, you need to have a better understanding of:
Playing to the Camera
Maybe you're already communicating on camera for occasional teleconferences, to produce videotapes, for image magnification at large conferences, or even when speaking to the media. When on camera, you need to reinforce your message using your voice, positioning, and movement.
When you are on camera, you have to learn to relax and breathe normally. When you talk through a lens, even though you feel rushed and think you're speaking too slowly, fight the tendency to speed up. You must learn to phrase and pause naturally. Enunciate clearly and be careful to pronounce every syllable. When you're on camera, chances are you are wearing a small lapel microphone. These microphones are sensitive devices that pick up every sound in your voice. Be aware that certain consonants may cause problems. For example, the letter P can create a popping sound, and the letter S can cause a hissing sound. The microphone will pick up a lot of distracting sounds. Avoid mumbling, sniffing, clearing your throat, or using fillers (such as um, er ). Just be sure to keep your all your comments directed at the camera. If you make minor mistakes, keep going. Don't add unnecessary information by apologizing or by whispering some short, frustrated phrase insulting yourself for not being perfect.
Positioning yourself to the camera and your audience has as much to do with your physical presence as it does with your personal image. You just have to be yourself. Even though you are under the scrutiny of the camera, you should feel comfortable and act appropriately in everything you say and do. It's easy to forget this when you are alone in front of the lens without a live audience watching you. You need to present yourself as credible and confident.
Given the choice, standing is preferred to sitting because it is easier to breathe when standing. In addition, being on your feet tends to keep your more alert. Sitting may be necessary for longer sessions. Keep in mind that when the camera projects your image, any movements you make look much more pronounced to the viewer. So, when seated, choose a solid chair that doesn't swivel. If you wear a jacket, sit on the back hem and you'll actually sit up straighter. This also keeps your coat from bunching up in front. If you tilt your head slightly downward or slightly to one side every now and then, you will appear more relaxed .
Naturally, in well-planned environments, someone will play the role of stage manager or production director and make sure the set looks "just right." But you need to be prepared for the local communication that becomes visual. You will play the role of producer, director, and actor ”in much the same way that you play the role of publisher, editor, and author when you create your own email messages. Before the cameras start "rolling," check directly behind you. Pay attention to your backdrop. Is a disorganized bookshelf or a leftover lunch plate the image you want to portray? Assume the camera is always running and don't show or say anything that distracts from your message. Don't be distracted by items or other people in the room; you'll appear detached and uncertain .
Remember that we've been talking about the triangle since Chapter 26. The basic choreography used for stand-up presentations, whether in large or small settings, applies to working on camera ”the smallest setting of all. The real difference between the environments is the proximity of the audience. In live situations you tend to be farther from the audience when you speak, and your movements need to be bigger to be seen from a greater distance. Through the camera, especially when the image is a close-up, the triangle is magnified for the viewer, and the movements need to be much smaller. You establish the triangle positions with a slight tilt of the head rather than full body movement. Take the basics of body movement and translate them to the sensitivity of the camera.
The three positions of the triangle are still used. You can establish intimacy with the audience by tilting your head forward. Technically, you are in the front of the triangle. You can create neutrality by not tilting your head at all, and you will be in the center of the triangle. You can tilt your head back to reach the back of the triangle and appear to present the larger view of the topic. On camera, the simple tilting of your head creates movement, inflection , meaning, and interest. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan was a master at using subtle head movement to communicate his views. He was a film actor before he was a politician. He knew how to take advantage of the camera.
You can also make adjustments in the angle of your body. Position your shoulders at a 45-degree angle to the camera to establish a "rest" position. By doing this, you can, when necessary, shift the upper part of your body and "square off" to the camera to evoke power and emphasis.
One of the other issues unique to the camera is the degree to which you exist in the frame. In a live event, your view of the presenter is a function of where you sit. Obviously the camera has the ability to zoom in or pull back to create a completely different view for the audience. That is why you need to know how close the camera is set at any particular moment. If you know your "frame" of reference, you can decide what movements, if any, are available to you. Depending on the camera setting, you may have to limit your expressions and gestures.
You'll have to learn to concentrate on both your topic and your movements. If you accidentally move out of the frame, those watching won't be able to see you. If you're operating the camera yourself, you will make the choice to change the zoom level or the camera angle. In many videoconferencing sessions, either you or someone sitting with you in the conference usually controls the camera. If someone else is controlling the camera, you should talk with that person in advance and discuss any movements you expect in which the camera will have to be adjusted. In fact, if your presentation hits a particularly emotional point, you may want to cue the camera to move to a close-up.
