How to Read a Script While Looking into the Camera

Techniques and tips for using teleprompters effectively to maintain eye contact with the camera during presentations.

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Maintaining eye contact with the camera during presentations or video recordings is crucial, and here's a surprising aspect: it's not just about appearing confident or engaging. Research suggests that viewers perceive presenters who maintain good eye contact as more intelligent, credible, and trustworthy. It's like a virtual handshake – a non-verbal cue that establishes a connection, even through a screen. In the absence of physical presence, this eye contact becomes a powerful tool to convey sincerity and build rapport with the audience. It transforms a one-sided presentation into a two-way interaction, making the audience feel seen and involved.

So the question remains, how do I read my script while I’m also trying to make eye contact with the camera?

Maintaining Eye Contact By Using a Teleprompter

You’re already on a teleprompter site (surprise!) so you most likely already knew this was the answer. But, let’s really get into it. Traditionally, teleprompters project the text of a script onto a transparent screen positioned in front of the camera lens, creating the illusion that the speaker is looking directly at the audience rather than reading. Nowadays, we can achieve similar results a few different ways.
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Teleprompters for mobile devices and tablets

Our first option is the closest to the traditional method. You can buy a teleprompter with a phone or tablet mount. What you're looking for is a teleprompter that caters to your particular mobile device and camera. If you want to use a tablet, look for models that come with an extended platform, probably 9 or more inches depending on the size of your tablet. Another key feature you want too is a high-quality spectroscopic glass, which guarantees crystal-clear text display and high-definition video recording. This setup is an excellent choice for a professional, but lean, production using mobile devices and DSLR cameras.

Product Recommendations

While many physical teleprompters come with their proprietary text display apps and sometimes even a remote control, Speakflow’s free software is specifically designed to outperform these often cumbersome native apps.

Build your own teleprompter mount

If you don’t have a budget, or you’re just particularly enterprising, you can go ahead and build your own teleprompter mount out of some cheap home goods materials. We’ve built a few of our own on our journey developing Speakflow and they work surprisingly well! Here’s a fun video to get you started:

Webcams for eye contact

Additionally, there are now webcam’s designed to hang at the center of your screen in order to guarantee eye contact. These are designed specifically to foster a more natural and engaging conversational experience and they work equally well for presentations. The main drawback of using a webcam like this is that they typically aren’t great cameras and so the visual quality won’t beat out your phone or a DSLR. Despite that, they’re usually fairly sleek and won’t obstruct the screen (like if you just hung your regular old webcam down by its cable).

Product Recommendations

Premium: Center Cam

How to set up Speakflow for good eye contact

You’ll notice, if you try to record video directly into your phone or laptop, that it’s really difficult to maintain good eye contact with the camera while also reading your script. Our phones and laptops are simply not designed for it. That’s why we highly recommend the hardware listed above. However, there are a few tips and tricks that can improve eye contact for just about any setup.

Step further away from the camera

A large part of the problem when it comes to eye contact is that we’re simply too close to the camera. That means that as your audience we have a really good view of exactly where you’re looking (think about how uncomfortable it feels talking to someone in person who keeps staring at different parts of your face). The further you stand from the camera, the harder it is to tell exactly where you’re looking. If your camera has the ability to zoom, this is the time to use it.

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This tip doesn’t help with eye contact per-se as much as it helps make your eye contact look more natural. As we read, our eyes tend to dart back and forth on the page as we look at the individual words in a sentence. By narrowing the presentation field, you can reduce these eye movements that can look unnatural or robotic on camera.

The 70/30 rule

The 70/30 rule for eye contact is a guideline often used in communication and presentation skills, suggesting that you should maintain eye contact with your audience or conversation partner about 70% of the time and look away for the remaining 30%. This balance is considered ideal for several reasons:

  1. Maintaining Connection: Keeping eye contact for roughly 70% of the time helps establish a connection with your audience, conveying confidence, sincerity, and engagement. It makes the listener feel acknowledged and important.
  2. Avoiding Intensity: On the other hand, eye contact that is too prolonged can become intense or uncomfortable. Breaking eye contact occasionally (the 30%) helps to alleviate this intensity, making the interaction feel more natural and relaxed.
  3. Reflecting and Processing: The moments when you look away can be used for reflection or gathering thoughts. This is particularly important in situations where careful consideration or deep thinking is required to respond to a question or elaborate on a topic.
  4. Cultural Sensitivity: It's also worth noting that the ideal amount of eye contact can vary based on cultural norms. In some cultures, less eye contact is more appropriate, while in others, more eye contact is expected.

Talk past the camera

If the 70/30 technique is a little too much to keep track of at first, you can try focusing your gaze slightly above or to the side of the camera lens, rather than directly into it. The idea behind this technique includes several key aspects:

  1. Natural Engagement: Looking past the camera can create a more natural and relaxed demeanor. Direct eye contact with the camera lens can sometimes feel intense or unnatural, as stated by the 70/30 rule. By looking just off-camera, the speaker appears more at ease, as if engaged in a regular conversation.
  2. Audience Perception: This technique can give the impression that the speaker is addressing a larger audience or an unseen person, which can be particularly effective in certain storytelling or interview formats. It suggests that the speaker is not just speaking to the camera but to a broader audience, enhancing the feeling of a natural, real-world conversation.
  3. Artistic and Emotional Effect: Looking past the camera can also be used for artistic reasons, to convey certain emotions or thoughts that wouldn't come across as strongly if the subject were making direct eye contact with the lens. It can imply introspection, distraction, or focus on something beyond the immediate scene.
  4. Technical Considerations: In some scenarios, especially when using a teleprompter, looking slightly past the camera can help the speaker read the text more naturally without the audience realizing that they are reading from a script.

Maybe in the future you'll be able to click a button to turn eye contact on like a Snapchat filter, but for now, mastering eye contact in video presentations requires a blend of technology and technique. Whether you're using a teleprompter mount with Speakflow to maintain natural eye contact while reading a script, or practicing the 70/30 eye contact rule to strike the right balance, the key is to remain engaging and personable.

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