When we first started training facilitators to deliver engaging training in the virtual classroom over 15 years ago, we often had to persuade trainers to put themselves on camera. The “advice” given by some educators back then was for facilitators to keep themselves off camera because their presence would create cognitive overload for participants. I scoffed at that premise then as I do now. At conferences, I preached that delivering web training on camera helps build greater rapport and engagement with participants. I still believe that your presence on camera helps create a stronger virtual classroom environment as people can see and read your body language and facial expressions.
Things changed overnight as Zoom exploded on the scene at the beginning of the pandemic. Suddenly everyone could be on camera, facilitators and participants alike. When the novelty of that practice wore off, we began to discuss the negative impact of “Zoom Fatigue” and why participants might not need to be on their web cameras all day in meetings and training sessions.
Stanford University released a very interesting study in 2022 that focused on the importance of gaze, camera distance, and angle on the impressions that people form when viewing us on web camera (Impression Formation From Video Conference Screenshots: The Role of Gaze, Camera Distance, and Angle · Volume 3, Issue 1: Spring 2022 (apaopen.org))
I eagerly read the report because I assumed that the highest level of trustworthiness would result only from looking up into the web camera lens. What I learned was that looking up into the camera lens or looking straight into the camera lens were both perceived as trustworthy. However, looking up into the camera lens was perceived as more approachable or friendly. Looking down into the web camera lens creates the impression that you are intimidating. Laptop users are unwittingly guilty of this effect unless they raise their laptops considerably.
These relevant conclusions stood out to me:
- Put your head and shoulders in the camera frame, close enough so people can see your facial expressions
- Look up into the camera lens to appear both trustworthy and friendly
- Avoid looking down into the camera lens on a laptop, which looks imposing or intimidating
- When speaking or listening, look into the camera lens, not at the video display, to maintain direct gaze (the illusion of eye contact).
- Avoid indirect gaze (rarely looking into the camera lens while speaking) which undermines credibility
- Avoid large shifting eye movements
When you use your web camera skillfully, you can create an environment of trust in the virtual classroom. Your virtual presence as the facilitator will enhance psychological safety or undermine psychological safety. With increased psychological safety, your virtual classroom will be more engaging and inclusive.
Join us in our next NetSpeed Nuggets session to explore three critical focus areas: virtual presence, social strength, and technical comfort that combine to build the highest psychological safety. Join us at this 45-minute, complimentary session, Mission Possible: Engagement and Inclusion in Virtual Training, on Wednesday, September 13, at 1:00 pm ET / 10:00 am PT. Registration is required.