Basics of Eye Contact in Innovative Presentations

By Ray Anthony, Barbara Boyd

Do you trust someone who talks to you but doesn’t look you in the eye? Think about how your audience for your innovative presentation feels. Does a lack of eye contact make them feel uncomfortable?

If you don’t engage them with eye contact, it not only takes away the personal touch and hurts rapport, but people in your audience will form a negative impression of you — that you’re nervous, feel uncomfortable with your topic, are hiding something, or are afraid of the reaction to your talk.

But if you make good eye contact, your audience members sense you’re enjoying your presentation, that you like being with them, and that you’re confident in your topic and speaking ability.

An audience mimics your behavior, so if you display enthusiasm about your topic, they will too.

What’s interesting is how you can psychologically keep the interest of people — influence their reactions — by looking directly at them. Next time you give a presentation notice this: As you look at people, in almost 100 percent of the cases, they look back at you.

On the one hand, looking directly into someone’s eyes pressures them to look back at you. On the other hand, if you look at the walls in the room or stare at the projection screen, people may feel free to look at their smartphone or tablet or otherwise redirect their attention away from you.

Even with large audiences, systematically making eye contact with different sections of the room will keep people looking back at you.

Flexibility and adaptability characterize innovative presenters. While maintaining eye contact with as many people as possible, you constantly analyze and gauge how the group is reacting to your talk.

The audience’s body language, whether positive (sitting on the edge of their seats, nodding in agreement, and smiling) or negative (yawning, looking at watches, fidgeting, frowning), tell you whether they’re eagerly listening, anxious to hear more, positively receptive to the information, or bored, restless, frustrated, confused, or irritated.

Because you continuously look at people, you can judge whether you need to speed things up, move onto the next area in your presentation, slow down and give more explanations, examples, and details, engage people in discussions, or ask them questions to determine whether they’re bothered or are having difficulty understanding something.

Use your eyes for emphasis. When you come to your main points, maintain strong eye contact with your group.

To add dramatic effect, you can walk to the center of the meeting room (or stage) to get closer to your audience right before you communicate your critical point, add more voice volume, and pause while you look around the room with direct eye contact. This combination of voice and body movement adds powerful emphasis when needed.