Now, unless the event is highly choreographed , chances are the camera will stay in a relatively fixed position and capture you from the waist up. In a videoconference, the technology can usually be preset to certain angles, and many systems are voice activated so that the camera automatically shifts to the person speaking. As technology evolves toward more sophistication, you will be less concerned about the technical aspects of the visual communication. But for now, the camera angles and close-ups are controlled decisions. The timing of those decisions influences the viewer because the camera lens is the link between the presenter and the audience.
Using Videoconferencing Technology
Technology is driving communication. The power of telecommunication and personal computers will soon have us all videoconferencing with the same ease and confidence that we currently use to pick up the phone. Okay, maybe not that easy, but video as the vehicle will be more the norm than the exception.
The current evolution in visual communication is toward videoconferencing, whether it is personal or group . When the videoconference is personal, it is conducted from your desktop. When a group delivers the session, it takes place in a larger setting like a conference room. In either case, this technology is ever changing. From the moment I write this to the time you read it, there will have been several changes to the systems available and already in use. Such is the nature of our fast-paced world. I don't want to talk a lot about features or limitations; instead, I want to cover the challenges posed by the nature of the technology itself.
Personal Videoconferencing , by Evan Rosen, is an excellent reference on this topic. Although personal videoconferencing refers to the individual desktop, many of the same issues apply to group videoconferencing, as well.
I think the best way to explain videoconferencing is to think of it as combining the power of television with the intimacy of face-to-face communication while bridging the gaps of distance, time, and relationships. How's that for a mouthful? It's important to understand the challenges of distance and time, especially to a growing world of visual creatures .
The Distance Factor
Face-to-face meetings require your physical presence. Although a lot can be accomplished through email and voice, the ability to be in the presence of another person is the highest form of communication. Sometimes you have to travel to create a face-to-face meeting. When you think about attending meetings that require travel, distance influences your plans. For example, if you work in San Francisco and need to attend a meeting in Atlanta, you already know that much of your time will be spent travelling to and from the meeting. Typically, you'll try to arrange other appointments to help "justify" the trip, the expense, and the inconvenience of being away from the office for so long. However, if the meeting were on site you would not create additional activity with nearby departments just because you happen to be going all the way to the other side of the building. But when travel distance is involved, the need to get other things accomplished while in the area becomes a priority.
So, as you plan your trip to Atlanta, you call two other contacts in the Atlanta vicinity, and you request a brief meeting because you plan "to be in the area." The others may agree to meet with you but more likely out of courtesy rather than real need. After all, they didn't call you, and they may not be as ready as you are to discuss things or make decisions. Some meetings are called because distance dictates the availability of one or more of the parties involved.
Videoconferencing tries to bridge the gap of distance while offering some of the benefits of face-to-face. It may be easier to coordinate mutually convenient schedules for a videoconference meeting if all parties need only travel a short walking distance to the visual meeting. You may be able to offer the other people two or three optional times, rather than let the airlines dictate the time and place for the event.
The Time Factor
Although convenience of scheduling is time related , the real factor here is length of time for a meeting. Today, most meetings that take place in company conference rooms are based around the convenience of the clock. Typically, conference room charts are filled with one-hour meetings, even though these meetings may not really need to be one hour . But, it is not feasible to schedule a 23-minute meeting and then another 18-minute meeting and so on.
But our other forms of communication are much more to the minute, especially when you think of phone conversations. Even a telephone conference call among distant parties offers a start time, but rarely a stop time other than an approximation . Why? Because the parties involved are private phones, separated from one another. If some of the people on the call were occupying a conference room to place the call, then the time for the call may be more limited to make the conference room available for others.
Today, videoconferencing equipment is not on everyone's desk as is a telephone or a personal computer. So the availability of the technology from a time factor is still limited by appointment. However, when the technology is on each desktop, the length of meetings will be determined by the objectives of the conversation, not the availability of space.
Current videoconferencing technology has a higher cost of connect time than a simple voice phone call. From an expense standpoint, companies need to limit the length of each call. This has a benefit because when you pay "by the minute," you will likely make more prudent use of the time during a videoconference session than you might in a typical face-to-face meeting in the conference room.
