Let’s talk about eye contact in presentations.
You have hope, and you have a presentation goal that leads toward that hope. You know your audience, and you are determined to connect the audience to the content in ways that lead them toward the goal. You realize that your content’s quality is important, but it is not the only thing that will make an impact. Your delivery matters. So you want to be well prepared, and you want to engage the audience in ways that make it easy for them to listen and consider the ideas you are bringing to the table. Eye contact is a big part of this connection.
Eye Contact in Presentations on The Aisle
Do you remember being a kid on the cereal aisle? If you were lucky, an adult-in-charge gave you the honor of picking what you wanted.
Perhaps you are old enough now to remember giving your kids that privilege. You see the joy, and then you sense the overwhelm as they gaze down the corridor of options. Hundreds of boxes. Dozens of brands. What to choose?
The child wanders the aisle, waiting to see which cereal calls out to them.
The strange reality is that some do! The boxes have been carefully crafted to have a voice. The most powerful message they send is one of encouraging invitation.
How does this happen?
The best way to find out is to visit the cereal aisle and kneel as if you are tying your shoe.
Now, look around. See which boxes are inviting you to take them. You will find a few!
One of them will be Cap’n Crunch.
In a journal article for Environment & Behavior, researchers Aner Tal, Brian Wansink, and Aviva Musicus focused on eye contact with cereal boxes.
They report that,
“Eye contact with cereal spokes-characters increased feelings of trust and connection to the brand, as
well as ultimate choice of the brand over competitors.”(sagepub.com)
Ok. That is interesting.
But why am I pretending to tie my shoe as I look around?
Because the cereal companies know that the gaze needs to be angled down to make eye contact with their best customers—children! When kids look up and see Cap’n Crunch smiling at them, they want that cereal! The eye contact often leads to a sale. Positive eye contact is powerful—even when provided by an inanimate object like a cereal box.
Eye Contact in Presentations on Social Media
When the book, Big Presentations in Small Rooms, was released, I created an announcement and placed it on various social media outlets. It looked good.
And it was barely noticed.
Six weeks later, I received the first print copies of the book. I was excited to hold the results of so much work, so I posted again. This time it was not slick. It was just a photo of me holding the book.
And it received significantly more attention than the previous posting about the book release. I think I understand one reason for this.
Look back at Cap’n Crunch. Look at my photo. Do you see it?
I think that engaging and welcoming eye contact made a difference in my postings.
Eye Contact In Presentations in Teaching
Benjamin Zander is another excellent example of this truth. His TED talk about classical music is so much fun. A big part of the enjoyment is the engaging way he communicates. His eyes smile with an invitation to join him on his musical adventure.
The audience leans in and smiles along with him! It is the most fun I have ever had listening to classical music. On the date that I am writing this, his video on TED.com has 14,663,892 views. I account for more than a few of those because I love to hear him teach and see him smile.
Eye Contact In Presentations at Work
What is true on the cereal aisle and in social media postings is also true in presentations. Appropriately engaging eye contact is a powerful way to connect with your audience.
Cap’n Crunch, myself, and Benjamin Zander have in common a desire to connect, a longing to engage the audience. Cap’n Crunch gazes down at the young child. I look at my friends and those who have been with me on this journey. Zander lovingly connects with a room of students.
To apply these truths most effectively, you must care about your content, care about your audience and seek to bring the two together. Your smiling eyes reveal an optimism about the future. Tomorrow will be better than today because of what is happening right now.
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Do you have anyone in your life who has smiling eyes?
Can you think of a time someone’s smile was not engaging? What created the disconnect?