A couple of weeks ago I advised you that when you’re speaking to a video call, you need to look right into the camera to approximate eye contact. This is still true, and you can see people doing this really well on calls. The result is that you feel more connected, more seen.
The other reality of speaking into the camera, though, is that while you’re looking at that light, you can’t see the people you’re talking to. For me, this is one of the biggest intangible losses of moving in-person communication to video conferences.
If I am leading a workshop in person, I can look at each table of participants, making eye contact but also seeing how what I’m saying is landing on them. I can assess confusion, agreement, resistance, boredom, excitement. I know what’s happening in real time, and I can adjust my delivery based on what I’m learning. I can repeat a point that seems to be leading to confused faces, or move more quickly if people are nodding and smiling.
On a video call, very little of this is possible, especially with a group of more than 25. The larger groups means fewer people turn their cameras on, for one thing, and on many platforms you can only see 20 or so people at a time. I don’t know about you, but I can’t speak into the camera, scan the faces of the gallery in front of me, and scroll to the other screens of faces all at the same time.
I’m saying this for a couple of reasons. The first is that eye contact is a primary way that we build trust with other people, so the lack of eye contact in this format means we have to be aware of building trust in other ways.
The second is to offer a workaround. I am a big proponent of co-leading and co-facilitating anyway, but especially in this format. One thing you and your co-leader can do for each other is to divide the job of eye contact. When one of you is speaking (into the camera), the other scans the gallery of faces, reading the room, seeing how it’s going. Then at an appropriate moment, that person can offer extra information, “I noticed we may have lost some people during the section about X. I want to go back to that and make sure we’ve answered any questions you have.” Or “I see a few comments in the chat about the last thing you said, Co-Leader. Would this be a good time to address those?”
Above all, please don’t make the mistake of assuming that eye contact doesn’t matter. Every single way that we can intentionally create contact and connection in a video call means more efficiency, less miscommunication, and less work that has to be redone later.