Can video conferencing lead to less-productive meetings?

Studies say, yes!

Sometimes it’s better to do things the old-fashioned way. And surprisingly, this can be true with teleconferencing. In the case of virtual meetings, when conveying emotion and feelings are important, the addition of video can actually get in the way.


This seems counterintuitive, but according to research published in the October issue of The American Psychologist, video conferencing is less effective for delivering certain information – particularly emotion – than audio conferencing alone. Face-to-face interaction, the ability to monitor attention and to screen-share are features that video conference users have come to rely on. But these studies suggest that virtual attendees are often more distracted than assisted by video.

While there are many benefits to video conferencing, the research shows that the addition of visual cues during virtual meetings actually distracts listeners in ways that can keep people from fully tuning in to a speaker’s intent. Voice cues – pitch, cadence, speed, volume, and overall tone – are the most critical factors when it comes to promoting the ability to understand the speaker’s feelings. Where more than mere data needs to be conveyed, any distraction from these cues, including video of the speaker’s face can result in incomplete communication.

In addition, the mere presence of a computer can encourage multi-tasking, or lead some participants to pay more attention to what’s on the screen than what’s being said.

The conclusion? When you have critical information to share and it is necessary for people to understand your intent, feelings or emotion, it is better to communicate by voice alone. The addition of video divides people’s attention and hampers their ability to truly understand what you are saying.



As a leader, you want your listeners to understand intent as well as information, so that they can respond with the right action. You also want to get the most out of every meeting, virtual or otherwise. For more productive virtual meetings, use these pointers to make sure you have everyone’s full attention:

  • Consider a telephone conference call instead of a video conference when a serious matter is to be discussed.
  • Where visuals are necessary, make sure the presenter controls what’s on the screen at all times to minimize distractions. Use slides to convey information; avoid video of interacting faces.
  • Slides that simply say “discussion” or “Q&A” can make clear that it’s time for everyone to listen and engage.
  • Question whether virtual meetings (or any meetings for that matter) are the best way to simply share information.
  • Make your meetings about exchanging ideas, surfacing and resolving conflicts, clarifying next steps, and discussions about tactics or strategy.
  • Check in often and listen. That means you need to be paying attention, too! Only by listening will you will be able to tell whether your team is engaged, assess their attitudes and determine whether they are on board with what is being discussed.

If all this sounds too onerous, remember to ask yourself, “Why am I having this meeting anyway?”

Enhance team productivity using proven psychological principles. Contact us to learn more.

Dr. Joanne Irving is a strategic advisor and coach for senior executives at mid and large size companies, helping them dramatically improve business outcomes and the quality of life for themselves and those around them.  Learn more.

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