Tag Archives: Presentations

Eye Contact: Why?

Try this experiment. Call your dog. Where does he look? More than likely, your dog will look toward your eyes. Now try one more experiment. Get your dog’s attention and then just stare at him. Don’t say anything and don’t do anything. What happens? Chances are your dog will begin to feel uncomfortable. You’ll see that he will look away from you as if he is in trouble, or maybe he’ll begin to whine like my dog did.

What all of this proves is that eye contact is universal among all creatures. It also proves that eye contact is extremely powerful. So much can be said with just a look. Even your dog understands that just staring at him is an extremely aggressive act.

This is why using eye contact correctly in your presentations is so important. You use your voice, and perhaps some visual aids, to communicate your message, but when you make eye contact with your audience, you are letting them into your emotional world. Eye contact is so ingrained in all living creatures that our subconscious mind interprets the many emotions displayed in a speakers eyes.

Here are two examples.

  1. During an experiment done at Cornell’s Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, the conductors altered the rabbit on a Trix box so it was looking straight at the adult subjects. When two boxes where shown to the subjects, they were more likely to choose the boxes with the character looking straight at them.
  2. An experiment done by the University of Chicago and University of Maryland, twenty men where shown two identical pictures of an attractive woman. The only difference between the photos was the pupils were artificially enlarged on one. When asked which picture seemed more attractive, the majority of the men picked the one with the enlarged pupils, although the vast majority of those men couldn’t explain why.

Through these and many other experiments, we see that eye contact works on a subconscious level and is extremely powerful when used in the public speaking arena. The audience feels that the speaker is more confident, authoritative, honest and trustworthy when they meet their gaze.

Eye contact also helps the speaker. If you are speaking to a group and not using eye contact, your field of vision will not be concentrated, opening you up to any and all distractions around the room. If you are concentrated on a set of eyes, the likelihood of being distracted is diminished significantly, because your field of vision will be concentrated. You will tend to feel more confident, although this may not be the case for a beginner. When a speaker is not used to speaking to groups, he may feel a little uncomfortable looking into other people’s eyes, but after some practice he will become more comfortable with it and as a result will have a very powerful tool in his public speaking tool box.

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My First Competition Part 1

I joined Reading Toastmasters in March of 2004 because my employer at the time asked me to start attending some municipal Planning Commission meetings in his place. I felt I needed some extra confidence to perform well in front of a group, so I remembered back to what an old communications instructor had said about Toastmasters. He highly encouraged everyone in the class to join. I was intrigued by the idea of Toastmasters, but I never pulled the trigger. Now it was time. When I joined Reading Toastmasters, I knew nothing about the semi-annual contests. Even after finding out about them, I never considered competing. That is, until I gave a particular speech.

I told a story called “The Cursed Tribe.” When I wrote the story, I did a lot of research on the history of Berks County, Pennsylvania. I added several pieces of local history to make the story more plausible. The story was about a course placed on a small area in Berks County when one Indian tribe was wiped out by another, hundreds of years before the white man came to this land.

After I told the story, I found that many people in the audience thought the story was true. I had to explain that the whole thing was a figment of my very bazzar imagination. They continued to pepper me with questions about local history and I had a lot of fun answering them.

As I was ready to leave for the evening, the president called me over and told me that I “need to use that speech in the next International Speech contest”. I gave the speech in April 2005, well after the International Speech Contest was underway, so I had to wait nearly a year before I would be able to compete.

The day of the Reading Toastmasters International Speech Contest arrived quicker than I thought. I was prepared to compete, but I was a little nervous. There were two other competitors and each of them had nearly twenty years of speaking experience and there I was with only 2 years of experience. Before the contest started, I was pretty sure how the evening would end. At the end of the night, I realized I had guest right … mostly.