The Relationship Factor
Many projects involve assembling a team of experts from within an organization or even across organizations. Too often, people in different departments, in different companies, and even in different cities don't have the time or resources to meet face-to-face and yet, they somehow are required to complete a task as a team. When face-to-face meetings are not possible, it is more difficult to get a group of diverse personalities to perform as a team.
A lot of our time during business communication is spent imagining what the people we haven't met really look like. Every moment we interact without seeing a person, we are communicating with the mental image of the person, which we create. This is a natural process. The beauty of face-to-face communication is the chance to meet and greet others. This is how relationships are formed . Relationships are a huge part of the team concept.
Videoconferencing gives separated parties the chance to see and hear others who may be brought together for only a short time to accomplish a task. Although everyone can't shake hands, at least they can remove the task of imagining what the other people look like because they can see and interact through the technology of videoconferencing.
The Power of Television
Television. Chances are that you grew up on it. How much money would you have if you were paid $5 dollars for each hour of TV you watched in your life? Even if you averaged 40 hours a week, and you've been watching TV for 20 years , you would have amassed more than $200,000 by now ”and that's assuming you never put the money in any investment plan!
Regardless of how much TV you really do watch, the point is that no one can deny the influence of TV over the generations of the past 25 years. Figure 29.13 summarizes the most obvious features of television that keep us glued endlessly to a variety of channels sometimes offering little content.
Figure 29.13. The major features of television are what really keep us entertained. Without these instantly available attributes, TV would not be as powerful a presence in our everyday lives.
Television is a highly produced, action-driven medium. You thrive on visual images, and you have become highly critical of those writing, producing, and performing for television. Although you are comfortable with the media as you watch the screen or talk into the lens of a home video camera, you have much higher expectations of those performing professionally on TV. It doesn't take a great stretch of the imagination to wonder what your expectations will be of those who communicate using videoconferencing technology. Maybe you won't expect TV personalities, but you might expect talent to be something better than what you have recorded on your home video camera!
From a business perspective, the power of television is used most often as a "store and forward" medium, rather than a real-time one. You may have been asked to view tapes in the workplace for training, informational, or motivational reasons. This is more private and mostly one-sided ”you are receiving information but not interacting. The good news is that these video productions are usually done well. They are produced using professional talent, and they are highly visual. You don't read a lot when experiencing video. We are content to use the medium of TV to serve our purposes both in business and at home. Until television is two-way and more interactive, it will continue to serve a much more passive and entertaining role in our daily life.
The Beauty of Face-to-Face
Television has its place in business, similar to home, but it can't compete when a situation requires a face-to-face encounter.
Figure 29.14 summarizes the aspects of face-to-face communication. The ability to engage in real-time conversation in the same room with another person is clearly important to all of us. But the whole interpersonal experience is a very natural one when it comes to using your five senses. Just the handshake as a greeting tells you so much about another person. A casual stroll past a freshly brewing pot of coffee can change the perspective of almost any conversation.
Figure 29.14. The attributes of face-to-face communication support the need for personal contact. With its real-time intimacy and natural interaction, the face-to-face meeting is the essence of interpersonal communication.
A heightened level of intimacy or closeness exists when people share face-to-face communication. The fact that people share the same moments at the same location allows them to cement a memory beyond what any other form of communication can offer. It's that closeness, that friendship, which helps develop business relationships over the course of time. Even the degree to which you can be truly interactive in a meeting makes you want to use the face-to-face process wherever and whenever you can. After all, you can tell right away if you need to change direction in a discussion or bring up additional data to support your point. In many cases you know these things by simply being in the same space as the other person.
The Ideal Communication Channel
If any medium could harness the best of both television and face-to-face communication, it would be the ideal communication channel. Figure 29.15 shows the elements of the ultimate medium, if it really existed. Even at this stage in the development of this technology, videoconferencing possesses many of these attributes and comes close to being the ideal communication channel.
Figure 29.15. By combining the features of television and the aspects of face-to-face, you can create the ideal communication channel.
When you think about it, videoconferencing is definitely action-driven and highly visual. Videoconferencing happens in real-time, give or take a second for transmission of the signal. In addition, it's intimate and interactive.
But of the eight elements of the ideal medium, videoconferencing falls short in some areas. Figure 29.16 shows where the technology misses, specifically in the areas of production, talent and naturalness.
