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The Power of Eye Contact with the Camera in Virtual Communication

We all know that eye contact is one of the most salient social cues and yet most of us are missing out on the dynamism and energy of this fundamental aspect of our humanity in the often-flat, always two-dimensional world of virtual communication. Here are a few reminders as to why we should pay attention to the type of attention we are paying.

While we instinctively get the value of this soft skill, there is a lot of hard-nosed empirical evidence as to why we come to identify and feel empathy with our speaker or listener when eye contact is established. Studies have shown that we also rate the person establishing eye contact as having more credibility, confidence and a higher social status. Contrarily, if eye contact is absent, the science shows how we may lose trust in the person, feel rejected by them and even question the level of their intelligence.

Obvious isn’t it, certainly not rocket science! I am sure we can all clearly remember both experiences, how they felt and who made us feel that way, particularly from in-person, face to face interactions. This awareness may have been pushed from the forefront of our minds by other more pressing professional and personal concerns in these uncertain times where the urgent eclipses the important.

Just because we can, and should, show compassion and tolerance of our own and others’ virtual communication shortcomings, particularly in the current challenging circumstances, it does not mean our ancient brain just gives up its snap response to this modern mode of communication. The basic survival response still stands - social connection makes us feel safe, disconnection triggers stress and anxiety levels.

Of the clients I have worked with in the past year where I did not have to prompt them to give more eye contact to the camera, they are but few. Most of us are lulled into the false impression that because we look at the other party (or ourselves) on the screen, that we are somehow making a connection with them. But it does not read or feel that way for the audience, as they may be looking at your forehead, eyelids, nostrils etc. Nobody ever said, “look me in the forehead and tell me that”. I can’t understand why the tech sector has not sorted that one out yet because I’m sure you already know this, even if we don’t always do what we know.

The benchmark I seek in establishing eye contact with the camera is: 70% of the time when speaking and 50% of the time when listening. I know this may seems like a high bar which is difficult to maintain but with the right approach, it can become like second nature. The outcome for you and your audience is a more life-affirming connection and ultimately clearer, more effective communication. In the simple act of shifting our attention to a make a more purposeful connection with the camera, we can raise our own levels of energy, focus and presence to help us connect with, inspire and influence others in our virtual communication.

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