Online meetings and nonverbal communication

Next to giving us feedback on our evaluation and ranking of online meeting solutions our readers approach us with questions that make us go “Waaait a minute. Why is that???” Point in case: Why is nonverbal communication hardly ever considered in web conferencing scenarios?

Let us leave the digital arena and look at good old face-to-face communication – remember that? Now here, obviously, nonverbal communication is essential to guiding understanding. Gestures e.g. can be used to signal approval or to show that you have a question. Even nodding the head carries a message, and don’t get me started on overall body language. So yes, the nonverbal aspect of communication is integral in a face-to-face scenario.

And it partially applies to online meetings, too. If all participants are on webcams that will make it a lot easier to interact than just talking on the phone would. One drawback, however, is that with multiple participants being displayed on your screen you could end up being more confused than informed (see our post on video conferencing).

For webinars nonverbal communication is of marginal help if any. Question marks or a thumbs up – thumbs down signal for the listeners are a gimmick rather than an essential part of communication. During a webinar the silent listeners in most cases have the chance to submit questions to the presenter via chat. These questions are then later discussed in a Q&A session following the presentation. Clicking a question mark button is only an indication of the fact THAT you don’t understand something. You would still have to explain WHAT exactly you don’t understand. And hitting a like or dislike button during e.g. a product presentation doesn’t seem to likely – if you are not a competitor trying to crash the presentation, that is.

So bottom line: Nonverbal communication only plays a minor role in online meetings. The only way of making up for the consequential lack of information that is usually provided by nonverbal signals is to be even more precise in how you phrase things.