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  • Writer's pictureKate Crawshaw

Improving virtual workshops - with a cinematographer's mindset.

Updated: Dec 27, 2021

At Serious Woo, we like to say:

“Creating a breakout room doth not an online facilitator make”.

Online communication is tricky. Online facilitation is even harder. It’s tiring and frankly unnatural as we learn to synthesise verbal and nonverbal communication in a completely different way from our face-to-face encounters.

It can also stress us to the core. A Stanford University study has uncovered that our lack of control around personal space and what we see on screen can actually trigger our fight or flight reflex.

Take a moment to imagine your last Zoom conference on a cinema screen.

A constant montage of large heads with poorly timed sound.

My heart is already racing.

Cinematographers would never edit a film in such a way because it is unnatural. It hurts our heads as our brains scramble to decipher what’s going on. “That person is too close,” says my brain, “will it attack me?”

Everyone needs to make it as easy as possible to fully engage with the information and discussions that are taking place in our everyday.

Now that so much of this via web conference, what can Oscar award-winning villain Hannibal Lecter teach us about creating a more engaging space online?

Lighting is a key differentiator between hero and villain

We all knew as kids that sticking a torch under our chins could scare any an unsuspecting slumber party guest. Lighting is a critical element in making villains look as evil as possible.

If our eyes are obscured we impact the level of trust and empathy we feel for the person. Positioning a lamp directly on your face can throw your eyes into shadow and emphasis the skull shape of your face. Here is Hannibal showing us how it works.

Image of Hannibal Lecter with darkened eyes
"I can't see your eyes Dr Lecter?" ..................................................."Just come a little closer my dear.."

A time-honoured approach by cinematographers, but possibly not the look you are going for at your next WIP meeting. Further lighting tips can be found here

Framing and Eyelines.

When Agent Starling first meets Dr Lecter we witness a power struggle that is communicated purely through camera framing.

Shooting a character from a low angle (camera low, person higher) gives a character power. Shooting from a high angle (camera high, person low) takes it away. (Their struggle is real, relive it here)

A very tight shot of Hannibal sends our hearts racing. It is confronting. We have nowhere to go.

Consider your eyeline, camera angle and framing when you set up your webcam. It can unconsciously have an incredible impact on your status with the group and the level of trust your communicate.

Minimising the screen and moving it as close as possible to the webcam can help. Alternatively print a photo of and tape it just about the webcam and use that as your line of focus.

Look at these guys play it out.

In the first two shots, they are at equal height. As soon as Dr Lecter invites Agent Starling to sit down, eyelines change and an immediate impact to their status is made.

During the scene, the camera shoots Lecter at a much tighter angle, intensifying our fear and suspicion of him. (Are you giving yourself the Lecter treatment?)

close up of Hannibal lecter from the film silence of the lambs
"I thought I was appearing trustworthy," says Dr Lecter, "But it appears I am freaking you all out."

Break up the intensity

Filming Silence of the Lambs was an intense experience for its crew, and we hope considerably more stressful than any of your Webex, Teams or Zoom calls.

However, we can still learn from the crew’s approach of distraction, humour and games to switch focus, lighten the mood and give the cerebellum a break,

We know that attention spans drop considerably on video conference calls, so structure your meeting or workshop with this in mind and vary the activities and break times to keep everyone engaged and refreshed.

Beyond Hannibal

Our Online Facilitation with Flair workshop is 3 x 90 minutes of action-packed experiential learning to ensure that you have the insider knowledge on how best to run facilitated workshops online.

Participants leave understanding:

  • The best technical set up to ensure the highest level of verbal and non-verbal communication

  • Recommendations on how to structure various facilitated workshop types including consensus making and conflict

  • Understanding how people operate differently in the online environment and how to maximise engagement and encourage participation

  • Building psychological safety for both you and your participants.

It is relevant for both novice and experienced facilitators.

Some feedback from recent sessions with the CFA.

The workshop has given me great comfort in knowing various things about smooth facilitation. It is hands down one of the best workshops I have attended.
I feel far more prepared of online facilitation and more comfortable with any issues that may arise
I was nervous about learning how to use it but I think how it was presented was well done and now I feel comfortable that I can go away and have time to play/learn it myself in more detail. I loved the session. I was initially very anxious as I haven't done much (read any!) facilitation and it's on my performance plan to undertake training and practice.


Our EOY offer to you.

Book and pay for your team’s online facilitation course (from $120 pp) before the end of the financial year and we include a complimentary 30 min online team building session. These sessions are great ways to encourage creative thinking and have fun online. See our Ice-o-lation Breakers for more details on the team building session.

Courses can be booked until December 15 2020

Telephone (03) 9015 4253 or email for more information or to schedule your session.

9015 4253


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