A simple set of gestures can beat emojis to communicate in video conferences

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Researchers have developed and demonstrated the potential benefits of a simple set of physical gestures that participants of online group video meetings can use to enhance their meeting experience. Paul D. Hills from University College London, UK, and his colleagues from University College London and the University of Exeter, UK, present the technique, which they call Video Meeting Signals (VMS ™), in the open access journal PLOS ONE on August 3, 2022.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, online video conferencing has been a useful tool for industry, education, and social interaction. However, it has also been associated with poor mental well-being, poor communication, and fatigue.

To help overcome the challenges of online video conferencing, Hills has developed VMS, a set of simple physical gestures that can be used alongside verbal communication during a video conference. Gestures – including two thumbs up to signal agreement or a hand to the heart to show sympathy – are meant to enhance experiences by serving a similar function to subtle face-to-face signals, such as raising eyebrows raised, while being more visible. in a small video frame.

To investigate the potential of VMS, Hills and his colleagues first tested it with more than 100 undergraduate students. After half had been trained in the technique, the students participated in two video seminars in groups of about 10 students each, before answering a survey about their experience.

Analysis of the survey results showed that, compared to students without VMS training, those who took VMS training reported a better personal experience, better feelings about their seminar group, and better learning outcomes. ‘learning. Analysis of seminar transcripts also suggested that students with VMS training were more likely to use positive language.

Similar results were observed in a follow-up experiment with participants who were not students. This experiment also suggested that participants trained to use emojis instead of VMS gestures did not experience the same improved experience as VMS training participants.

These results suggest that VMS can be an effective technique to help overcome videoconferencing challenges. In the future, researchers plan to continue studying VMS, for example by investigating the mechanisms that may underlie its effects and how to apply it for maximum benefit.

Paul D. Hills adds, “Our research indicates that there is something about the use of gestures that seems to specifically aid online interactions and help people connect and engage with each other. can improve team performance, make meetings more inclusive and contribute to psychological well-being.” .”

Daniel C. Richardson adds, “Because you can’t make eye contact or pick up subtle nods, gestures, and whispers of agreement or dissent in videoconferences, it can be hard to tell if people are engaged with what you say. We found strong evidence that encouraging people to use more natural hand gestures had a much better effect on their experience.”

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