Figure 29.16. Although it certainly offers a lot, video-conferencing currently falls short of meeting all the requirements of the ideal communication channel. Yet there are ways to work on some of the deficiencies.
As far as being produced and talent-based, videoconferencing requires specific skills to make the event and the participants more effective. Acquiring these skills will put you on the fast track for decision making, problem solving, and getting noticed. You can't escape the eventual need to become a video communicator and screen-to-screen collaborator.
Evan Rosen, author of Personal Videoconferencing , uses the term collabicator to identify those "collaborators who use video as well as application sharing and document conferencing." In the near future, we will all be called upon to "collabicate" at one time or another.
As far as the technology allowing completely natural interaction, just like face-to-face ”well, let's just say that kind of virtual reality is getting closer but it is far from here. So let's take a look at what you can do to make videoconferencing look more produced and more talented than it is now.
The Production Aspect
The only way to make videoconferencing more like TV is to produce a simple production. Videoconferencing allows you to incorporate a few of television's powerful elements. The effectiveness of TV stems from its capability to tap emotions. The medium leaves little to the imagination as images, graphics, voices, and music provide every detail of the stories it tells. You can enhance the visual effectiveness of videoconferencing through your setting, screenplay, and special effects.
One thing you can do is control the setting by enhancing the layout of the room where you conduct your conferences. Whether you are using personal or group videoconferencing, pay attention to the positioning of the equipment in relationship to the seating and doorways. In a group setup, the camera and codec (coding/decoding or compressing/decompressing) unit usually sit on top of the monitor to allow for the most meaningful eye-contact between the sites. Make sure the distance between the equipment and seats allows for a complete group shot, as well as appropriate close-up views of the individuals. The system's microphone should be equidistant from all participants and, if possible, positioned on a separate table to eliminate noises from shuffling and vibrations. Doorways should allow for people to enter and exit the room with minimal distraction in front of the camera.
Backdrops allow you to manipulate the audience's perception of you and your environment. The backdrops you see on television are chosen to provide details in the story being told. They are used to create an effect. This approach may be overkill for the business world, but remember that your image is everything and understanding the power of the visual image can give you an edge. For best results, choose a backdrop (or wall paint) that is about 17% gray. This ensures a flattering and smoothly transmitted backdrop.
The typical conference room is lit with fluorescent and incandescent lights. These are unflattering and provide little control. If you are creating a videoconferencing room, rely on professionals to design a lighting system that highlights each seat with quality lighting. If you will be conducting a lot of videoconferencing from your office, pay attention to how your face is lit and consider aiming one or two spotlights at your chair.
When choosing the clothes you'll wear on camera, you need to consider both technical and personal image issues. From a technical standpoint, avoid white because it washes out the picture and reflects harshly to the viewers on the other side of the video transmission (also known as the "far side"). Also avoid narrow stripes and houndstooth prints because they tend to "vibrate" on the screen. Large prints and plaids also tend to distract from the communication because there are more colors and patterns that need to be transmitted through the system. Your best choice is solid blue or gray, but make sure you don't become camouflaged by your background. These colors evoke credibility and authority. Lavender and yellow are also good choices, but be careful with light pink because it tends to transmit as white and it becomes too bright from the far side view.
Another way to make a videoconference appear more "produced" is to write a screenplay. Like meetings, effective videoconferences require a bit of advance planning and a shared set of assumptions as to who does what and what rules are followed. Remember, the more the videoconference is structured around some type of plan, the better it will be for everyone.
An agenda is crucial and should be shared in advance with both parties so that the participants can be prepared for the discussion and tasks at hand. The agenda should note any visual presentations and video that may be used and which site will be responsible for the delivery. In addition, make sure that both sites are equipped and prepared to use the videoconference technology. You don't want to waste valuable meeting time teaching people how to work with the equipment.
Decide who will be facilitating or leading the meeting and who at your site will be taking responsibility for the equipment and any media used. If you divide these responsibilities in advance, the meeting will run more smoothly, and if any troubleshooting is necessary, it can be addressed quickly. With the latest advancements in videoconferencing equipment, one person can easily manage to lead the discussion while controlling the technology through a simple remote, with a few touches of a button!
