But the term eye contact is rather vague. It can infer just making fleeting “contact” with a person then moving on. Don’t make eye contact – make “eye connection”. Eye connection means spending time with each person so that person feels like you’re just talking to them. Eye connection has two major benefits:
- People in your audience will feel that you have genuinely connected with them and that you care about their reaction.
- Because you’re talking to people as if you were in a one-on-one conversation, you’ll come across as conversational. That makes you easy to listen to and engaging.
Here are my tips on how to make eye connection:
1. See people
A lot of people we work with confess that they don’t really see individual people in their audience. They’re just aware of a blur of faces. If you can relate to this, next time you present, experiment with seeing people. Look at their facial expressions, look for their reactions to what you’re saying. We call this ‘listening to your audience.”
2. Shrink the room
Imagine that the person you’re looking at is the only person in the room. For those few seconds you’re having a one-on-one conversation with just that person. This has two benefits. You’re likely to talk in a more conversational style because you’re drawing on the conversational skills you already have. It may also reduce your nervousness because you’ll no longer feel like you’re talking to this big audience – but just to one person.
3. Find out how long it takes to make genuine eye connection
It can be difficult to judge how much time is enough to make eye connection. And you may be concerned that if you spend too much time with one person they’ll start to feel uncomfortable. To find out how long it takes, gather together a few friends and deliver your presentation. Ask each person to rest their elbow on the table and raise their hand (resting the elbow is so that their arm doesn’t get too tired). Ask them to drop their hand when they feel you’ve made eye connection with them. You’re likely to find that the length of time needed to make that eye connection is longer than you think.
4. Move to another person at an appropriate time
If you carried out the experiment above, you probably found that your friends dropped their hands at the end of your sentences. That’s also an appropriate time to move onto another person. By doing this you’re adding “formatting”. In a written document there’s punctuation, paragraphs, and headings to guide the reader. In a presentation, the presenter adds the formatting by the way they deliver. The movement of your eyes is one way to add verbal formatting.
Note: If you tend to talk in long sentences, you may find that making eye connection with one person for a whole sentence is too long. If that’s the case, move to another person at the end of a phrase. (And work on making your sentences shorter – that will make it easier for your audience to digest what you’re saying.)
5. Look for the reaction
After important points look for the person’s reaction to what you’ve just said. If the person feels like you’ve been talking to them, they’ll nod. People nod when they’ve processed what you’ve just said. “Waiting for the nod” is an effective way of pacing your delivery to the rate at which your audience can take it in.
6. Keep your eyes up at the end
The most powerful time to have your eyes up is at the end of a sentence. Unfortunately, it’s also the time when you’ll be most tempted to drop your eyes so that you can look at your notes. Discipline yourself to keep your eyes up till you’ve finished your sentence, then look down. Look at your notes in silence. When you’re ready to continue, look up, find someone to talk to and then start talking.
7. Don’t be a lighthouse or a tennis umpire
A lighthouse presenter goes systematically around the room. A tennis umpire presenters looks first to the left, then to the right. Mix it up – be random!
8. Respect people who are uncomfortable
Some people in your audience may show that they’re uncomfortable with eye connection by looking away. Different cultures have different norms regarding eye connection. Respect that by spending less eye connection time with them – but don’t ignore them!