One of the hardest habits to rewire when it comes to connecting over video, is where to look…and when.
While many of us know we should look into the lens, the crucial detail we often neglect is the core difference between whether you are the active speaker, or not.
The golden rule for eye gaze on video (and the way we have built our eye gaze thresholds at Virtual Sapiens) is:
👀 Look into the lens when you are the active speaker.
👀 Look at the screen (and yes, this can be at the other participants!) when you are the active listener.
The reasons behind this logic are simple, and backed by nonverbal and neurological research recently confirmed by Stanford University’s Virtual Interactive Lab.
Our eye gaze is a core nonverbal cue we depend upon as humans when it comes to understanding someone’s intent and emotional state. We look to someone’s eye gaze to determine trust – a HUGELY important factor in professional conversations.
On video, if we are the active speaker, that is to say, we are the one who is sharing information, we have an imperative to clearly share the fullest impact of our message. On video, the best way to do this, is to look into the lens when talking. Since the lens aligns with the audience’s perspective, we can ensure our audience is seeing all that we have to offer as a communicator in that moment.
In this way, we can more easily share confidence, we can share happiness, sadness and even anger.
Conversely, if we are speaking and looking at someone’s image on the screen (especially if the direction of our eyes is downcast, or off to the side), we appear distant from our message.
Our audience gets a less direct, less accurate and more scattered representation of how we may feel about a certain message.
On video, we do not want to leave any room for uncertainty if we can help it. Looking into the lens when we are the active speaker helps us get our message across with more impact.
Now, if you are an active listener, that is, not the one speaking in a given moment, you can feel free to look at your screen and the person who is speaking. This helps you better digest their message, especially if they are themselves looking into the lens (Which they should be).
Two important things to note:
- If you are the active speaker, do not stare, unblinkingly into the lens. In short, this comes across as unsettling, and creepy. It is too intense an experience for the viewer, so be sure to keep your blink rate natural
- If you are listening, ensure your participants faces are as centered and close to the lens as possible. This allows the speakers in the group to feel more heard and seen when talking since you won’t be looking completely off to the side. Again, this can produce an unsettling feeling for others on the call.