What’s the big difference between face-to-face meetings and videoconferencing? It’s that we get to see ourselves included on the screen. I don't think you need to have narcissistic tendencies to be glued to the self-image as much as to the other people facing us. We are spared this in a live meeting.
When we work as presentation coaches, we are accustomed to hearing people’s reactions when seeing themselves. Many of the courses we run involve filming presentations and then analysing people’s performance on screen. We know how challenging this is for many when they see themselves, "Is that what I look like? I hate my voice? Wow, how I've aged!” And so it goes on – the continual yamma-yamma of self-reproach and self-absorption.
By helping participants overcome the tyranny of self-criticism (and occasionally vanity), we enable them to eventually take a step back and genuinely see themselves as others see them. It’s a great learning tool.
However, whether it’s Zoom or another platform, we are confronted with the ever-present self-image. It takes an act of will not to become fixated on ourselves, when you're really trying to focus on what others are saying. In our presentation courses, we advise people to avoid being self-conscious by focusing on the audience. “Over there, is more important than over here”, we say. The same applies on conference calls, even more so. By focusing on other people’s contributions and reactions, you are less likely to be drawn into the luring image of the ever-present ‘selfie’.
On screen you’re trying to read nuances of reaction and expression on multiple faces little bigger than postage stamps in some cases, and missing most of the body language. ‘Reading people’ in this environment is incredibly useful as you practise sensing people’s attitudes and feelings about what’s being discussed.
And let’s not ignore the value of seeing yourself. Just as there is learning in the presentation course, so there is on the conference call. You are now aware of how others are seeing you, which you can then change, for instance if you need to become more animated or less stern looking when listening. I know someone who blocks out here own image on her screen in meetings as she finds it too distracting; she is still seen by others but does not see how they see her. Not being able to check how you come across is potentially risky in an environment where visual image is the currency.