EYE CONTACT IN THE VIRTUAL SPACE
Updated: Jun 25, 2020
Connecting to others behind the camera and on the screen
Making eye contact is the best way to communicate acknowledgment, interest, and recognition; its also a way to build and maintain social and professional relationships. So, if we're not face to face, do these rules still apply? The short answer is YES! Digital communication won't adequately fulfill our human needs of interaction, socializing, and connection. However, due to COVID 19, digital communication has become the go-to mode for connecting with others outside our home. Global and remote workers have been utilizing video conferences as a means to communicate for some time. Now the rest of the world is learning to transition from the physical to the digital world. As we navigate this new digital space, The Narrative Body is here to help you feel connected to others behind the camera and on the screen.
What are the best practices when it comes to virtual eye contact?
1. All the right angles. Before you begin your video conference, make sure your camera is set up so the viewers can easily make eye contact with you. Determine if the computer or camera is a comfortable distance from your body. Video conference attendees may lose crucial nonverbal cues such as eye contact, head nods, and facial expressions if you are too close or far away from the camera. In addition to distance, you want the camera set up roughly at eye height. Finding the right hight might take a bit of adjusting (propping up your laptop with books or lowering your chair have been helpful for us!) We advise taking a moment before you jump on a VC to set yourself up and test it out.
2. Get comfortable. Typically we should be making eye contact for about 50-60% of the conversation and holding eye contact for about 3-5 seconds. This is not easy! If you know you are uncomfortable making eye contact via video conference, try a practice run, jump on a call with a friend, and test it out. Have the friend offer you some helpful feedback or record yourself and watch it back to determine your strengths and points of improvement. Remember to keep things natural, too much eye contact can be awkward and uncomfortable. We don't want to end up looking like we are staring into the screen! It's okay to blink and shift the gaze naturally.
3. Who are you looking at? You are not alone if you find it odd to be staring into a tiny camera in your computer. Seeing as this is the new normal, we are all learning as we go. If you tend to get distracted or look at yourself rather than the person you are speaking with, take a moment to adjust the preferences. If you are looking at yourself rather than the camera, you may appear to be disinterested or distracted. Most VC programs have a feature to minimize your picture or switch it off completely. This eliminates or reduces any temptations you may have to fix your hair or adjust the way you look. Eliminating these visual distractions can lead to productive meetings, thoughtful interactions, and active listening.
4. Pay attention. Sometimes we forget that the screen works both ways, especially when we are working from home. It's is a tough time to be working remotely, and distractions are at a maximum. Your home might be doubling as an office for several people, school, and gym. Find a place in your home that is free of background distractions, don't discount your bathroom, garage, or hallway! If you get tempted to multitask, remember that it's visually obvious when you are looking at your phone, checking emails, or doing other work. Try to apply the same rules as if you were in a conference room meeting or presentation. Failing to make eye contact shows that you are disengaged; however, it can also devalue and belittle the speaker.
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