The Eyes Have It

By Heather Baldwin

Maintaining eye contact during a presentation in order to establish trust and build rapport is one of those basic, Sales 101 principles. You’ve heard about it so many times that now when you hear about it, it just goes in one ear and out the other. Which is why you probably need a refresher course, says Roseann Sullivan, president of San Francisco-based Sullivan Communications, a professional development firm specializing in workplace communications excellence. Sullivan offers these eye-catching tips to become a more powerful communicator.

1. Eye contact should last five to seven seconds. That’s how long it takes for an audience member to experience a feeling of involvement. Since you probably don’t want to try counting to five while you’re talking about your new widget, hold someone’s gaze for as long at it takes to complete a sentence or thought.

2. Your mom was right – it’s not polite to stare. Diffuse tension by periodically breaking your gaze and looking away, especially when you’re presenting in a one-on-one or one-on-two situation. Depending on the circumstances, prolonged eye contact can be intimidating or just too personal.

3. If you’re uncomfortable making direct eye contact, start by looking at the bridge of each audience member’s nose. To the audience, it will feel as if they’re being looked directly in the eye. As you become more comfortable, gradually work you way up to direct eye contact.

4. Your high school speech teacher might have said it was okay to glance quickly at everyone in the group and then look over their heads or up at the ceiling, but don’t do it. Today’s savvy audiences know when they are being scanned – and they don’t respond well to it. Instead, pick a few friendly faces in various parts of the room and engage them with eye contact. Those sitting around them will feel connected, too.

5. When answering questions from individuals in a group, involve everyone by making eye contact with more than just the questioner. The easiest way to do this is to maintain eye contact with the questioner while you repeat the question, and then include other audience members as you answer the question. By doing so, the entire group will maintain a sense of involvement.

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