Tips for Making Eye Contact

When making a presentation, eye contact with the audience is crucial for maximum impact. The Public Speaker explains how to avoid relying on your slides and your notes.

Lisa B. Marshall
2-minute read

Tips for Making Eye Contact

By far, the most common mistake when giving a speech 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. It definitely helps to watch a video of yourself presenting to see the extent of the problem.

So how do you make it better? The key to good eye contact is preparation. You'll need to prepare ahead of time so that you’ll never have to look at your projected slides. If you need notes to guide you through, then use a single sheet of paper –with big print—so that you can quickly glance at it and then return your gaze back to the audience before you speak. Or position your laptop so that it is in easy view in front of you. I always request a separate small table so that I can see my laptop, even when I am walking around the stage.

Regarding the laser pointer – try not to use it. If you know that you plan to point something out on your slides, then you should modify your graphics so that the highlights are already included. Insert brightly colored arrows, boxes, or circles,whatever you need to highlight the key information. I’ll admit it takes slightly more time to prepare this way, but the payback is that your audience will know what to look at without having to wait for your laser light show. More importantly, you can keep your eyes on your audience and establish a firm rapport.

Give yourself time to adjust to this technique, it takes practice, but really works well. Oh, and keep the laser pointer handy, just in case you need to do some unplanned pointing during the Q&A period.

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.