Creating Effective Eye Contact

The importance of “eye contact” became very apparent during a “rehearsal” speech given by a contender for an international Toastmaster speech contest. While the presenter had excellent presentation skills and truly compelling content, the lack of good eye contact made him come across as insincere.

In this particular instance, the presenter simply didn’t “connect with” the audience. He seemed to look over our heads, making sure to glance to all corners of the room, but not actually looking directly into anyone’s eyes. Sometimes we’re a bit shy or nervous or scared that focusing on someone will throw us off our message. There are others that might feel that focusing on one person alienates the rest of the audience. Nothing could be further from the truth.

At a recent speaking association meeting, the audience of professional speakers were fortunate enough to receive a talk by a first class, internationally acclaimed speaker,  Christina Kaya (, who talked about this very subject and allowed us to do some tests. What we discovered is that eye contact is actually a four-step process and requires at least 10 seconds to actually “complete the connection.”

During Christina’s speech, she used the analogy of throwing a ball. Step one is for the speaker to connect with the audience member by looking directly in their eyes.

Step two is for the speaker to “throw the ball” (ie: engage the audience member by locking eyes and having them acknowledge the contact). For example, sometimes you might look directly at an audience member who is partially asleep or in a trance and not really paying attention (I’m SURE this has never happened to you, but it’s certainly happened to me!)

Football players throwing the ball.Step three is for the “return of the ball” (ie: to acknowledge the point you have made – they the audience member has received the information and understands it). This is done with the eyes or very subtle facial expression.

Step four involves the presenter catching the returned ball and moving on to the next audience member. You disengage their gaze at the end of having made your point.

All of these steps are very subtle. However, not actually “connecting” with your audience (not making eye contact with individual members) in this manner can create some unease. There is a feeling that the speaker is really not talking to anyone in particular.

As an audience member, if I see the speaker connecting with other members of the audience on a one-to-one basis, even though the speaker may not look at ME specifically, I have the sense that I have participated and that the speaker is having a two way interactive dialogue with the audience as a group.

So, next time you get up to do a presentation, make sure you concentrate on individual members of the audience. Make it a habit to deliver an entire point (perhaps that’s a paragraph or a few sentences) to one audience member before moving on to the next. Try it out. You’ll find your audience will be far more satisfied with your talk and much more engaged throughout.