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Eye contact is a critical tool in creating a charismatic impression when you speak – either one-to-one or one-to-many.

Eye Contact - using the 'windows to the soul'

When charismatic speakers present every person in the room feels that their comments are directed at them personally.  When they speak they hold our attention.  Eye contact plays a large part in creating this impact…

Why using your eyes is so critical

Failing to make eye contact with others sends a variety of messages depending upon the relationship between the two people in question. At its best and least offensive failing to use let others see your eyes can send a message that you are shy and lacking in self-confidence – an impression that’s offensive to no one but you!

At its worst a lack of eye contact can suggest arrogance or superiority, but is most often (mis)interpreted as dishonesty, untrustworthiness, evasion, nervousness, lack of interest or shiftiness. Look at expressions we use daily : “look me in the eye and tell me that,” or “…she just couldn’t look me in the eye…”.

On the flip side, those who can maintain eye contact make a longer lasting and more positive impression of self-confidence, honesty and trustworthiness.   Also, as discussed in another post on smiling, there is a positive feedback relationship in your brain chemistry between eye contact and confidence whereby making more eye contact makes you feel more confident; more confidence makes it easier to make eye contact, and so on.

“The eyes are the windows to the soul”

-Ancient Proverb

How to make positive eye contact one-one-one

When you’re being introduced to someone new look them in the eyes as you’re given their names and, as you grasp their hands in a firm handshake, hold that contact and open up your best Duchenne smile, smiling with your lips and your eyes. The charismatic impact of the giving them both barrels is enormous.

Then, as you continue to speak with them maintain comfortable eye contact. Don’t stare fixedly – be sure to break away from their eyes every three to five seconds.  A good strategy to avoid a staring look is to choose a few different spots to focus upon around the other person’s general facial area.  For example, looking at just one eye helps reduce the appearance of staring.  After 3-5 seconds of looking at someone’s left eye, for example, move your gaze smoothly to their right shoulder for 3-5 seconds, then back to their right eye smoothly for another 3-5 seconds, then the left shoulder and so on.  It sounds peculiar but the overall impression is one of good eye contact without any uncomfortable staring effect.

Just one point: make your transitions smoothly – don’t look like you’re scanning from left to right like the carriage in an old fashioned typewriter, or bobbing your head up and down like one of those novelty nodding animals you see on the back windows of automobiles.  The transitions must be smooth and natural.

You should aim to be in eye contact somewhere between 70-80% of the time – any less seems less than interested, and any more can be too intense.  This punctuation, with breaks every few seconds, avoids an excessively probing or aggressive impression and prevents you from deteriorating into an uncomfortable stare.

Using the ‘windows to the soul’ when presenting

Talking about the charismatic CEO and Chairman of Cisco Systems, John Chambers, Business Week columnist Carmine Gallo observed:

“Watching John Chambers deliver a speech is like taking a course in confident body language. He maintains eye contact more than 80% of the time and speaks directly to individual people in the audience, instead of looking randomly about over the heads of his listeners”.

When addressing a large group break the audience into three imaginary zones – center, left and right.  Make a point of scanning the entire room about every 30-45 seconds.  Start with one of your imaginary zones and select someone to establish eye contact with.  For about five seconds or so address your points directly to him or her. A large circle of people around that person will feel that you are addressing your points to them personally.

Then move your attention to the next zone and again select someone to address your attention to for five seconds or so – making eye contact.

When you’ve done this with the last zone then work your way back across the audience in the opposite direction doing the same thing.  Each time you settle in a zone select someone different to make eye contact with.  Try to cover the zone from front to back over the course of your presentation so that, by the end of your presentation you have covered the entire room in a matrix , and everyone in the room feels that you addressed them personally at some point.

Learn from those around you – and from the pros

To really master eye contact watch how the pros do it.  Carefully watch your favorite TV interviewer or speaker and become a student of the way he or she uses this vital communication tool – then emulate it.

How do they make a strong point, how do they express agreement or disagreement, create rapport, express surprise and so on?

Make a point of creating better eye contact over the coming days and watch how it really does warm up your relationships and contacts.


Does anyone know how eye contact ‘rules’ vary by culture?

Use ‘Comments’ below to share your experience


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