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.
- 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.
- 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.