I spent all of yesterday on the “aorta” level of the Seattle Public Library, those crimson hallways being the site of our local ASTD chapter’s Future of Training event. It was a fun and lively exchange of knowledge and experience with a cohort of mostly corporate trainers. The format followed the organic barcamp model, with sessions suggested and posted (somewhat) on the fly and locations shifting according to the level of interest expressed.

As a frequent online presenter and facilitator, I was interested in a session on Web conferencing with live video. I have imagined that seeing the instructor’s expressions and gestures would fill in the missing link that keeps online training from being the full equivalent of in-person training. The live motion would counterbalance the static nature of the information on the slides. Now I know it’s not that easy or automatic.

The presenter showed us a recording of bad video—what not to do—before showing us the “good” video. I was hard-pressed to tell the difference. This is what I saw:

  • the lighting was terrible, casting deep shadows on the speaker’s face
  • the camera angle was singular, static, and poorly chosen
  • the speaker was not animated and not engaged with the camera (aka the audience)
  • the colors of clothing and background were drab

With all this visual turnoff, you’d think I’d be looking at the slide content instead. But no—I couldn’t take my eyes off the speaker’s face, unless she swiveled her chair or crossed her legs, which drew my eyes there. Motion in an otherwise inert environment is totally seductive, even if it is deadly dull motion.

I realized that, in order to add video effectively, you have to acquire the skills of a TV producer. Set up professional lighting and manipulate multiple cameras with pre-programmed zooms (an approach pioneered by Desi Arnaz for early television). Stage the background and the apparel (and makeup?) and find a SME who’s also trained to work in front of the camera. Then you might have something worthy of taxing the bandwidth of your audience.

I have enough challenges working in the present Web conference setting that I think I’ll wait for this piece of the future of training to evolve a bit more. But hey, feel free to disagree with me! I just stumbled on Oovoo, which makes me think that maybe video communication does have a future. Anybody oovooing?