When speaking to an audience it is best to look them in the eye. In one-on-one polite conversation, unbroken, continuous eye contact can be too intimate or familiar. Thus it is normal and accepted to look away during a personal chat. However, in public speaking, audiences crave the connection they sense from your eyes. During dynamic public speaking, give your audience eye contact to connect with them. Although they will scan your entire presentation, gestures, body language, and facial expressions, they will key on your eyes to determine your presence, engagement, and trustworthiness. Because of this, three dynamic public speaking principles regarding eye contact are worthy of mention.
Eye Contact: 95% of the time, 3-5 seconds, sweep the corners.
First, eye contact must be routinely maintained with a goal of 95% of the time you are talking. Each engagement, eye-to-eye, should last between 3 and 5 seconds. Do not forget to pay attention to audience members sitting in the sides and corners of the room. Do this by sweeping the corners. Talk directly to the audience in the wings, turning your body toward them and squaring your shoulders in their direction. Give them a bit of your attention, and it will go a long way to connect with everyone.
Glasses present a barrier – if you wear them you have to work harder to connect.
Second, to facilitate the first principle, you should avoid wearing dark tinted glasses, even when the audience is wearing shades. While there may be exceptions to this principle in a few rare instances, the same concept of not covering one’s eyes applies to musicians and other performers. Hiding your eyes places a barrier between you and the listener, and if a barrier is there, your other means of connection must be strong enough to make up for it. Even certain clear eyeglasses, depending on the finish of the glass and design of the frames, can present a barrier, distracting the audience and preventing meaningful eye contact engagement.
Looking at the ceiling is 10 times worse than looking at the floor.
Third, an occasional downward glance is acceptable. This is generally interpreted as one searching their memory for recall, or working to formulate the best, most effective wording for what they are about to say. This downward glance may be accompanied with a pause, and not another extraneous non-word, filler, or sound. However, avoid an upward glance at all costs. This “look to the heavens” is almost universally considered as being untruthful, uncertain, or in need of assistance (a confidence-breaker for sure, as you appear to be looking for a hint or for a friend’s help). The audience will doubt the veracity of what you say. They will suspect your qualifications. They will disconnect and disengage.
When speaking in public, remember that your eyes are windows to your soul. Use your eyes to engage and connect, don’t cover them up, and remember that where you are looking when not making eye contact during public speaking can be a powerful gesture; supporting your effective communication or undermining your power. Dynamic public speakers are constantly aware of the power of eye contact. They don’t need to look up for help – instead they look out to connect with their audience.
Look Out to Connect – Eye Contact in Public Speaking – today’s CommLink. Look for more dynamic speaking principles, techniques, and best practices from P H Tyson & Associates.