This is the first in a series of seemingly simple web presentation techniques. When you read this, you will probably say “duh.” But the next time you’re on a webinar or web meeting, see how often people don’t do these things, and how much it impacts your experience as an audience member.
The next time you’re on a webinar or web meeting, pay attention to see if the speaker is making eye contact with you. Odds are they aren’t, and the odds are equally good that it affects your attention span and understanding of their message.
It seems obvious, but when presenting online we tend to forget that eye contact still matters. The way to make eye contact online, however, is completely unnatural and takes practice.
Why is it different online?
If you were in a live presentation, and the speaker wasn’t looking directly at you, but seemed to always direct their comments up and to the left over your head, or at the floor, you would probably draw some (most likely unfair) conclusions about their confidence, ability and credibility. We have known this since Demosthenes drew up the rules for rhetoric in Ancient Greece. Why is it any different online?
The short answer is, it’s not. But as a presenter, it’s easy to forget a very simple rule: The equivalent of looking an audience member square in the eyes is wherever your webcam is. Why is this so easy to forget? Because for most of us, the only way we can see our audience is on our monitor.
The natural thing to do is talk to the person (or people) we can see. Often that visual is on our monitor, in an upper or lower corner. We talk to the picture on the screen. If we are using the webcam in our laptop, that’s not a big issue because there isn’t a huge difference in the location. We might be looking a bit off to the side but it’s not too off-putting.
If you are using a second monitor, or an external webcam, where you are looking and where the audience’s attention is are often in two different places. We are speaking clearly and making great points, but we stare off in a completely different direction than where the audience is focused.
The simplest thing is to simply remind yourself where the best point of eye contact is. You don’t have to stare creepily into the camera all the time,. People don’t mind you looking off to the side or checking your notes (we do it in live presentations all the time) but there are times when you want to lock eyes with your audience and create a connection.
If you take a moment to think rationally (something web presenting makes surprisingly difficult) you know when you need to be aware of the audience:
When you are greeting your audience and introducing yourself
Odds are you know who you are and what you’re going to talk about. You don’t need to read the slides to say this. Look into the camera, smile and create a connection.
When you make a key point
When you present live in front of an audience, you want to make sure that your key points are delivered so you are looking directly at them and vice versa. The same is true on webcam. When you say, “and the total budget is two million dollars,” You want to look directly at the camera and into their eyeballs. It gives you the air of credibility and that you’re not afraid to say what you have to say. You don’t have to hold that gaze for long, but you don’t want to look like you’re staring at the floor and avoiding them either.
When you are soliciting questions (you are asking for input, right?)
In a live presentation a lot of the interaction happens non-verbally. We can see if someone has questions, or if the speaker is avoiding confrontation by where people are looking. Since that’s hard to do online, remember to simply look your audience in the eye when you asks for questions as if you really mean it. (and remember, their eyes are NOT where they appear on the monitor. They are where the camera lens is.)
There are some simple ways to remember this. I cheat, and put my external camera (which is on a tabletop tripod and a long usb cord) in front of where people’s video appears on my screen. That way I can look at their picture AND at the camera at the same time.
Other people put a post-it with an eyeball (hopefully not too disturbing) right nexgt to their webcam to remind themselves that’s where the attention should be.
Simply looking your audience in the eye (and not being distracted by the monitor) will make a big difference in how you’re perceived when presenting online.
What are your best web-presenting tips? Comment and share the brilliance.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.