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More effective video conferences: How we perceive and are perceived by others

A meeting is an encounter between people, where we constantly read each other. An interaction.

  • It takes just a few thousandths of a second to read a face. Your brain initially establishes attractiveness, ethnicity, whether or not the face is familiar, emotions and whether or not the person appears to be friendly.1
  • The encounter is conducted to a large extent through looks. A look unconsciously reveals my emotions. “It can be the crucial factor in deciding whether or not you believe what I say.” 
  • Research shows that we are drawn to the happy faces in a group. The reason for this is that people seek out positivity and are drawn to fun. 
    We expect women to be happy and men to be stern. It needn’t be that way in reality, of course, but that is our perception.2

The great benefit, from an evolutionary perspective, is that information is passed on more quickly via a facial expression than by the spoken word. We can react at lightning speed. 
But – and this is important – when we start talking and getting to know each other, our first impressions can change.

We’ve been practicing all our life

How do I get better at smiling? You just have to start smiling :-) . However, research shows that people don’t like too much smiling, which can come across as false. Being relaxed, happy and friendly goes a long way.

We can misinterpret a person’s expression

It is important to remember that some people might look completely uninterested, but that doesn’t mean they actually are. This becomes clear when you have a discussion or when they ask questions. To avoid misunderstandings, when you are unsure about what someone is expressing with their face, it is worth asking questions like: Is this what you mean? This is my interpretation of what you’re saying, am I right?  “The interpretation of a facial expression is also affected by your form on the day and what experiences you have had in life, but also by the situation you and the others are in.”3

The eyes are important for the conversation

When we meet physically, we can read each other directly with a look and the whole process is unconscious. Looks are important for turn taking; when we have eye contact, we control whose turn it is and we confirm that we have each other’s attention and that we are following conversation.  In a video conference, the turn taking is different. The person leading the meeting has to say whose turn it is to speak. This can be done through questions or by giving the floor to a named person. Some people also use signs – a raised hand or thumb – while others use the chat feature to establish turns.

When you’re speaking, eye contact is important for the people you are communicating with, so try to always look into the conference camera when speaking, instead of at the person or people you have in front of you. You can have a quick glance now and then to see how they are reacting. You will initially have to control your new behavior consciously and it can take a little time to bed in. You can all agree on a discreet little signal to remind the person speaking to look in the camera, as a way of speeding up the learning.

How to create more effective video conferences
  • Prepare carefully
  • When you are prepared and know the subject inside out, this gives you more scope to be spontaneous, have a glint in your eye and improvise.
  • Remember to look into the conference camera.

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