Tips for Top Virtual Meetings 5 - Eye Contact & Presence
Last time I looked at how to set yourself up for great presence. That was the easy bit! Now we really get down to the essence of presence…
Engaging communication, rapport, ‘chemistry’ all rely significantly on eye contact. When the speaker doesn’t have good eye contact you feel he or she isn’t really interested in talking to you (like that person who constantly looks over your shoulder in the pub?), or perhaps that they don’t care or are embarrassed about what they are saying. In addition, listening as one of a group, if the speaker never looks at you, you feel distanced, left out.
This is a major reason why speakers in virtual settings struggle to engage people. They are not looking at their listeners with consistent, purposeful eye contact… because they are not looking directly into the camera lens! But this is not easy, it is utterly counterintuitive. Confident people naturally look at the faces and eyes in front of them, wanting to talk directly to them and gain valuable feedback from facial expressions. (It is one of the skills less confident people really need to work on in face-to-face meetings). But on the virtual platforms, looking at the faces in front of you means you are not looking them in the eyes!
So, as you speak in a virtual meeting, look directly at the camera lens, imagine you can see a face through it. Perhaps picture someone you know; it can make it easier. As you speak, look predominantly through the lens and only occasionally look round at the faces, not as a nervous flit between one and the other: purposefully scan some faces, you are looking for something: their reaction. Then back to the lens. Just as if you are talking to a group in the real world but one ‘person’ (the lens) gets most of the attention (not advisable in real world meetings!).
Before your next meeting, practice talking to your webcam. Record yourself, try again until you think you look natural and sincere and have lost any ‘rabbit in the headlights’ look.
One last point on eyes: raise your laptop on a block or box file until the camera lens is level with your eyes. If you are slightly looking down to the lens the angle is not always flattering, but much more importantly it conveys an odd impression of, guess what, talking down to people. It can almost be intimidating, but whichever, it isn’t comfortable for the listener.