In-Person or Virtual – the Eyes Have It
Sometimes our body language speaks louder than our words, and eye contact may well be the aspect of body language that “speaks” loudest of all. In the U.S. and other Western cultures, the eye contact of a speaker is seen as a sign of respect for the listeners, projecting sincerity and honest intentions. (As law enforcers have learned, deceptive people generally don’t maintain eye contact!)
An interesting fact about eyes… As humans, we’re the only primates with white eyeballs. (With other creatures, whose sclera are dark-colored, it’s more difficult to determine in which direction they’re looking!)
In a virtual environment (such as training meetings or conferences on Zoom), eye contact takes on even greater importance than in face-to-face or stage presentations. That’s because, online, less of the speaker’s body is visible. Whatever the venue, but particularly in virtual environments, experts recommend keeping eye contact for 60-70% of the time.
Looking into the camera
In your presentation, the goal might be to command authority, to make an emotional connection, to rally cooperation, or to teach a skill. Any of these will be more readily accomplished with eye contact. But in a virtual presentation, into which set of eyes are we supposed to be looking? Our natural inclination is to look at one or more of the attendees shown on our screen, or even worse, at our own image. In an online presentation, though, there is only one “eye” on which to focus the bulk of your attention – the camera’s lens. Before getting started, know the position of the camera on the device you are using to communicate, whether it’s a laptop, a smart phone, or a full sized desktop computer with a mounted camera device.
The first few moments of your virtual presentation are crucial, so always look right into the eyes of your audience (through the camera lens, remember?) with a smile before introducing both yourself and the topic you intend to share with them. This little gesture may seem minor to some, but it will play a very crucial role in the effectiveness of the next several minutes of your presentation.
Maintaining eye contact is critical in online presentations. In a conference room or onstage, you can alternate looking at different people, ensuring that each feels your attention. In a virtual presentation, there may be dozens or even hundreds of participants, but each one is seeing your eyes through the camera’s eye.
To be sure, keeping your audience’s attention and concentration is a challenge during virtual presentations. Each listener may be in a different environment, with various distractions pulling their focus away from you and your message. Meanwhile, you, too, need to eliminate distractions in your own environment. Your audience needs to know you’re as fully engaged as you want them to be.
What about referring to your notes? Your audience, you fear, may start losing focus when you look away from the camera. The best way to handle this is to clip your notes to your laptop or to a clipboard “stand” placed right behind your computer screen.
When presenting online, look into the camera and show your audience the “whites of your eyes”!