|The Eyes Have IT: The Importance of Making Eye Contact for IT Professionals|
|Written by Kelly Vandever|
I had the opportunity to see an executive speaking to a group of employees in a company meeting recently. In listening to him, I felt this executive believed in the message that he was delivering. And despite delivering this same presentation in several different meetings, he spoke with energy and conviction. But there was one element missing from his presentation that would have added to his credibility and furthered his message even more powerfully. That missing element was eye contact.
What’s that old saying? How do you tell if an IT Professional is an extrovert? He looks at your shoes. This executive did slightly better than that. Instead of looking at his shoes (or those of the audience members in the first row), he did what many people do when they are speaking in front of a large group – he looked slightly over the heads of everyone in the room. It’s not the worst crime a presenter can commit. But consider instead the value of making direct eye contact.
There were easily 200 people in the room that day. If those employees made an average of $30 per hour, then the executive’s company was spending at least $6,000 an hour to have those people listening to him. Now consider that he delivered this same message multiple times. He and the company literally invested thousands of dollars to speak to the staff. His message was important and he delivered it well. But when you’re investing that much, shouldn’t you use every proven communication technique to make it effective? That leads us to why eye contact is so important.
Look Me in the Eye When You Say That
Most of us have grown up with the notion that looking someone in the eye is an indication of honesty. If someone avoids looking directly at us, we are left to infer that the individual has something to hide.
Think about it. If a sales person isn’t willing to look you in the eye when he tells you about the reliability of a product, alarms go off in your brain to be wary. If your teenager won’t look you in the eye when you ask where she’s been, you automatically suspect she’s trying to hide something. Audiences do the same thing when a speaker fails to make eye contact. Subconsciously, the audience questions the speaker’s sincerity. The reaction may be subtle -- something they don’t necessarily articulate. But the lack of direct eye contact leaves the audience with less conviction for the message than when the speaker is willing to look individual audience members directly in the eye. If you’re spending the time and energy to talk to your customer, your co-workers or your staff, make sure they believe what you’re saying – make eye contact.
If your audience is committing their time listening to you, they want to feel there is a connection with you as the speaker. They want to be engaged. They want you to make good use of their time. They want to be on your side.
To gain a connection with your audience, you need to recognize that an audience is not a “thing.” An audience is made up of individual people. And the way we show that we recognize the individual people is to look into the eyes of those individuals who make up that group. While it may be impossible to look at every single person in a large crowd, it’s guaranteed you won’t connect with them on a personal level if you look over all of their heads. Taking the time to look at individual members of the audience not only enhances their trust of you. It also helps the individuals that make up that audience connect to you as a person. Even as popular as telecommuting is, even IT professionals when placed in the same room, still crave connections with other human beings.
Hold the Gaze Longer than You Think You Should
So let’s say you’re convinced that you should not look at the audience’s shoes or over their heads. You believe you need to make eye contact. Let me warn you about another mistake that presenters often make. Rather than really establishing eye contact, they make only cursory eye contact with members of the audience. I call it the glance and go. These speakers will look quickly from one person to another but without ever really pausing and allowing themselves to establish sustained eye contact with one individual. They end up looking shifty as they quickly glance around the room. To the individuals in the audience, it feels like the speaker may be looking at them, but like the speaker never really sees him or her.
One way to give yourself more “quality time” with the individual eye contact is to state a complete thought or finish a whole sentence before moving on to look at the next person. The best presenters are those who seem to be having a conversation with the audience, rather than lecturing to them. Maintaining eye contact for a sentence or for a phrase helps add to that conversational tone and build that connection. You don’t want to stare at only one person the whole time you’re talking – that leaves out the rest of the audience and feels rather creepy to the one person you do make eye contact with. But go ahead and hold the eye contact just a little longer than you’re comfortable with and you’ll find that your audience will connect with you better and be more engaged with your message.
Information technology professionals are often accused of being introverts who have trouble communicating. But one manner that you as an IT professional can improve the effectiveness of a presentation is through better eye contact.
The executive in the company meeting gave a good presentation but he could have connected even better and made more of his investment if he’d spent the time making quality eye contact with the members of his audience. I hope he takes my advice about making direct eye contact so that he and his company can reap the rewards that come from a stronger connection with employees. And I wish the same for you as well!
About the Author
Kelly Vandever is a speaker, trainer and consultant and president of Communications for Everyone, LLC. Kelly helps IT leaders and sales professionals improve their business results by enhancing their speaking and presentation skills. Kelly can be reached through the Communications for Everyone web site http://CommunicationsForEveryone.com.