For video meetings, the eyes have it. Use these tips to make a better impression online
When you sit across the table from someone in a conference, you look them in the eye.
It's basic etiquette.
But when it comes to video meetings, most folks are taking a different approach, even if they don't realize it. They either look down or up at other meeting-goers and don't usually make eye contact.
If you want to have a successful meeting, that has to change, says Larry Becker, a Florida videographer and author of the recently released book "Great on Camera."
We think we're making eye contact in a video meeting because we're looking at the faces on our screens and responding accordingly. But the camera isn't on the screen, it's usually above it, and sometimes even below.
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Neither is flattering, and the bottom approach, seen on some laptops, is about as unflattering as they come. Laptop magazine referred to the camera on some of these models as a "nose cam," Horror film directors have used the technique in films like "Frankenstein" and "Dracula" to scare the "yell" out of you.
"If the camera is low and looking down, you can come across as being dismissive to someone, or distorted," Becker says.
The author has an easy tip to keep him focused and looking at the webcam, instead of down below on the screen. He makes a small sticky note with the topics he wants to cover from the call and pastes it right atop the webcam.
He makes sure that it's a small sticky note, "so I'm not breaking eye contact and obviously looking away," he says. "The bigger the sticky note, the more obvious it is you're looking away."
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Check the distance between your eyes and the webcam. You'll probably be shocked. "The first thing people don’t realize about their camera is that it's a wide-angle lens," and those tend to distort people. "If it’s a little low," adds Becker, "it’s a lot low."
He says the camera should be level to your eye, period. "Two inches lower will seem a lot lower."
How to tell if you're too low: Does the ceiling show up in your image? If it does, then you've failed, he says.
His rule of thumb: Have the laptop 10 inches off the desk.
This can be achieved by placing the laptop atop a stack of large books or by purchasing an economical accessory, a "riser," which might not be comfortable for typing but will do wonders for your looks. The RockJam Portable DJ Laptop Stand stand sells for $20 on Amazon. Other similar items can cost $30 to $50. Pyle sells a version for $40 that's adjustable.
Remember that the same principles apply if you use the camera on your smartphone or tablet for your meeting. But if you use the phone, remember that holding with your hand is not a way to successfully present yourself during a meeting because the camera will be shaky.
Placing the phone directly in front of books to prop it up won't work because the phone will be too low and looking up at your face. Try a tabletop tripod with a smartphone adapter and place it atop a stack of books. We like this $25 Selfie Stick that can double as a tripod from Vinsic. It's adjustable, so for these purposes, it should work well.
For tablets, many companies offer several adjustable stands. We found one for $25 on Amazon from Lamicall.
Stay focused on the call
"If you sit across a desk from somebody and they look away, they telegraph that they’re not interested in you, you’re not important enough," says Becker. "A lot comes across in the talking head meeting, and you need to show you're interested. I nod and smile, to say 'I get it. I'm paying attention to you.'"
Some final advice from Becker: Put the phone on silent before a call, close e-mail on the computer to stop the notifications, and shut down Facebook completely because it's a massive memory hog and could interfere with the quality of the video call.
Follow USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham (@jeffersongraham) on Twitter