The Terminator – The Cold Dead Stare of the Video Camera Lens
Remember the scenes in the original James Cameron – Terminator movie when the cyborg is finally revealed as an unrelenting machine, with red unblinking mechanical eyes, that stare coldly at the terrified Sarah Connor as she struggles to crawl away from it? “It will not reason and it will not stop!”
The camera has no human qualities. It doesn’t blink, smile, or give you encouraging feedback like a real person does – it’s a machine observing you with an intense robotic stare
Like the Terminator, the cold staring eye of the video camera lens can be equally unsettling when you are being filmed presenting to camera. The camera has no human qualities. It doesn’t blink, smile, or give you encouraging feedback like a real person does – it’s just a machine (standing in for your audience) observing you with an intense robotic stare.
This can take some time getting used to. Actors and TV presenters are trained to deal with this. Unfortunately, most people who are new to presenting come across very differently on camera than they do in the flesh and without knowing the “performance technicals” required for the camera, this can seriously detract from your message.
On-screen…the Eyes Have It
In this situation the video camera is dominant because it does not interact with you – it observes
Our eyes are key communicators of our feelings – including comfort and discomfort. Few things project our emotions as well or as rapidly as the eyes. Humans have relied on looking into someone’s eyes for thousands of years to get an understanding of how the other person is feeling and whether or not they are telling us the truth. In this situation the video camera can come across as being dominant because it does not interact with you – it observes. As Jonathan Schroeder notes, ‘to gaze implies more than to look at – it signifies a psychological relationship of power, in which the gazer is superior to the object of the gaze.’
Common Eye Contact Pitfalls to Avoid
“Bug-eye” (an industry term we used while casting a.k.a. “the bulging eye”)
This is where a presenter appears to be staring down the camera’s Terminator eye, and their eyes unnaturally bulge and they barely blink (similar to that of an insect – hence the term bug-eye) or they are reading from an autocue (something I do not recommend) while delivering their message. Having observed 1000s of people doing this when casting them for TV commercials, my theory is – is that they are unconsciously “mirroring” back the unblinking stare of the camera lens. (This is caused by their mirror neurons which I discuss in our article Real v’s Fake smiles).
Their eyes are bulging and they seem to have a glazed over stare. It is like they are trying to bore holes with their eyes. This unnatural staring or “eyeballing” can come across as being creepy and off-putting to the viewer. Subconsciously, having bulging eyes and an infrequent blink rate can signal hostility or tension to the viewer, and can detract from your message.
This phenomenon is also often seen with liars and can detract from your message
This is the opposite of the Bug-eye, where the presenter blinks more frequently than normal. When we are stressed, nervous, or struggling emotionally, our blink rate increases.
Actor Hugh Grant famously uses his eyelid flutter to show his bumbling nervousness around women in movies like Four Weddings and a Funeral.
Pop-star Madonna does this in the extreme and sometimes closes her eyes entirely while speaking. Body language experts say it could be a combination of things – perhaps feelings of superiority combined with social anxiety or not liking what you see.
Either way, an excessive blink rate it is not a positive thing to be doing when you are presenting to camera and want to be taken seriously. More importantly, this phenomenon is also often seen with liars and can detract from your message.
To help with the above see:
- how to look at the camera lens in a natural way for your online video presentations and
- how to fall in love with the video camera (a mindset technique) you can apply when presenting on video.