Before you begin, make sure the first-time users understand that there might be a slight delay in the audio transmission. Naturally, as the bandwidth increases , the transmission of audio and video signals will be closer to the broadcast levels we get with TV. For now, the equipment may have some limitations. Just let everyone know that their brains will adjust quickly to any sound delays and that, after a while, they will learn to pick up the cues of a video conversation. At the start, introduce everyone at each site. If someone has to leave in the middle of the conference and the camera doesn't make their departure apparent to the far side, be sure to let them know that someone left the room. In a face-to-face meeting this would not be necessary, but in a videoconference the only view you have to the other side is through the eye of the camera.
The fact that you have control of the camera can add value to the production aspect of the event. Your equipment probably allows for the camera to pan and zoom, giving you a unique ability to change the perspective on the meeting. With a little practice (or a system that can program preset camera positions) you can bring the camera in close when you want to make a strong point or pan the room for individual reactions .
In fact, some systems allow you to control the camera in your room as well as that at the far side. You can pan around the room on the far side, zoom in on individuals as they speak, and pull back to view a group reaction. Just be aware that a picture-in-picture function on the far side may allow them to see what you're seeing!
Your system may also allow you to incorporate an electronic presentation, videotape, or dataconferencing into your remote meeting. You can even audioconference outgoing and incoming phone calls if you need to access the expertise of a colleague. If you choose to use these media, be sure that you rehearse the order and switching to ensure that you can move smoothly between the different devices. The power of these tools can be diminished when you begin fumbling with the technology. No matter how simple the equipment is to operate , take the time for a technical run-through.
Finally, keep in mind that a videoconference can also be videotaped for archival or review purposes. All it takes is a VCR connected to the videoconferencing system. Although the replay will only be the action from the far side, the audio will be two sided, similar to what it may have looked like had you attended the meeting. The only thing you won't see is any interaction that may have happened in the room on your side of the conference. Keep in mind that if your interactive sessions are archived, there will be compelling visual evidence available in case you change or need to defend your position on a particular topic. This is true of email and voice mail messages, but a videotape is much more impressive. Of course, a videotape recording can be blessing or a curse, depending on the nature of the content.
Those are just some of the things you can consider if you want a videoconference to appear more like a TV production. This is not much different than the effort it takes to make an average presentation look extremely professional. The more you become aware of what to work on, the easier it becomes to accomplish the task.
Boosting Your Talent
It goes without saying that a talent-based medium requires talent. The people embracing videoconferencing are developing a unique set of skills that is setting them apart as communicators . The skill set goes beyond the ability to write well and speak comfortably in public. This technology is quick, interactive, and intimate. It requires that you constantly assess what your saying, how you are saying it, and what you look like all the while.
Earlier in this chapter we talked about playing to the camera, and a videoconference is a prime example of a situation in which your voice, positioning, and movement are most noticeable. Some other unique issues related to videoconferencing also come into play.
From a vocal standpoint, avoid the rudeness of side conversations. People may see you whispering but may not hear your comments. However, in negotiations, asides can be your ally. Many videoconferencing systems have a "mute button" on the microphone that allows you to pause the audio transmission temporarily. If you first get an agreement that both parties will be using this function to discuss items among themselves , negotiations can proceed more quickly. Just be aware that the video may still be running, allowing the other party to read your expressions and body language.
As I mentioned before, when you are using a system that has a slight audio delay, it's important to wait until an individual has completely finished a sentence before replying. Because in normal conversation, we tend to interrupt each other a lot, many experts believe that the patience required by videoconferencing users may finally teach us to wait for the other person to finish. This more "formal" timing will actually put us in line with the communication styles of our European and Asian partners and could lead to more effective communication overall. Of course, after all systems are up to real-time broadcast quality speed (like telephones), there won't be any audio delays. Then we'll go back to stepping on each other's sentences again. Some things just never change!
From a physical delivery perspective, facial expressions are critical to the communication process. By reading the faces of the other party, you may be able to tell if they are confused or supportive, eager or bored, trustworthy or lying. Likewise, your face will communicate information about how you are thinking and feeling. Remember that even though you may not be the person speaking, you are still on camera and, therefore, are still communicating. Try to manage the messages you are sending through body language, and you will be much more effective.
How to Read a Person Like a Book , by Gerald Nierenberg and Henry Calero (Pocket Books), offers some interesting insights into the role body language plays in interpersonal communication. Understanding nonverbal cues can be extremely useful in any small group environment, including a videoconference.
