Note cards are not allowed in a TED Talk. That's why TED speakers endlessly rehearse their presentations. No audience wants to see a speaker read their entire presentation from notes. The same holds true for virtual meetings.
Making eye contact is critical to connecting with your audience, but many people seem to have forgotten this basic rule when they hold virtual meetings and remote presentations.
Fortunately, there are some easy ways to fix the problem.
1. Memorize key messages.
I've watched a number of Web conferences with senior executives. It surprises me that so many of them read their scripts word for word. How boring!
Many speakers delivering virtual presentations rarely look into the camera. Their eyes are either cast downward reading from cards or, in many cases, moving side to side as they read text from a screen just below the camera lens.
To fix the problem, internalize your content. While you don't have to memorize the entire presentation, commit the most important messages to memory and deliver those key messages directly to the camera.
2. Write bullet points on note cards.
It's perfectly OK to use a script to jog your memory, but stick to bullet points.
I keep note cards or presentation notes tucked off to the side of my computer for business webinars. When Steve Jobs delivered his most famous product launches, like the iPhone in 2007, he kept note cards by the side of the demo computer.
Note cards are fine--if they're just bullet points with three or four words. Anything longer than bullet points, like full sentences and paragraphs, will only encourage you to read from the cards word for word.
With bullet points, you can easily glance at the card, raise your head, and direct the message to your audience.
3. Place your eyes in a direct line with the camera.
I'm still seeing many speakers make the common mistake of placing the camera (computer, smartphone, iPad) below eye level. It's an awkward angle and unnatural.
By placing the webcam at (or slightly above) eye level, your audience will feel as though you are speaking directly to them.
When I deliver classes or instruction, or I'm being interviewed, I place my computer on a stack of large coffee-table books so it's stable and doesn't wobble. Instead of using the webcam that comes installed in my MacBook, I plug in a higher-quality HD webcam from Logitech that looks a lot sharper.
Raise the camera level to elevate your game.
4. Practice and record.
Finally, don't forget the basic rule of delivering a good presentation: practice.
My clients don't always like it, but I recommend that they rehearse for upcoming presentations far more than they're accustomed to doing. If you have your presentation down cold, you'll be far more confident and make more eye contact.
A simple tool that's already part of Zoom and other platforms is the record button. Use it. Start a new meeting with no audience, look into your webcam, and record your presentation. Watch the recording. You might catch yourself breaking eye contact more often than you think. Once you do, you'll know what to fix in the next practice session.
The other week, I watched the CEO and senior executives from one of the world's largest companies deliver an internal webinar for partners and employees. To a person, they made the same mistake--reading from notes instead of delivering a more natural-looking presentation while making strong eye contact.
It reminded me that even top leaders are making this common mistake. Don't let it happen to you. These are small fixes that will make a big difference.