Making it Easier to Look at the Camera on Zoom: Skills vs. Tools
Making direct eye contact with another person is one of our most important communication tools. It conveys confidence, credibility and interest, while making the other person feel seen and heard. And it’s one of the biggest challenges we face in a virtual world. Currently, the only way to make direct eye contact with another person virtually is to look at the camera on Zoom or another virtual platform.
While technology has come up with a few tools that make looking at the camera easier, it has yet to eliminate the need for the human skills that make direct eye contact possible, maintainable, and natural.
The Problem with Most Webcams
Few cameras line up exactly with your sightline – much less your customer’s. In fact, some laptop cameras are located in such awkward spots it’s hard to believe the designer anticipated anyone ever using it! External webcams offer greater flexibility, but they usually sit at the top of your screen. This position limits your ability to see images on your screen if you’re looking at the camera. And, if you have a large screen, requires you to crane your neck if you want to make eye contact.
You’ve probably tried moving the images around on your screen to line up as closely with your camera as possible, but it’s not always a perfect match. So what can you do?
Tools for Looking at the Camera: Location, Location, Location
Unsurprisingly, the pandemic ushered in new tools designed to make it easier to mimic eye contact on a virtual call. One type is a movable camera holder that allows you to position your camera in front of your screen. Plexicam is a good example of this. The second type is an actual camera, called The Center Cam. This small camera is attached to a flexible cord that clips to the top of your screen, allowing you to float the camera in front of your screen.
Tools like these can be very helpful, however, don’t be fooled into thinking that simply placing your camera in a more accessible spot solves all the challenges associated with making eye contact, reading body language, and managing your audience on camera. That require new skills as well. Here’s why:
Why You Need Skills to Look at the Camera on Zoom
You Still Have to Look at the Camera
No matter where your camera is located, the challenge is the same: you still have to look at it! The human eye is very precise. Ever had someone look just slightly off-center at you? Either to the side, above or below your own eyes? You may have wondered if they were shy, distracted, or saw someone sneaking up behind you! That’s because the human eye is very precise in determining direction of gaze. And on camera where everything is magnified, if you’re off a little, you’re off a lot. Close only counts in horseshoes, not in the very real activity of building actual relationships.
Focusing on One Spot is Unnatural
Most people have never had to stare at a single point for an extended period of time – whether that point is a camera or a pair of eyes. (Unless you grew up in a household where staring at the wall was punishment. But at least you had an entire wall to look at!) Even when watching a television show or movie, your gaze likely moves around the screen rather than staying pinned to a single spot.
Developing the ability to stay focused on a single point – while maintaining a soft, natural gaze no matter where your camera sits – does not come naturally. It is a necessary skill we need to acquire to connect in a virtual world.
Any Camera Will Obscure Some Body Language
Cameras are not invisible…yet! That means if your camera is positioned right where your customer’s eyes or face are, a portion of either their eyes or their face will be obscured by it. In other words, you still need skills for reading incomplete body language without breaking eye contact or moving your camera.
With the many configurations of virtual meetings (one-to-one, one-to-few, one-to-many) it’s vital to have multiple ways to read body language without being tied to the limitations of your camera. Those skills should include: how to read macro body language (major movements, changes in expression, etc.) while staying connected visually, and how to read micro body language (smaller more nuanced expressions and eye movement) via non-disruptive visual check-ins.
Different Audiences Require Different Strategies
It’s always going to be easier to speak one-to-one or one-to-many through a camera. For example, in one-to-one meetings (which The Center Cam was initially designed for) you won’t have other people leaving or joining or requiring your attention. For large events or webinars (which PlexiCam was created for) the strategy is remarkably similar to one-on-one meetings: Look at the camera and talk to one person. Why? Because it’s physically impossible to read or track a large audience virtually. (And what will you do anyway if you see one person who looks bored? Stop the entire meeting?!)
It’s those in between size of 2-12 people (which many virtual meetings fall into) that present greater and more varied challenges. With two or more people your attention will constantly be drawn away from the camera. Your intuition will beg you to address someone’s movement, or coming and going. Not to mention the many blinking lights and movement within your own platform.
The knee-jerk reaction is to follow these movements where they go, eyes darting around your screen like a nervous mouse. And in the process, constantly breaking your connection with everyone in the meeting. What about moving your camera to a new and improved position? While this might comfort you, it’s a major distraction to your audience as any movement is a proven attention-magnet on screen.
Having a flexible strategy for virtual meetings and calls of all sizes is vital, unless your meetings are strictly one-on-one or presenting to large groups. This strategy should help you know precisely when it’s least disruptive to break eye contact and visually check in with your audience or manage your tools. And, it will keep you from conveying insecurity or guilt which is often associated with darting eyes.
Bottom Line On Looking at the Camera on Zoom to Make Eye Contact:
Technology undoubtedly has more in store for us, but technology can’t replace many human skills – especially when it comes to connecting with other humans. By all means, use whatever tools make it easier for you to align your gaze closer to the camera, or the eyes of your audience. But don’t neglect the skills that will help you make that eye contact more natural, maintainable, and flexible for a wide variety of virtual situations.
If you are ready to tap into the power of building personal virtual relationships through the screen, I’ve laid the path out for you in my new book that won the 2021 Gold Medal Top Sales Book, Look Me In the Eye: Using Video to Build Relationships with Customers, Partners and Teams. In it you’ll find all the steps and tactics you need to engage your audience.
Get your copy today on Amazon!