If there is one simple thing you can do to enhance your impact as a presenter, persuade others to see things as you see them, and make it more likely your audience will say yes to your idea, it is sustained, purposeful eye contact with one person at a time.
All it takes to start reaping the rewards of assertive eye contact is a little practice every day. Are you willing and able to give it a try?
You should be. In a study done last month in the journal Environment and Behavior, researchers at Cornell University manipulated the gaze of the cartoon rabbit on Trix cereal boxes and found that adult subjects were more likely to choose Trix over competing brands if the rabbit was looking at them rather than away.
"Making eye contact even with a character on a cereal box inspires powerful feelings of connection," said Brian Wansink, a professor at Cornell's Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management.
So, if you want to connect with your audience, look people in the eye, one at a time.
Here are 10 reasons why presenters should look at people, one at a time, when addressing an audience of any size.
- Focusing your eyes helps you concentrate. When your eyes wander, they take in random, extraneous images that are sent to your brain, slowing it down.
- When you fail to make eye contact with your listeners, you look less authoritative, less believable, and less confident.
- When you don't look people in the eye, they are less likely to look at you. And when they stop looking at you, they start thinking about something other than what you're saying, and when that happens, they stop listening.
- When you look someone in the eye, he or she is more likely to look at you, more likely to listen to you, and more likely to buy you and your message.
- When you look a person in the eye, you communicate confidence and belief in your point of view. One of the most powerful means of communicating confidence and conviction is sustained, focused eye contact.
- Sustained, focused eye contact makes you feel more confident and act more assertively. It may feel weird at first, but when you practice, it becomes a habit that gives you power.
- When your listeners see your eyes scanning their faces, they feel invited to engage with you. They feel encouraged to signal to you how they feel about what you're saying--with nods, frowns, or skeptical raisings of their eyebrows.
- As a result, your listeners are transformed from passive receivers to active participants. Your monologue takes the form of a dialogue, albeit one in which you speak words while they speak with gestures and facial expressions. Your speech or presentation is suddenly a conversation.
- However, to have a successful dialogue with your audience, you must respond to what your listeners are signaling. So, for instance, when you see skepticism, you might say, "I know it seems hard to believe, but I promise you, the investment makes sense. The data bears it out. "
- Finally, when you look someone in the eye for three to five seconds, you will naturally slow down your speech, which will make you sound more presidential. In fact, you will find that you are able to pause, which is one practice that has helped President Obama become a powerful and effective orator.
Looking into the eyes of others may make you feel as if you are staring at them, but you are not doing any such thing. You are simultaneously being assertive and empathetic, because you are asserting your opinion and then watching their faces to understand their response.
With practice, you will master this important skill and turn it into a behavior that will serve you well in all areas of your life.