Eye contact is one of the most powerful communication tools we can use, and when used well demonstrates friendliness, openness and trust
The key to using eye contact well is it’s not about having a staring test with your audience, it’s about control.
We may want to use less than the other person, the same or more. How much we use will depend on our situation. This involves the distance from the audience, cultural differences, the type of material we are presenting to name a few.
Interestingly, Chen et al. 2013, found “that the common efforts to look into the eyes of a persuasion target and demand that this person return gaze may be counterproductive to changing hearts and minds.”
Eye contact of course is two way, if someone asks a question you need to hold eye contact for about 70% of that interaction
So here are some do’s and donts
- Avoid picturing your audience naked as it takes your focus off what you are meant to be doing. (and it’s just weird)
- Don’t fix your gaze at the back of the room. You want to connect with the audience, not the wall.
- Don’t look between people’s eyes. Eyes can give you feedback, noses don’t.
- Don’t Stare. Holding eye contact for an entire thought (unless it’s about 3 seconds) could feel like it lasts forever.
- Don’t make eye contact with people who are obviously uncomfortable receiving it.
- Hold eye contact for about 3 seconds. If they are at the back of the room you can increase that to 5 to 6.
- Connect with people, make them feel like you are having a conversation with them.
- Plan your eye contact, give more attention to the decision makers.
- If you are finishing a sentence, thought or idea hold eye for another couple of seconds before dashing back to your notes or launching into your next point.
- Start using the appropriate amount of eye contact from the beginning.
If you find yourself struggling to use eye contact, then practice. Ask someone you know to give you a score on how often you use eye contact well. Then build on it, one presentation at a time.
Chen, F, Minson, J, Schöne, M & Heinrichs, M 2013, ‘In the Eye of the Beholder: Eye Contact Increases Resistance to Persuasion’, Psychological Science, vol. 24, no. 11, p. 2254.