I had another interesting conversation about likeability with my son Joel last night. We were talking about the different behavior people demonstrate on Skype and what we learned about ourselves and others while using it.
The Human Experiment
If you’re not familiar with Skype, it’s a free Internet based video conferencing tool. If you and the person you want to communicate with have a computer, a video camera and a fast Internet connection, you can see and speak to each other over the Internet for free.
Skype is not only a very cool way to communicate with family and friends, it also provides an amazing insight into human nature and likeability.
When you Skype with someone, you’ll see a video of them and a video of yourself on your computer screen. And, unlike talking to someone in person where you have an opportunity to look directly into their eyes, when you use Skype you must look into the camera on your computer in order to create the illusion that your looking at them. If you don’t, the person on the other end of the connection will think you’re distracted and not paying attention.
What Do You Do?
People do one of three things when they Skype: they look directly into the camera, they look at the video of the person they’re speaking to, or they look at themselves. All three are problematic and here’s why.
When you look directly into the camera, it looks to the person on the other end of the connection as if you’re looking directly at them and that’s great. The problem however, is that when you look into the camera, you’re missing the show. You’re not looking at the person you’re talking to. You can’t respond to their expressions because you’re not looking at them.
The second option is to look at the video of the person your talking to. It seems like the natural thing to do, but it will not provide the results you expect. When you look at the video of them on your screen, it looks to them as if you’re looking off into the distance.
The final option, which is the worst and most common thing people do when using Skype, is to look at yourself during the conversation. It’s not only narcissistic, but it creates the feeling that you’re not paying attention … which you’re not, because you’re looking at yourself.
Both Joel and I have had enough experience on Skype to know that this is true. We both look at ourselves when we use Skype and noticed that virtually everyone else we talked to do the same thing. Here’s what we decided to do.
Start by hiding the video feed of you on your computer. This will help you avoid the temptation to look at yourself during the conversation. You can either move your video off screen or minimize the window so that it does not show.
Then, reduce the size of the video of the person you’re talking to and move their video window directly under your camera. The closer their video is to your camera, the more it will create the illusion that you’re looking at them during the conversation.
Change your gaze from their video to your camera. This takes practice … a lot of practice. It’s an unnatural thing to do, but it will give you the results you’re looking for.
When I was younger I made a commercial for Federal Express. It was hard enough to memorize my lines, but looking directly into the camera while delivering them was impossible. I found myself looking at everyone in the room including the cameraman, the director and the producer.
You Have To See This For Yourself
After a dozen takes, the director asked me to look at the results of my work. He played back the video and I was stunned to find how awkward and inattentive I looked. After that, I had no problem looking directly into the camera and the results were great.
And finally, knowing that the majority of people are more concerned about how they look than how you look, start your conversation by giving them an external compliment. Tell them how wonderful they look and be specific.
Not only will they appreciate you noticing, but if you follow their eyes during your compliment, you will be able to determine exactly where and how often they look at themselves during your conversation … and it’s a lot.
Don’t let this hurt your feelings. Odds are, the person you’re conferencing with doesn’t know any better, and even if they did, it’s unlikely they will change their behavior.
Things Will Never Be The Same
The secret to demonstrating your likeability on Skype, or on any other video conferencing system, is to do what is unnatural. Change you gaze from the camera on your computer to the video of the person you’re talking to. Don’t worry about not looking at them during your entire conversation, they will look at themselves enough to make up for both of you. That’s life in the 21st Century.