Practice in Virtual Reality to Improve Eye Contact

December 6, 2017 - Dom Barnard

Sustained, meaningful eye contact is a great way to enhance your impact as a presenter and persuade others. It can help you build rapport with your audience, keep them engaged in a presentation and even improve your chances of selling your products or services.

Benefits of great eye contact

  • Establishes a connection with your audience
  • Improves your concentration
  • Projects authority and confidence
  • Facilitates engagement with the audience

The benefits are clear, however measuring and practicing eye contact is difficult. In this article, we use the VirtualSpeech app to analyse eye contact in different environments and show how the app can be used to improve your eye contact in a range of scenarios, from sales to professional networking to speaking at a conference.

Eye contact practice in VR showing a heatmap of areas looked at

In-app screenshot showing a heatmap of eye contact in a virtual conference room. The environment has been converted to greyscale to highlight the red heatmap markers.

The virtual reality app served two purposes:

  1. Immerse the user in a realistic meeting room
  2. Provide real time eye contact feedback to the user

The first point goes some way in recreating the fear and excitement you might experience when speaking to individuals or groups of people. In virtual reality, we can simulate a clients phone going off, bright lighting at a conference, people you’re talking to looking distracted and a range of other scenarios you wouldn’t get without practicing in VR.

The second point is covered in depth in this article. After the user has finished their sales pitch, conversation, presentation or speech, the app provides detailed feedback on where they were looking and how the eye contact was distributed. The app also provides different training scenarios in which you can work through mini-games to improve your eye contact.

Eye contact analysis and process

How we calculate eye contact

For eye contact analysis, the app assumes the eyes are looking directly forward from the head. In this way, when the user moves their head to look at something, the app assumes the eyes move as the head moves. If you watch presentations, you’ll notice this mostly holds true and is a fair assumption to make.

What VR app features and scenarios help improve eye contact?

There are different ways we make the user aware and try to improve their eye contact:

  • Heatmap of eye contact during a speech
  • Score out of 10 for eye contact performance
  • Eye contact training course and mini-games
  • Progress tracking

Eye contact analysis - heatmap

The app records the users eye contact throughout the speech and then provides a heatmap of where the user was looking while speaking. This allows the user to easily see any areas they have neglected or focussed too much on.

The data for the heatmap is collected in two ways:

  • Head movement is extracted from the Google VR or Oculus VR software, which is used to build the VR experience.
  • The room is broken up into a grid, with hundreds of squares making up the grid. When the user looks at one of these grids, the matrix increases the value of that grid. After the speech has been completed, the weighted average of the matrix is calculated.

Combining these two sets of data gives and accurate reference of where the users was looking throughout the speech or presentation.

The eye contact heatmaps are available in the larger environments, where you might be presenting at a conference or giving a TEDx talk.

Eye contact practice in VR showing a heatmap in a conference room

Above shows an eye contact heatmap, which you can use to identify areas of the audience you were focussed on. You can see that to the far right side and slightly left of centre there is a lack of eye contact.

Eye contact practice in VR showing a greyscale heatmap

The same heatmap, but with the environment turned to greyscale and audience removed, so that the heatmap is more visible.

Eye contact training - mini-games

The VirtualSpeech app contains a comprehensive eye contact training course, where you’ll be interacting with different virtual avatars and scenarios to learn how to distribute eye contact amongst different sized audiences.

Eye contact practice in a VR meeting and sales room

Practice your eye contact distribution at a sales pitch with one of the VirtualSpeech mini-games in VR. The blue target fades over time as you focus on it and moves to the next avatar after a few seconds.

Eye contact training course with targets in virtual reality

The mini-game shown above gets you to cover all areas of a large audience with eye contact. The blue targets fade over time and replenish slowly when you take your focus off them.

Eye contact scoring - rating out of 10

For some of the VR environments, the user is given a score out of 10 after their presentation or conversation, indicating how effective their eye contact was. The below example shows a user performing well on eye contact in a meeting room, scoring 8/10. The audience is therefore more likely to engage with the user when speaking and understand the message.

A point to note with this particular eye contact scoring is that we do not determine how long the user maintained eye contact with audience members for in each session, just that the total eye contact was well distributed. For example, the user might have spent 45 seconds with the first audience member, then 45 seconds with the second audience member and so on, instead of in 3-5 second periods, which is recommended for an audience of this size.

Eye contact score out of 10 in meeting room

Receive speech analysis in the VirtualSpeech VR environments, covering areas such as filler words, eye contact and speaking pace.

Track progress within the app

The eye contact scores you receive from the different training environments are stored on your mobile device and displayed in a section of the app. This makes it easy to measure progress and determine how you are progressing over time.

Tracking your eye contact progress within the VirtualSpeech app

In conclusion

The VirtualSpeech app provides a powerful way for you to analyse and review your eye contact for different sized audiences. The feedback lets you identify areas of an audience, or people in a meeting, you might be neglecting. In addition, with the realistic environments and training courses, the app takes you close to being fully immersed in the virtual environment and more prepared to give effective eye contact at a real event.