I’ve done it, you’ve done it… let’s face it, we’ve all done it! Stolen a furtive glance at our self-image on Zoom, or even worse conducted an entire call in conversation with ourselves.
This actually happened to me a few weeks ago. I was on a Zoom call with a client and she talked to herself for the entire conversation. The image I received via video was of her facing away from me, seemingly talking to an imaginary third person in the conversation.
One of our challenges in moving from in-person to virtual communication is our lack of awareness of the social and interpersonal cues that are equally important, if not more important, when we remove the spontaneity and intuitive ‘reading’ of body language that we unconsciously engage in when face-to-face.
Eye contact is a critical communication skill that conveys character, confidence, connection, trust and integrity among many other qualities.
When we meet someone for the first time, it’s important to engage in direct eye contact to establish rapport. When someone shakes our hand and looks over our shoulder, as if there is a better offer coming their way, it’s disconcerting and triggers distrust.
A similar lack of eye contact in general conversation, or when presenting, has your audience questioning your knowledge and capability. Nerves can take over and with it, our capacity to hold eye contact with our audience.
Our recommendation is to direct ‘one thought to one person’, literally holding the length and direction of your gaze for a little longer than feels natural. This creates a moment of connection with each member of the audience where they feel validated. It’s in that moment, when trust, rapport and credibility are established.
For the foreseeable future, in a Covid-19 world, that first impression is taking place remotely via video conference.
This is not to say that you need to spend the entire call looking directly at your camera, but certainly when you are speaking it’s a good discipline to get in the habit of.
At Transition Hub, we talk about the 80/20 rule. Ideally, you want 80% of your focus to be on the person you are communicating with. It’s natural to look away to collect your thoughts, or recall information, but it’s important to maintain focus for the majority of the conversation.
Interestingly, this differs across cultures. In many Asian countries, particularly Japan, and some indigenous cultures, using direct eye contact with someone who has more social standing than you is a sign of disrespect. There are many layers of social nuance that account for levels of seniority and authority, which dictate what level of eye contact is appropriate. Given that, it pays to do your cultural homework if you are working internationally.
So, next time you are dialing into a Zoom call, remember to look directly at your camera when introducing yourself and engage eye contact with your audience for 80% of the time. And when we can finally come back together safely in person, make sure your handshake is accompanied with a smile and that very human moment of connection that occurs when we lock eyes.
Coach & author bio: A gifted writer, facilitator and coach, Karen Thomas works with our clients to develop global transformation programs, crafting meaningful messages into positive training experiences. As a co-founder and Director of Transition Hub, Karen has created our signature playbook and coach training methodology.