Chapter 2

Eye Contact During a Presentation

Making eye contact with your listeners establishes a connection with them and conveys sincerity and confidence. Eye contact is indispensable to an effective presentation.

2.1

Sincerity

Would you buy a car from a salesman who did not look you in the eye? Would you feel drawn to a new acquaintance who looked away when introduced to you? Would you trust the advice of a colleague who refused to meet your gaze?

For most people, the answer to each of these questions would be an emphatic “no.” Without eye contact, it is very difficult to persuade, establish rapport, or gain trust. Looking your listeners in the eye makes your message personal and helps convey that you believe what you are saying.

2.2

Confidence

In the animal kingdom, the dominant member of a group often demonstrates authority by looking other members in the eye. In our human community, making eye contact can similarly suggest confidence and authority.

Avoiding eye contact, on the other hand, can communicate weakness, tension, boredom, or even fear.

It can be stressful to look into an audience of people focused on you. That is why some people choose to speak to a spot on a wall, to their notes, or to their PowerPoint slides. But ignoring the gazes of audience members doesn’t make the audience disappear — unless they get so bored that they walk out!

In fact, by avoiding eye contact, you may actually compound whatever uneasiness you are feeling by turning your focus inward. Making eye contact can combat self-consciousness and nervousness by directing your energy outward toward your listeners. In turn, they will feel that you have an interest in them, increasing the likelihood that they will show an interest in you.

2.3

Responsiveness

By looking at your audience, you are able to respond spontaneously to cues you receive while you are speaking. You can take a moment to clarify a point for a confused-looking person. You can expand on an issue to convince a person who appears skeptical. You can become more animated when you see that the audience needs a boost.

2.4

Technique

When you do make eye contact, try not to stare at a single listener. You should also avoid making only general sweeps of the room or rushing from face to face. Take your time, and connect with as many people as the situation comfortably allows. Even if you don’t make eye contact with a particular member of a large audience, he or she will be able to tell — and will appreciate — that you are visually engaged with the group.

In a smaller gathering, however, you should make eye contact with every listener. By excluding members of a small group, you risk (ı) alienating those whom you exclude and (2) distracting those who notice that you are excluding others.

If you are holding notes during a talk and need to refer to them, hold them up high enough that you can glance at them without having to drop your head much. Of course, they shouldn’t be so high that they block your face. And, when you don’t need to refer to them, don’t.

2.5

Practice

Finally, practice making eye contact. The more accustomed you are to looking people in the eye in your daily life, the more likely you will be to do it during a business presentation.