Is it important to “look someone in the eye”?
Dennis Nishi tells this story of Paul Smith in the Wall Street Journal, http://on.wsj.com/1biKlhQ. Paul, a manager at Procter and Gamble had 20 minutes to make a presentation and sell CEO, A. G. Lafley, on new marketing techniques.
“On the day of the meeting, CEO A.G. Lafley entered the room, greeted everybody and turned his back to the screen. He then stared intently at Mr. Smith throughout the entire presentation, not once turning to look at a slide.
“"I felt like maybe I hadn't done a very good job because he wasn't looking at my slides like everyone else," says Mr. Smith, who also noticed that the other managers didn't seem very engaged. ‘It didn't occur to me until later that he did that because he was more interested in what I had to say than in what my slides looked like.’ "
Dennis Nishi is making a very good point. He is demonstrating in his article that “story-telling” is an effective communication tool and Paul was successful because he looked Mr. Lafley in the eye the entire time and told his story. Many companies are embracing this technique of communication.
However, face to face meetings are not always possible. Busy executives, managers and staff are often over committed and time pressured. Traveling is expensive and time consuming. New communication technology changes the playing field by making virtual face to face meetings a reality.
Does that mean that the techniques and, more importantly, the social interaction aspects of a meeting the same? Of course not!
Video is a different realm and a game changer. Just like any tool, like PowerPoint, techniques need to be learned and practiced to make them effective. Let’s talk about the social interaction aspects that improve response. If you are making a presentation or want to be an authority opinion of a topic, then other people in the meeting need to see you. But, beyond that, they need to see a social version of you that they expect to see and does not violate their sense of visual acuity. What does that mean?
- · First, If you had been in broadcast TV, you would know that people expect to see a “headshot”. That is a view of you with your shoulders and head centered appropriately in the shot. Note that the eye level is about center in the screen and that there is “headroom at the top. People have a hard time taking you seriously if they can only see the top of your forehead. Note, it is more difficult to maintain this with a mobile device or tablet, because the camera points where it wants to. But, that means you have to work harder at it.
- · Second, it is important to look at the camera! Many of us forget that in a meeting, if you are talking, you are not talking to your computer monitor. You are talking to real live people who happen to be some distance away. They want to see you look at them. Keep your eyes focused on the camera. That is the true “looking into their eyes”. Also, an audience accustomed to television viewing does not like to see head bobbing and weaving. They will pay much more attention to your content if they are not trying to follow your motion. If you cannot help but move somewhat, try the “follow me” feature on the webcam to keep you framed in the center of the shot.
- · Third, just like positioning yourself, it is important to pay attention to background and lighting. If you have lived more than 3 years here on earth, you probably have noticed that the sun is very bright. Regrettably, as good as new cameras are, they do not have the contrast ratio of the human eye. So, if your camera is shooting you in front of a window, it has no choice but to iris down and make you look excessively dark.
Likewise, excessive lighting on your face can create “hot spots” that the contrast ratio of the camera cannot handle. Flat front lighting is best. But, some background lighting is necessary for the “3 dimensional effect” and to avoid distracting shadows on your background.
- · Fourth, background is also an important to a “business look”. If you have a messy office with piles of papers and miscellaneous debris (unfortunately, like I do), it is preferable to keep it out of the shot. You should be the focus of attention, not the business in the background.
- · Finally, Modern videoconference systems allow desktop sharing. If you are giving a presentation, proper PowerPoint etiquette is in order. Systems now allow a shared presentation to be opened up in a separate screen or moved to a separate monitor. Please make sure your participants are versed in how to make this change and let them decide if they want to look at you or your presentation. A quick glance at your monitor can let you know which one is most important to them.
Technology does not replace good sense in conducting a meeting or a presentation. Adhering to good story-telling and effective use of information sharing tools, like PowerPoint go a long way to cover-up the technology. But, don’t let the technology get in the way of what you are trying to accomplish. As we all know, television is a good medium to impart information. Television viewers expect a certain decorum in social interaction. This directly translates to videoconference meetings and it can be disturbing to viewers to see something “out of the norm”. It is significantly better if you are the “star” of the show, rather than a distraction.
Dave Desmarais formerly was in charge of a multimillion dollar Network Operations Center for customer support. It was 24 X 7, virtual operation. Having highly skilled technical representatives working from home offices was essential to the quality of support that was required for 24 X 7.