Tips for Being on Camera | Eye contact with the camera

Most people would agree that eye contact is a crucial component for any form of communication. Public speakers engage in eye contact with their audience to inspire a connection. Relationships begin with that moment you make eye contact.  In social situations, we tend to lose trust in people who avoid our gaze.

Have you ever thought about eye contact with the camera and the effect it has on everyone watching a video?

How do kids learn the importance of eye contact with the camera?  On Day 1 of our classes or camps, we ask the class to give the camera a name. Kids can get pretty silly coming up with names, and that turns into lots of laughs. Together they vote on a name and from that point forward kids address the camera using the given name. Why do this? The purpose of giving the camera a name encourages kids to talk to the camera like they would talk to a friend, adult or an authority figure. We found this mitigates nervous energy about “being on camera” and kids are instantly at ease and more likely to make eye contact with the camera.

On day 1 of News Broadcast, the first activity has the kids on camera right away, giving their intro. An Intro consists of introducing yourself to the camera, sharing something interesting and then saying good-bye or an outro of their choice. Kids complete this activity and we watch the intros back as a group in class. We stop after each video and ask, “Does anyone have something positive to say about that?” or “ What did you like about that intro?” We reinforce positive elements as much as possible.

A few examples:

During Devon’s intro, he kept looking off at his friends seating seated in the classroom instead of looking into the lens aka the eyeball of the camera. When the kids watched the playback, it was confusing. During Devon’s playback, the class started looking around the room, trying to figure out what he is looking at and were not able to focus on his message. I noticed that he stood very still and planted his feet. So during the playback I complimented how still he was, without a wiggle or a sway. Then I asked him, “ Have you ever had a staring contest with your friends?” Yes- he often played that game with his brother and sister. I suggested he treat his next intro like a “staring contest with the camera.” The only caveat- he could blink when necessary. Since the camera lens/eyeball wouldn’t blink during the recording it wasn’t really a contest. However, treating it like a staring contest turned his intro around drastically. Everyone really listened when he was speaking to the camera and Devon became the reporter in charge of breaking news.

When Shawna was giving her intro to the camera she was looking directly into the lens, with excellent eye contact. It was powerful, only she did not smile once. In fact, she looked angry during her intro. During playback, the entire class could recount what she said, but the mood felt uneasy because she seemed so angry on camera. I complimented her eye contact and the class concurred. My only suggestion was to have some fun with it next time around. I asked her who she was “talking to” when she was talking to the camera. She said the principal. We changed it up, so next time she would talk to her friend Clara as the camera and that made a huge difference! Shawna’s next time on camera she was beaming, smiling and the class loved it! In fact, they nominated her to be the anchor for the News broadcast.

These experiences on camera taught the class the importance of eye contact with the camera. Another way to emphasize this significance, would be to find videos on YouTube that show these examples. Talk about what is working and was what is not working.

Try this game with your kids to emphasize eye contact- ZIP, ZAP, ZOOM!

  • In a circle, make eye contact with the person to your right and say ZIP. Have them go around the circle all saying ZIP.
  • Then the other direction, person to your left you say ZAP. Have them go around to the left saying ZAP.
  • Then give them the choice to go either way, to ZIP or ZAP.
  • Once they are good at this, give them the option of ZOOM. They can ZOOM anyone in the circle, but only 2 in a row.

On the flip side- find a good example of how looking off camera can be impactful when planned out carefully.  Devon used this tactic during breaking news. He was reporting about “cows that were running through the city” and reported that how law enforcement was working to corral them back to the farm. Toward the end of his report Devon gave a terrified look off camera. We inserted a loud, MOOOOO! Devon gave a quick outro -”That’s all for today folks, stay safe out there” then runs off camera. We assume a cow is headed right for him! It got great laughs and made the breaking news story completely believable.