I was asked recently in an online seminar, “what’s the most difficult thing you’ve had to adjust to in the new online world?”
The answer was easy. The most difficult thing for most of us to do is to change a habit. That’s the premise of almost all of our workshops that we do is we’re changing the habits of people’s communications. You learned to speak when you were about one year old, you’ve been speaking ever since, and you’ve developed a lot of habits around that. But unfortunately, most of them probably aren’t good. Undoing those habits is difficult, it’s the principal reason we have a business.
For the last 20 years or so, I’ve developed a habit I’ve tried very hard to do so, which I consider to be the number one tip for great in-person communication. That habit is to look people in the eye when you speak, it solves so many problems for the speaker and also for the audience. It’s a great habit to have, until you go online. Because online, I have a window that has your picture in it. That windows down here. And when I look at your picture, which makes me feel great and affirms the habit that I’ve created over the last two decades, you don’t think I’m looking at you because you’re right there.
The best tip for live communication is also the best tip for online communication. Look at your audience, but the major difference is your audience isn’t them, their face anymore. The audience is the camera. As you speak in an online meeting, look at the camera. Watching the six o’clock news will give you a great example of this. They look straight at the camera, even when the camera shifts, which when it’s live, they move their head accordingly. Of course, they have a red light on the top of the camera that tells them where to look and they have a teleprompter. That’s telling them everything to say, I don’t have that luxury here. This is not my teleprompter. I’m making this up. As we go along, I don’t really have any notes to read or anything else. I look at the camera and I speak. It’s just like you have to do it online.
Well, sure. I expect that you should have some notes, have something to say, and you’re welcome to look at them any time. But once again, your notes are not where your camera is, but just like in a live circumstance where I allow anybody to look at their notes, that’s perfectly okay, but don’t ever speak to your notes. Stop, find your notes, find your place, look back at the camera and speak. The audience probably won’t even notice that you looked away and if they do, they’re probably glad to have the break. Whenever you speak. Look at the camera.
A couple of things in your setup can help this. First, put your camera near your monitor. My camera is just a half inch above my monitor. If I do need a window with something on it that I need to refer to, it’s not far away from my camera, might be able to get away a bit, uh, with a glance that you wouldn’t even notice.
Second zoom in. Make sure that your camera is close. Webcams are notoriously bad for this because they have a very wide angle view and you might look or feel further away than what is actually happening. I like to make sure that the head in a video online is at least half of the screen.
I also use a real camera for this, not a webcam. And it has one side feature that I love and has really changed my habits and my online world. And that is I’m using this little camcorder with the little flip out screen and I turn it around so that the screen, the picture of me is facing me. When I talk online, I just talk to me. It’s weird, it’s hard to get used to, but it forces me to keep eye contact or look at the camera. I just know if I’m not talking to me that I’m not looking at my audience. Again, it’s a mind trick that you have to play, but it makes you feel like I’m talking directly to you, not to the screen down here. It’s hard. It was hard to learn eye contact because most of us just look all over the place. We call this spraying. Learn to look at your audience. When you speak online, that audience is your camera. Learn to look at your camera.
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As a high-stakes communications expert, Alan motivates individuals and teams to build their confidence and professionalism and trains them to seamlessly handle the unexpected in ANY communications setting.
Alan is an International Keynote Speaker, Coach, Trainer, and Author who has delivered keynotes and training workshops to thousands on the impact of powerful, persuasive communication. Alan is the Executive Director and Principal Trainer of MillsWyck Communications. He is the author of Presentation Sin: The Practical Guide to Stop Offending (and Start Impressing) Your Audience and the co-author of Silver Goldfish: Loud & Clear: The 10 Keys to Delivering Memorable Business Presentations.
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