Season 1, episode 4, “The Last Outpost”
Lesson: Have parity of video chat on business calls (most of the time)
This post is part of my ongoing quest to watch every episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and pull one startup, entrepreneurship, tech, or investing lesson from each.
In this episode we meet the Ferengi, a race of shady Ross Perot-looking guys who are always looking to profit in a business dealing. The Enterprise crew have heard vague and conflicting reports about the Ferengi but don’t have firsthand experience with them. Because a force field is holding both the Enterprise and a Ferengi ship in place and draining their power, the two races have to communicate and work together to understand the threat.
I’m going to focus on a brief moment for this episode’s takeaway. When Picard hails the Ferengi ship and insists they respond, they first do so only on audio. Then Picard orders them to use video. They say that “visual communication is against our custom,” but finally agree to use it if Picard does too. The crew looks around, everyone shrugs as if to say it’s reasonable, and they start transmitting video.
It doesn’t matter that this was filmed in 1987 (or happened in Stardate 41386.4) — this same exchange and the social and technical awkwardness could have happened on any Zoom or Hangout or Facetime or Skype or Webex or whatever other myriad video chat software people use today. Apparently parity of video chat is still the social norm 350 years in the future, even across strangers from different species who have never met.
Here’s the rule: use the same format the other person’s using. If they tell you they can only do one or need to do one (like they have bad service or they’re driving so they can only do audio), that’s the one you do. It’s weird when one person is on video and the other isn’t, mainly because there’s a sort of vulnerability that comes from being visible and putting your facial reactions and body language on display. The recipient gets a lot more information from video than from audio alone, so it’s not an even playing field. Like if I’m doing a pitch on Zoom with a founder and they need to use video to present slides, I’m kind of an ass if I only do audio. I’m like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain observing them while they can’t do the same for me.
I do think there’s an exception when there’s an in-person majority on one side of the call using video, and you’re the only one (or one of a minority) calling in. Because most of the people are in one location, most of the meeting action will be there as well. Thus it’s not critical that your giant floating face be plastered on a screen glowering over those people. It ranges from mildly awkward to hilarious.
Obviously I speak from experience here. At Accomplice we have a meeting with the whole investment team to talk about new deals we’re working on each Monday. Almost everyone in this meeting is physically present in the office with a few people calling in via Zoom. If you’re one of the few call-ins on a Monday, your face is basically the entire massive monitor overlooking the conference room table. No one looks good from the angle where you’re looking down at your phone or your laptop. No one’s pores need to be seen in that high definition. One of our partners, who shall not be named, always broadcasts from a room in his basement with no windows or furniture where it looks like he’s being imprisoned. That is why I just leave the video off, sparing everyone the beautiful backdrop of the TSA line or the Lyft backseat.
Next up: episode 5, “Where No One Has Gone Before.”