The Eyes Have It

by Stephen Boyd | March 31, 2006

Guillaume de Salluste De Bartas referred to eyes as 'these lovely lamps, these windows of the soul' in First Week, Sixth Day. Eyes are also a way of reinforcing a message you are communicating to an audience, whether you are delivering a presentation or talking one-on-one. In this article I will suggest ways to enhance use of eye contact in communicating with people.

First, make eye contact before you speak. This allows you to make a connection so that your first words have impact. The listener is more likely to give you careful attention when you make it a point to make eye contact first. If you are in a public speaking situation, pick out a person with a pleasant expression to make eye contact with first. Then move on to others; picking a pleasant face will increase your self-confidence as you begin. If you are in a personal conversation, eye contact is made simultaneously as a way to reinforce your message as you start to speak.

Second, make eye contact to stress a key point. When you want your listeners to hear an exclamation mark on a sentence, do so by looking directly at a portion of an audience. The eye contact enhances the use of voice to stress that this is more important than what I have said up to this point.

In one-on-one situations, don't make eye contact all the time you are talking. You don't want to get into a staring contest. Have a reason to look away occasionally. At the outset of a conversation with a new person, you might find an excuse to go to your briefcase so that the other person can look at you in private. This can make it easier for the person to pay attention to your message because he's had an opportunity to check you out without having to do so as he or she is listening to you. Taking a note occasionally gives you an excuse to look away. In your office, have pictures, wall hangings, or objects on shelves so the person will have a reason to look away occasionally.

In a presentation, as you look at a slide on the screen, when you come back to the audience, pick out a specific person to make eye contact with and then broaden eye contact to the whole group. When addressing a large audience of 500 you might use the clump approach to eye contact. Look at smaller groups of 25 to 30. You can quickly scan a large audience nonverbally with this approach and it does not seem mechanical.

You not only speak with words, or how you say the words; you also speak with your eyes. Don't neglect this important avenue of communicating your ideas.

About the Author

Stephen D. Boyd, Ph.D., CSP, is Professor Emeritus of Speech Communication, College of Informatics, Northern Kentucky University, near Cincinnati. He presents keynotes and seminars to corporations and associations whose people want to speak and listen effectively. See additional articles and resources at To book Steve, call 800-727-6520 or email him through his website.

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