Eye contact is still a dilemma in videoconferencing. You can't make direct eye contact with the camera and the person on the screen simultaneously , unless you are sitting back far enough from the camera lens that you appear to be looking directly back at someone. Figures 29.17 and 29.18 demonstrate this line of sight issue. As I was typing this I decided to take some quick photos of myself with my small digital camera attached to my PC. Imagine you are looking at me during a videoconference. Figure 29.17 shows how I appear to you when I look directly into the camera lens. Notice I am looking right at you. But, if I wanted to look at your image on my end of the conference and my viewing screen is set much lower than the position of the camera, then Figure 29.18 shows how I appear to you. The only reason you notice this is because I am so close to the camera. I would have to sit farther back from the camera to give you the appearance of direct eye contact as I look at your image on my screen.
Figure 29.17. If you were watching me over a videoconference and I looked straight into the camera lens mounted on top of my viewing screen, it would appear as if I am looking directly at you.
Figure 29.18. So it doesn't seem that I'm looking down all the time, I need to be sitting farther from the camera to make the eye contact appear more direct.
That is why most videoconference systems use a 27-inch or 32-inch TV screen with the camera mounted on top of the set and the participants seated about 10 to 12 feet away. From that distance you really can't tell that the person you're looking at is really looking slightly below their camera lens at your image on their screen. Of course, if the camera could be mounted into the middle of the TV screen then you would always appear to be looking into the lens regardless of how close you were to the screen.
If you were on TV, you would always be looking directly into the camera lens because it's still a one-way communication tool. This line-of-sight problem between where the camera is mounted and where the display screen is situated is most apparent in personal videoconferencing and close-up views. Until the technology is perfected (and many solutions are being researched), you must learn to look into the camera when speaking or adjust to any differences.
If you plan to move around at all, one way to stay within the frame of the camera is to test the camera positions in advance and plan your movement. If your videoconferencing equipment allows you to preset camera positions, you'll also be able to change from a wide shot to a close-up with the touch of a button.
Of course, real talent develops with experience. The more you use videoconferencing, the less your viewers notice the technology, and the more comfortable and natural you'll feel. Be an early-adapter and as the technology becomes more common, you can share your expertise to introduce others to the power of the media. In the beginning, it may feel like the technology is controlling you, but eventually you will use videoconferencing with the ease that you currently use your computer, fax machine, and phone.
Not Quite Natural
Although videoconferencing falls short of being the ideal communication channel, the efforts on your part concerning production and talent can bring the technology much closer to the ideal. Figure 29.19 lists all the components of videoconferencing that can be achieved, with some degree of effort ”with the exception of one element: naturalness.
Figure 29.19. With effort you can bring video-conferencing to nearly match the elements of the ideal communication channel, with the exception of the one element circled here. As close as it might get to being a relationship medium, videoconferencing still can't attain the total natural qualities of face-to-face contact.
Current videoconferencing cannot duplicate the natural aspects of face-to-face communication. You still can't fill the coffee cups of the person at the far side. You can't smell colognes or shake hands. You can't see the subtle expression in their eyes or hear the faint pronunciation of their words. You can't casually notice the small actions of the group unless the camera picks it up for you. You can't do these things because you aren't there, on site. This limitation of videoconferencing may never be overcome .
But technology advances as we speak and perhaps, over the course of time, virtual reality will allow for seamless workplaces that simulate very real and natural interactions among people. Regardless, it is more likely that we will sacrifice the five senses for the sake of just two or three, rather than not use videoconferencing as the new age communication medium.
Interacting in a Visual World
I really think the shift to a more visual society is already upon us. Look around ”the evidence is everywhere, from the workplace to the home. We have met the visual creatures, and they are us! This new millenium can be dubbed the Visual Age, and its effect will be massive.
There has been much research about the relationship between people and media. A superb source is The Media Equation , by Byron Reeves and Clifford Nass (Cambridge University Press). The book is about how people treat computers, television, and new media as real people. The studies done by the authors suggest that the design of media technologies, including computer devices, applications and Web sites, be considered from a social perspective. I highly recommend this book.
The Visual Age will bring us closer together as a global society because we will be able to see one another on a more frequent basis. Realizing that, here are my forecasts for the new millennium regarding the effect a visual way of life will have on individuals and society.
The Effect on Individuals
Let's look at age groups. Anyone under 10 probably already has the words "visual creature" stamped on the inside of their head. That age group will not have any problem adapting to an interactive and visual world. When they finally begin working for a living, I expect them to one day walk through a flea market, pick up a computer mouse, and ponder what its use might have been!
