|"At that moment when our eyes are|
locked in silent communication, we are,
in essence, touching." -Debbie Bailey
Besides touch (not really an option in
a presentation setting), eye contact is
the most powerful and personal of all
of presentation delivery cues. When
you look an audience member in the
eyes, for those few seconds, you are
talking directly to him/her.
Why is eye contact so powerful? Good
eye contact cuts physical distance in
half, helps you connect with your
audience on a personal level, invites
audience members to participate in your
presentation (if I look at you long
enough you WILL talk), enables you to
gauge your audience's reaction to your
presentation, stops hecklers from
pestering you, and so much more.
The fact is, when you look someone
directly in the eyes, it is as if you
are standing much closer to him/her.
In a presentation setting, close is
good. The closer you are, the more
immediate you are, thus the harder you
are to ignore. Think about it from the
audience's perspective-it is much
easier to tune out a presenter who is
farther away from you (I can't see you,
you can't see me). Because the
audience members seated closest to you
will have the best experience anyway,
use your good eye contact to move
yourself physically closer to audience
members seated in the back of the room.
Your eye contact also provides you
with valuable feedback about how the
audience is receiving your message.
Approval, confusion, excitement,
hostility, frustration, and many other
emotions are all expressed through your
audience's body language. Eye contact
will help you read and react to the
silent messages your audience is
sending you about their understanding,
their likes, and their dislikes so you
can determine what to reinforce,
review, hurry through, etc.
There is definitely an art to making
good, strong eye contact. The best eye
contact is direct and sustained-lasting
4 to 5 seconds per audience member.
That is MUCH longer than most people
think. In fact, inexperienced
presenters often make the mistake of
glancing quickly around the room
without holding eye contact for any
length of time. Their eye contact
appears to bounce from person to
Instead, look at each audience
member until you see him/her silently
acknowledge you before moving on to
someone else. This will help you forge
a much greater connection with each
individual in your audience.
Be aware that most presenters show eye
contact favoritism. This means that
they look at certain people in the
audience more than others. Research
indicates that we tend to look at the
audience members who give us the most
positive feedback and also the people
with the most authority (i.e. the CEO
in the room). While it is confirming
to look at the people who are enjoying
our presentation ("they like me they
really do"), make it a point to look at
everyone as equally as possible.
Audience members who don't feel that
you are talking to them (as
demonstrated by your lack of eye
contact) will have the tendency to tune
out. And as for looking at the people
in power, remember, they are watching
you to see how you treat the others in
their organization. The best way to
demonstrate your fairness and respect
is through eye contact equality.
Want more proof about the power of eye
contact? Try using your eye contact to
make someone speak. Look someone
directly in the eyes and sit silently,
saying nothing. Then just wait (it is
hard to do, but be patient). The
individual you are looking at will be
compelled to speak. Behold, the POWER
of eye contact!
Conversely, if you have a heckler in
the audience, you need to use a
different visual tactic. Hecklers-
defined as those who want only to
embarrass or annoy-almost always sit in
the back of the room, where you have
difficulty seeing them. Hecklers want
to remain anonymous, that's why you
need to use your eye contact to single
them out. With your eyes, say, "I know
who you are and I see what you're
doing." Sometimes, I even walk closer
to them while looking at them-it
absolutely unnerves them. Then, once
you've established that you see them--
NEVER look at them again. All except
the most persistent hecklers will get
If eye contact is the most powerful
nonverbal communicator, why do many
presenters waste precious eye contact
looking at their slides? Presenters
watch their slides (instead of their
audience) as if at any moment, their
slides might change into something new
and exciting--"I've got to keep my eyes
on them because you never know what
they will do." Avoid the tendency to
look at your slides. Instead, focus
the power of your eye contact on that
which may really surprise you-your
For much more about these and other
Presentation Secrets, check out the
book "15 Presentation Secrets: How
to WOW Even the Toughest Audience," by
Debbie Bailey available at
About the Author
Debbie Bailey is author of the book "15 Presentation Secrets - How to WOW Even the Toughest Audience." She is well known in the industry for her life changing presentation skills classes. Debbie possesses a Masters Degree in Professional Communications and a Bachelor of Arts degree in Speech Communication.
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