Eye contact: Tips to make your presentations stronger

Not only do our eyes see for us, but they are also a mode of communication. An earlier article discussed the vital role of eye contact; now explore some tips for using eye contact to make presentations stronger.

A connection can be thought of as a link or a bond, and that’s exactly what you want to form if you’re presenting a topic to a group of people. Of course, it’s impossible to use the skill of good eye contact if you’re doing a presentation online or through another means in which you can’t use your eyes. However, for presenting in person, Michigan State University Extension stresses that it is key to building a connection with your audience.

We already know from an earlier article, “Eye Contact: An Introduction to its Role in Communication,” that eye contact is vital during a conversation because it’s a mode of communication that shows emotion or interest. While establishing good eye contact, you’ll want to think about what message you are sending with your eye contact. Are you interested in the topic? If not, does it show? Likewise, you’ll want to pay attention to what messages you are receiving. Is your audience bored or are they engaged?

Have you thought about eye contact as a skill? As adults, using appropriate eye contact can be difficult. What about youth? Eye contact can be tied to so many life skills that it’s important for our youth to practice and learn about eye contact as a communication skill. Consider for a moment using eye contact to show empathy, concern for others, to manage feelings, or to help with communication. Those are all life skills that youth will develop as they mature into successful adults.

Now, let’s mix the skill of eye contact with the skill of presenting. Have you considered that each time youth talk to a judge, read minutes of a meeting out loud or provide a how-to demonstration, they are presenting. Presentation skills, like eye contact, can be tricky. Below are Eight Presentation Tips to Make Your Eye Contact More Powerful written by Olivia Mitchell:

  1. See people. Be sure to actually look and make eye contact with individuals in your audience. Look at their facial expressions for reactions to what you’re saying.
  2. Shrink the room. Imagine that the room is really quite small and you’re having a conversation with just one person. Not only will your presentation take a conversational tone, but you’ll find yourself less nervous.
  3. Find out how long it takes to make genuine eye contact. Practice your presentation with a group of friends. Ask them to indicate when they feel you have made an eye connection with them. This is a hard presentation skill to master because you want to be sure you make a connection, but you don’t want to try so hard that you make individuals uncomfortable.
  4. Move to another person at an appropriate time. Typically you’ll find that it takes about a sentence to make genuine eye contact. It’s a great idea to move from person to person making eye contact with each changing sentence.
  5. Look for the reaction. Look for your presentation participant to nod. If and when they do, you’ll know that you have made a connection and that they are processing the information you have presented.
  6. Keep your eyes up at the end. At the end of the sentence be sure to keep your eyes up, even if it’s habit to look down at your notes to see what the next point may be. Wait to look at your notes until you have stopped talking at the end of the sentence and then look back up to begin your next sentence.
  7. Don’t be a lighthouse or a tennis umpire. A lighthouse presenter is predictable – they go around the room in a systematic fashion. Similarly, a tennis umpire looks left, then right, then left, etc. Be sure to add variety to your presentation.
  8. Respect people who are uncomfortable. It may be obvious to you that a presentation participant is uncomfortable. It may be the topic you’re presenting, a differing cultural norm or something you may have nothing to do with. Be respectful by giving them less attention, but don’t ignore them.

This article is the second in a series of articles that will examine eye contact in communication. Look for a future article about mistakes made in eye contact.