The importance of eye contact

Some time ago I wrote a post “where to look while presenting”, about the importance of eye-contact during a presentation. Eye contact is related to honesty, trust and sincerity.

After working with several speakers, I´d like to add that the majority of the people tend to have some kind of preference looking more to the left or to the right side of the audience. That way they “forget” the other half of their public. It is a good idea to record yourself on camera or to have someone to give you feedback in order to raise your awareness and to avoid this.

An example of good and very direct contact with the audience (he even steps of the stage to go into the audience) is this talk of Benjamin Zander in which he talks about music and passion.

Eye contact while answering questions

questions During or after your presentation you receive a question from one of the attendees. You listen to the question and my tip is that you repeat the question in your own words to check back if you have understood the questioner (and, in case the attendee doesn’t have a mircrophone, to share the question with the rest of the audience). Then you start answering. If you act as most of the presenters, you focus completely on the questioner and you make eye contact only with him / her and you forget about the rest of the audience. This is something which happens a lot, but it’s a pity, because you completely lose the connection with those people. So, what to do?

My advise is to start looking at the questioner while repeating the questions and starting answering, but then you start looking at the rest of the audience as if it were a normal part of your presentation. Make contact with all of them. Was it a very specific question? Maybe you can make a link with what you know about the rest of the audience (for example: “Yes, that’s an important question, because..” or “What you say there is very important for all of us, because…”). At the end of the answer, go back to the questioner and check if he / she is happy with your answer.

This way you have both satisfied the questioner and the rest of the audience. If you want to know more about eye contact during presentations, see my former post.

Image (cc) by Valerie Everett

where to look while presenting

stressed businessmanSome time ago, I wrote about what to do with you hands during a presentation. What about your eyes? Where do you look? A lot of people find it frightening to ‘face’ the audience. On one hand that’s normal: a fixed look makes us feel uncomfortable. The hearth rate of all animals increases when someone is looking at them. This could be part of public speaking fear: the fact that all people are looking at you.

Honesty, trust and sincerity

So, should you look back? Yes! Making eye contact during your presentation is very important. It is related to honesty, trust and sincerity. Eye contact is essential to create a personal connection. If people are insecure about themselves, or not sure about what they are saying, they are looking to the ground or away, but not to the audience. Looking people in their eyes conveys confidence and trustworthiness.

Use your eyes as a ‘spotlight’
If you are in front of a big audience, let your eyes go over the public as a spotlight, from time to time you focus on another part of the audience: don’t be afraid of looking people in their eyes: make real and direct contact. Some seconds you look at one person on the right, you go to the middle, to the back, to the left. Be sure you see all of them.

Cultural differences
Making eye contact is very normal and even necessary for good business relationships in Europe and North America. Be aware that prolonged eye contact is rude and aggressive in some cultures, especially those where there is a big ‘power distance’, for example Arab and Asian countries. Check this before delivering a speech in a foreign country. As I said in my post with tips for presentations in English: non verbal language can differ from culture to culture.

– make eye-contact with individuals in all the corners of the room, don’t forget a corner.
– In international situations, be aware that the importance of eye contact is not everywhere the same. As I already said: in Arab countries o in Asia, countries with more ‘power distance’, you are not supposed to look people of a higher status in the eyes.
– Don’t look at the screen. Look at your audience. Turning your back to the audience is a presentation no-no.

In the next post I will write a post regarding answering questioners and how to maintain having contact with the whole audience while answering a question of one of the attendees.

photo: David Castillo Dominici,