E is for Eye Contact

Emerson Quote about Eyes

An eye can threaten like a loaded and leveled gun; or can insult like hissing and kicking; or in its altered mood by beams of kindness, make the heart dance with joy.  -Ralph Waldo Emerson


Mr. Emerson’s eloquent statement expresses the critical role eyes play in communication, doesn’t it?

Most employers report they would be hesitant to hire a person who is unable to look them in the eye.

What are some perceptions?

  • Lying
  • Shy
  • Not confident
  • Not trustworthy
  • Uncaring
  • Distracted
  • Embarrassed
  • Shifty
  • Hiding something

These misperceptions are why reading a speech is an ineffective means of communication. If you must read all or part of your talk, try to look up and reconnect with the audience during the reading.  If your presentation requires you to REFER to notes, an extremely powerful yet practical way to do it is to PAUSE, look down at your notes, then look up and resume your talk. The beauty of this technique is that you are employing the use of the powerful pause, and are staying more connected with your audience because when are looking at them while you are talking.

If you find that looking into the eyes of audience members makes the butterflies in your tummy start to riot, just look at the top of their nose- between the eyes.  From the perspective of the audience, it appears that you are looking into their eyes. For you, it is a safe way to practice this critical element of connection without getting unnerved.

When pointing to a PowerPoint slide, chalkboard or flip chart, stand sideways. Your back to an audience is breaking contact with your audience.  While it is unavoidable sometimes, to do it continuously will severely impact the effectiveness of your talk.  Not only is it important for you to make eye contact with your audience, doing so with the right audience members can enhance your presentation. This is what the book (now out of print, but still available through some booksellers) titled, Business Presentations and Public Speaking has to say on this topic:

“Roam the audience with your eyes and spot the people agreeing with you: nodding, smiling, making facial expressions that validate yours indicate they’ve experienced the joy or pain you’re discussing. Make eye contact with these people, and keep coming back to them for more throughout your presentation. Experience shows that warmth, persuasiveness, and the power of this contact greatly improve how these audience “allies” and others receive the presentation. What’s more, their eye contact with you gives you the strength, courage and enthusiasm to put more energy into your presentation – energy that others in the audience can feel and respond to.”

Bert Decker has lots to say about eye contact in his bestselling book titled, You’ve Got to be Believed to be Heard. Here are a few tips:

  • For effective eye communication, count to five. A feeling of involvement requires about five seconds of steady eye contact.
  • Beware of the eye dart. The listener can read our anxiety in our darting eyes. We exude an “aroma” of fear and nervousness – and this undermines our credibility and makes our listener feel uncomfortable.”
  • Beware of the slow-blink. This is where a person closes his or her eyes for up to two or three seconds while speaking. It conveys the message, “I really don’t want to be here.”

When it comes to public speaking, the eyes have it!





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