Where to Look and Other Video Conference Tips
Bringing forth our best communication skills on a video conference makes interactions much more engaging. It is not quite in-person, but video is a much richer interaction than over the phone. What do we need to keep in mind on video? The question I get most often is, ‘where do I look on the screen?’ If we look at the people or content it can seem to others like we are looking in our laps. Not good. The short answer to that common question is move your eyes around, just like you would in person. The long answer is part of my four tips for better video conference communication:
- pretend you are in person
- use both verbal and nonverbal communication
- avoid distractions
- stay audience aware
1) Pretend You Are In Person
It is easy to feel more casual when interacting over video, but it is better to treat the situation as if we are in person. We can ask ourselves, ‘would I be dressed this way and doing what I am doing if that person was here with me?’ That typically means that we are dressed professionally (at least on the top half). It also means we are sitting in a chair at a table or desk. Importantly we are notmultitasking getting some other project done or checking email while engaging with someone.
2) Use Skillful Verbal & Nonverbal Communication
Our voice can be interesting if we vary our pitch, volume, and speed of speaking. Our voice can put others to sleep if we keep the same tone, volume, and pace the whole time. It helps to remember we are speaking with someone, not to someone. We can speak faster to show excitement and slow down when a point is super important. It also helps to call in on a phone instead of using computer audio because the sound of our voice is clearer and there is less environmental noise.
Effective nonverbal communication shifts a bit from in person to on video. On video only our upper torso is visible and therefore body language expression needs to occur in that area. Our facial expressions need to animate more, and we can use head tilts and nods to show we are listening. Now to the details on where to look, the most common question. Going back to the first tip – pretend you are in person – we look many different places when we are in person, so we should do the same on video. What is different is the many different places are spatially limited to the screen. I recommend looking directly in the camera because then it appears we are making eye contact. But don’t looks just there because then it is like a broadcast reporter staring into the camera. Move from the camera to the other people on video, to the content displayed on the screen and then back to the camera. This way it will appear more natural, much like it would in person. It helps to drag the box with the video of other participants to the top of your screen so when we look at them, our eyes are just adjusting slightly, and our heads don’t need to move down to see them.
The last element of nonverbal communication on video is hand motions. If we use hand motions where people can’t see them, they may wonder what exactly we are doing with our hands. Better to move our hand motions up to the level of our chest and shoulders. It might feel a bit odd at first, but when we watch ourselves on video it looks natural. We also need to move our hands more slowly to avoid blurring in the video. Keeping our voice, face, eyes, and upper body animated on video conference shows we are engaged and helps keep others interested.
3) Avoid Distractions
We are curious beings and if there is something visually interesting going on in video behind the speaker or listener, we can easily get distracted. Before getting on a video conference, test the system and look at all that is in the view window. Do we want people looking at that picture of us in our bathing suit or dancing on a rooftop? Is our to-do list on the whiteboard? Is there an unmade bed or unfolded laundry visible in a home office? Clean up the view window to reduce the distractions. We can also give officemates or roommates heads up that we are jumping on video, so they don’t inadvertently come into view. Turning off alerts or going into Do Not Disturb mode on our devices eliminates another form of distraction. Not touching our hair, face, or clothing is another way to avoid distraction. It helps to remember we are being watched and to look at ourselves as well as the other participants as we are moving our eyes intentionally around the screen.
4) Stay Audience Aware
On video we only get a little square headshot of our audience to receive nonverbal listener feedback. That means we need to be acutely aware of the nonverbal signals given and we need to seek more verbal feedback. Take turns looking at every person who is in the meeting. This is more easily done if we use the gallery or multi-person video option. Still remember to look at the camera in between looking at people. If we see someone distracted – either looking down or up or (worse case) leaving the video screen – we can stop talking and ask questions. Overall it is just a good idea on video to pause more often and ask more questions.
Video conference is a great way to have more of a human connection when you cannot meet in person. Being intentional about how we communicate through this method improves our interactions. When we pretend we are in person, skillfully use verbal and nonverbal communication, avoid distractions, and stay audience aware, then the people on the other end of this technology will be much more interested and engaged.