When you're delivering a presentation, you might be tempted to look down at your notes or stare at the back wall. However, if you want your idea to stick, we recommend you look into one very specific place during your presentation: the eyes of your audience members.
Why is eye contact so important?
Eye contact is key during your presentation because emotional connections are built and maintained on at least 60 percent eye contact. Anything less, and the connection might never occur. Also, eye contact shapes what people think of you. It's part of one-to-one conversations, which is why individuals in large audiences crave it - and can become uncomfortable if they're denied it.
Imagine eye contact with individuals in your audience as a tractor beam. It grabs their attention and pulls them toward you and your idea. As the presenter, you have two levers you can pull: Quality and Quantity. Here are some quick methods to ensuring you make ENOUGH eye contact and EFFECTIVE eye contact.
Making Enough Eye Contact
- Get closer to the audience. The notion of being elevated or at a distance from the audience is a misconception. Especially when selling ideas, proximity goes a long way. The audience should feel your passion and see it in your eyes.
- Avoid slides. ESPECIALLY text-heavy ones. Putting your content on slides a) requires your audience to read something written and projected, when they should be watching you and making eye contact, and b) tempts you to look at the screen instead of the crowd.
- Practice more. When trying to find the right word, presenters may look up, down and sideways. It's a natural and involuntary reaction to engaging our brains (either for memory or invention). The better you know your material, the more you'll look at your audience.
- Keep moving. Always bounce your eye contact around the room. Don't settle in on one person or group of people at a time or you risk alienating others. Imagine your moving gaze is physically "recruiting" people to your idea.
- Make friends. Don't know anyone in the audience? Mingle with them before your talk; then, find those new connections in the crowd and bounce your eye contact from one to another as you present. Chris Anderson (TED Curator) suggests finding 5 or 6 friendly-looking people in the crowd and presenting to them as though they're friends you haven't seen in a while.
Making Effective Eye Contact
- Give each connection a few beats before moving to the next. Your eye contact should feel like a quick, natural, comfortable conversation has taken place before your gaze moves on.
- Open the "windows to your soul." When you practice, ask a teammate to make sure your eyes convey the appropriate emotion for the content you're delivering. From setting up the problem to presenting your idea as the solution, your eyes should respond accordingly.
- Look at the eyes, and nothing else. If you've ever been given advice to calm your nerves by looking at foreheads and chins, please work to break the habit. Your audience can detect your sight lines, and they can feel when they're off. It's yet another amazing thing about humans: Our ability to perceive inauthenticity as a threat.