Since the dawn of time, humans have used eye contact as a powerful nonverbal tool to connect to each other. Along with the handshake, eye contact is a key trust indicator in any human interaction. On the stage however, you don’t have the luxury of shaking hands with the audience. What’s left? Your eyes.
It happens every time you get up on stage. Without exception, audience members will look at the way you are standing, your clothing, your eye contact, and your bearing. They are making personal judgments. Do you appear trustworthy? Competent? Confident? What kind of vibe are you projecting? Are you someone to approach or avoid? All this is based upon the nonverbal cues you give to your audience.
Many speakers spend hours honing their scripts, seeking to choose exactly the right words, only to pay little or no attention to the visual details that the audience will make judgments from when it’s time to stand and deliver.
That’s a mistake. In the 1960s, Albert Mehrabian of UCLA did extensive research to understand the magnitude of verbal versus nonverbal communication. In his book, Silent Messages, he asserts that:
- 55 percent of communication is nonverbal—your bearing, eye contact, etc.
- 38 percent of communication is vocal—the manner in which you engage
- 7 percent of communication is words—choose carefully.
Gaze and Make a Greater Impression
Establishing and maintaining eye contact telegraphs to the audience that you are in the moment and paying attention to them. While it’s impossible to make eye contact with everyone simultaneously, span the room throughout the presentation carefully and quickly, making connections with someone as if they are the only one in the room. This gaze toward their direction will not only establish a rapport, it may increase the audience’s ability to retain your message.
A joint study published in the journal Applied Ergonomics speaks to the power of eye contact and the correlation of eye contact and retention of information as it is presented. Out of several different control groups, and with the speaker only looking back at the audience a mere 30 percent of the time, the group that was able to see the speaker during the presentation experienced a significant increase in what they remembered.
It’s hard to ignore someone who is truly looking at you. Their message somehow seems more important and more difficult to dismiss. This is a power that you can utilize in your presentations—no matter the size of the audience or the scale of the project. Your audience will appreciate the efforts you’re making to show you care enough about them to make that kind of nonverbal contact, and they’ll be more likely to remember why you were talking to them in the first place! Get more tips on giving engaging presentations here.