Anybody Out There: What’s the Deal with Webcams, Anyway?

Have you ever set up a breakout room and only half the people went there? They didn’t ‘move’ because they were no longer at their desk. But how could you know: their webcam was OFF!

Have you ever found yourself begging, even pleading, for individuals in a Zoom meeting to turn their webcam ON, but to no avail? You are left wondering, don’t they care?

Have you been in a session with your webcam ON, but find yourself wondering why? After 90 minutes you were not invited to do or say anything to anyone, so why did the presenter need to see you?

Over the past months, I have noticed a growing confusion and frustration about the webcam tool in webinar platforms. When should they be ON? When should they be OFF? When do we insist?

Allow me to bust a few myths and offer some tips to consider.


Mythbuster #1 – Webcams should be ON 100% of the time in a webinar. False.

Everything we do in a meeting, training or gathering – the plan and facilitation – should be intentional. We need to ask the question: What will best serve the learning and the learners, having webcams ON or OFF? When doesn’t it really matter much, and participants should decide for themselves?

Mythbuster #2 – When webcams are OFF it means participants are not interested. False.

There are many reasons people have their webcam OFF. These include:

  • Poor bandwidth. Turning your webcam OFF will reduce the demand on your Wi-Fi and reduce the possibility of losing the connection. It may be a necessity.
  • Poor location. Whether you don’t want to share where you are sitting or the background, turning your webcam OFF can help you feel comfortable to participate more fully. Of course, you may want to use a pre-selected e-background (your own or from the internet), but sometimes this is not enough.
  • Zoom fatigue. Zoom fatigue is real and needs to be taken seriously. Here are some thoughts about how to address this. One thing is true, we need to invite webcam usage intentionally and explain why we are strongly recommending it from time-to-time.
  • I’m having a bad day. There are many reasons for having a bad day: just came back from the dentist, illness, just got out of bed. We need to be careful not to judge or make assumptions about why we can’t see someone.
  • I’m in the middle of something. Whether eating, tending to a child, driving, or another reasonable explanation for being OFF screen, it does not mean disinterest. What’s important is for individuals to communicate their unique situation to the group.

Mythbuster#3 – Everyone knows how to use their webcam and microphone in web platforms. False.

Although many people meet and work online with others for multiple hours each day, a surprising number of people are still not comfortable with the technology in Zoom and other web platforms. If you plan to use a technique that requires turning the webcam ON and OFF – such as True for You – you may need to practice it before starting. As well, for some groups you may want to start your session by reviewing your technology guidelines – Tips for Using Zoom may have some helpful ideas.


Truth #1 – Some people have their webcam OFF because they really don’t want to be there.

When participants don’t know why they have been invited to a meeting or that they have something of value to offer, they may disengage. The easiest way to do this is to keep their webcam OFF.

TIP: If participants are invited into breakout rooms and they don’t go (because they have stepped away from their desk and have their webcam OFF), move them out of the meeting. Clearly, they don’t want to be there – if this is not true, they will come back! Let people know in advance that you will be doing this.

Truth #2 – Some people are doing more than one thing at once.

Webcams are often OFF because an individual is working, doing something else or in another meeting (yup, this is true). This is not good and is the reason you may want to suggest they step out of this meeting and attend to their other commitment. Trying to do two things at the same time often means neither gets done well.

TIP: Send the agenda or plan for the meeting or gathering and invite individuals to let you know if they feel their participation is unnecessary. Having some at a meeting they don’t feel they should be at, will only breed resistance. See 10 Ways to Minimize Resistance for tips on how to handle this.

Truth #3 – Some people have their webcam OFF to send a message.

They are trying to say, “Please don’t call on me, I prefer not to be disturbed” or “I really don’t want to be noticed or called on.”

TIP: This may be true but is not helpful. Ensure that everyone is needed who has been invited to a training and clarify why. If they are needed, their full presence is preferred.

For more tips and examples on how to use webcams effectively download this resource.

I invite you to see webcams as a tool. Our responsibility is to decide when it is best turned ON, when it is better OFF, and when it really doesn’t matter.

When do you intentionally invite participants to turn their webcam ON or OFF?

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Jeanette Romkema is GLP Senior Partner, Knowledge Broker, as well as Partnerships & Network Leader. 

Here are more GLP blogs by Jeanette.

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