Those between 10 and 20 years old are still well developed visual creatures. When they finally embark on their journey into the business world, using visual communications will be as simple as touching a keyboard. People between 20 and 30 will be on the cusp of the changing technology. The good news is that this age group already knows that to adapt is to succeed and being in their high-spirited 20s, this crowd will lead the way to a host of major technology changes in the workplace.
Okay, now lets discuss the problem groups. Those between 30 and 40 will accept the new world of visual communications, but will resist direct participation mostly for vanity reasons. After all, knowing the camera adds ten pounds will not appeal to the Generation Xers at all. These are the people that cut their teeth on Internet chat rooms where remaining anonymous was the standard level of interaction. It is unlikely to believe this group will welcome a visual conversation while sitting around in a bathrobe eating a Pop Tart.
People between 40 and 50, the tail end of the baby boomers, will mostly resist all forms of visual communication, some for vanity reasons and others because they will be fed up with the years of email and voice mail inundation. People in this age group are already growing tired of being accessible through every other form of communication and will see the visual process as a real intrusion into the only remaining personal space in their lives. Little do they know that by adapting to a more visual world, this age group holds the life experience and maturity to lead the up and coming companies of the future. Expect only those who adapt to the new technology to come out ahead and the rest to lag behind or fall by the wayside.
Invariably, the over 50 age group will welcome visual communication with open arms because, as people age, they are more honest about adopting new habits that reduce stress on the body. Visual interaction will allow for less travel and less wear and tear on the body. Remember that these people grew up on face-to-face communications, and the visual technology will help simulate that experience more than a phone conversation or an email ever could. The good news is they won't have to travel to make the face-to-face interaction happen.
So there you have it! The very young and the very old adapt, and the middle groups have some big decisions to make. I believe that anyone between 30 and 50 years old will truly have no choice but to adapt to the most current visual technology. If not, they will find themselves unable to adjust to the younger crowd sneaking up from behind and the older crowd looking back for support.
This doesn't mean people will lose their jobs, but it does mean that by avoiding the changes in the workplace, some people will experience limited advancement. It's hard to see just how rapidly things advance, but here's an interesting piece of information. Current high school graduates have virtually no frame of reference to a TV set without a remote control. Some of us still remember getting up to change the channel! The technology changes as you sleep! I'm 46, so I happen to be one of those who already realizes the world of visual communication is inevitable, and I have been embracing the concept for several years. I expect to be changing as rapidly as the technology ”and only for my own sake!
The Effect on Society
You also have to look at the social benefits of a more visual world. You will be seeing people of different cultures and backgrounds more visually and more frequently than ever before. There will be a greater acceptance of diverse audiences. You can expect a more visual world to be one that welcomes our visual differences.
I really think that when you see another person, any fears, inhibitions, prejudices, concerns, ignorance, or other negative feelings can disappear faster. It's when we can't experience the whole person that we sometimes create false impressions . I was lucky enough to grow up in New York City where interaction among many cultures was the norm. No matter what the prejudices, you still had to interact with different people on a daily basis. When you ride the bus and subway with different people every single day, you just learn to get along. You don't have much choice. I'm not saying we lived in perfect harmony, but to this day I find it easy to accept people whose lifestyles and backgrounds are much different than my own. If I can't, then it's my problem, not theirs.
A world of visual communicators will offer more direct contact with more people, more frequently, resulting in a greater acceptance of diverse opinions . The good news is that a more visual world will be better for our children. After all, kids aren't born with a natural fear or dislike of others. They can only learn it. A visual world will provide more evidence as to why those who look or think differently have so much in common. Okay, so you can tell I grew up in the sixties. The point is that, the more we see one another, the more we understand one another. Visual interaction will bring us closer together, globally.
The growth of visual communications will place you in view, mainly through the eyes of a camera. The more you adapt to the changing technology, the better the chances of your success. But keep in mind that to prepare for the visual changes ahead, you will have to develop your current skills and become a more visual presenter. Everything we discussed in the earlier chapters ”from messaging to media to mechanics ”consistently follows the path of a visual presenter. After you add-in the latest technology, you'll be able to demonstrate your skills to the world.
So, what are you waiting for? Get used to picturing yourself on TV and before you know it you'll be staring straight into the camera lens saying, "I'm ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille!"