Common Eye Contact Mistakes

Do you make these common eye contact mistakes?

Lisa B. Marshall
5-minute read
Episode #12

"The eyes are the windows of the soul.” I’ve always really liked that saying. For me it says that we get meaning from looking into someone's eyes; sometimes even more than what the words express. When I hold someone’s gaze, and I mean really look into their eyes, it make me feel like I am physically closer… like I am making a connection.

Eye contact. That's what we’re going to talk about today – making a connection with your eyes. We’ll talk about why it's important and the common mistakes people make. That's all coming up...

The Eyes Are the Most Powerful Weapon

As a member of the human race we instinctively know the importance of eye contact. It’s how you know if someone is paying attention or how you know if someone finds you attractive. In North America and most of Europe eye contact is critical for establishing trust. In fact, when a person averts his eyes he’s perceived as untrustworthy, superficial, and non-receptive. But, it in today’s global workplace it is also important to recognize that in some cultures steady eye contact is considered impolite or aggressive.

When making presentations eye contact is very important. In fact, your goal should be to maintain eye contact 90% of the time.

When making presentations eye contact is very important. In fact, your goal should be to maintain eye contact 90% of the time.

I like to think of the audience as one person; one person with a lot of heads, but still one person. It helps me to keep my delivery conversational and reminds me to maintain eye contact like I would in a regular one-on-one conversation.

When delivering a talk, I look directly into the eyes of a person and communicate a thought, then when I would normally look away, I just move to another set of eyes. So when I mentally shift from one idea to another, I also physically shift my eyes to a new person—I might stay with one person for as long as 20 or 30 seconds.

Of course, you don't want to mechanically zig zag through the room, you'll want to naturally move from person to person, and in a very large room from section to section. Keep in mind that the sweet spot in a large auditorium is about 2/3 of the way back towards the center. When you look there, a good portion of the audience will think you are looking directly at them, but don’t forget to include the people in the very front, all the way back, and both sides.

Most People Don't Maintain Enough Eye Contact

So if you’ve had any public speaking training, it’s likely you already know the importance of eye contact, yet, I’ve found that most people don’t maintain enough eye contact during presentations; again your goal should be have direct eye contact 90-95% of the time. This means, not looking at your projected slides, and instead looking at all faces –including people who are frowning, and not looking up or down to plan your words.

Talk to Your Audience, Not the Slides (Pitch the Laser Pointer)

By far, the most common mistake is turning to look at the projected slides. This happens because most people use their slides as their notes. They jam a bunch text on a slide and then when they are presenting, they turn their body to read the information that’s on the slide. And the problem is worse when they use a laser pointer—that’s when even more turning and talking to the screen occurs.

Most people don’t even realize how often they are NOT looking at the audience. They think they are maintaining eye contact, but they are not. It definitely helps to watch a video of yourself presenting to see the extent of the problem.


About the Author

Lisa B. Marshall

Lisa B. Marshall Lisa holds masters with duel degrees in interpersonal/intercultural communication and organizational communication. She’s the author of Smart Talk: The Public Speaker's Guide to Success in Every Situation, as well as Ace Your Interview, Powerful Presenter, and Expert Presenter. Her work has been featured in CBS Money Watch, Ragan.com, Woman's Day, Glamour, Cosmopolitan, and many others. Her institutional clients include Johns Hopkins Medicine, Harvard University, NY Academy of Science, University of Pennsylvania, Genentech, and Roche.