It’s not easy, even for TV professionals, to stay focused on the tiny cameras hidden in the screens of our phones and laptops, with their notoriously forgettable indicator lights. While I usually use a separate webcam to provide the quality of image required for big corporate events, it’s not exactly conspicuous.
Silicon Valley wouldn’t be Silicon Valley if it hadn’t already found a technological solution to this problem the rest of us didn’t even know we had six months ago. “Gaze correction” software has been deployed on some high-end video conferencing platforms and uses AI to adjust the appearance of our eyes, to make it seem as if we’re looking directly into camera.
It sounds like highly sophisticated red-eye reduction, but similar “gaze tech” software was recently launched with Microsoft’s Surface Pro X. I’m sure it will be a while before such technology is universally deployed so, in the meantime, we’re left with some tried-and tested home hacks:
Phone first – The camera on your phone is usually far better than the one in your laptop and the smaller distance between lens and screen will keep your eyes closer to where you want them. A tripod is a must though, to get your phone up to eye-level and keep it steady.
Not too close – People often sit too close to camera for video calls and this exacerbates the wandering-eye problem. Sit further away so that your head and shoulders are in shot and you have a little headroom, though not too much.
Eye-level – “…is buy level”, as they say in retail. If you have to use your laptop, elevate it on a handful of hefty books to bring the camera level with your eyeline. You might only need a couple if you’re my height.
Visual reminders – Apparently, our brains quickly become blind to the little indicator lights designed to tell us the camera is active, so use a sticker or circle around the camera to draw your gaze back into line.
Keep notes close – If you need notes, position them as close to the lens as possible, either by elevating your laptop or tablet just behind the phone or webcam, or by opening them in a window that you can position close to the top of the screen and your desired eyeline.
Keep a backup to hand – The fallibility of autocues has taught every TV presenter that a hard copy of scripts is essential. We may not have autocues to fail on us, but there is plenty of technology, so be ready to reel off a quick summary should the next presenter fail to appear or your notes evaporate before your eyes.
Like most things in life, there is no substitute for preparation. We’re all going to be meeting and presenting like this for some time to come, so we’d better get used to it.