Eye contact is one of the most important forms of non-verbal communication, especially for speakers. Have you ever had to endure a speaker who read from the lectern, or talked to the PowerPoint slides, or stared at the cue cards in his hand, or basically looked anywhere but at the audience? How exciting was that?
Not looking at your audience is an almost surefire way to lose people’s attention. Maintaining eye contact, on the other hand, strengthens the bond between speaker and audience. It conveys (in most cases) sincerity and tells the audience that the speaker is interested in them.
Make sure that you move your eyes around the audience at an even rate – not too fast, not too slow. A good rule of thumb is to spend 3-4 seconds looking at one person and then move on to someone else.
If you are speaking to a small audience, be sure to look at each person. If you are speaking to a large audience, you will not be able to make eye contact with everyone. Instead, focus on sections of the room: front, middle and back – don’t forget the people way in the back! And be sure to look at people along each side of the room.
Do not to spend too much time looking at one person. It will likely make that person feel uncomfortable and will probably annoy others in the audience who think you are neglecting them. Be egalitarian and spread it around!
For those who feel uncomfortable making eye contact with strangers, Lisa Braithwaite has an effective and simple suggestion: greet some of the people at the door and get to know them a little. That way, when you start your talk, not everyone will be a stranger and you will have some friendly faces looking back.
Of course, keeping those faces friendly will depend on the content and delivery of your presentation. But that’s another story . . .