One of the most common mistakes people make when giving a presentation is not making enough eye contact with their listeners. Either they aren’t practiced presenters or they are underestimating the importance of making eye contact.
Why is making eye contact so important? There are several reasons. For one thing, think about when you’re having a conversation with another person. If that person never makes eye contact with you, you might begin to think of him or her as “shifty” or not trustworthy. Your audience may think of you that way if you don’t make eye contact with them often throughout your presentation. Another reason it’s important is that if you don’t make eye contact, your audience will be less interested in your presentation and you may lose them altogether.
Making eye contact while giving a presentation can be a difficult skill to master. Your presentation must flow naturally and focusing on making eye contact can distract you. So the first thing you’ll need to do is be able to give your presentation by using notes rather than reading it word for word from a script. The next thing is practice, practice, practice. Practice it in front of a friend, another student, or even a mirror. Once you feel you have the presentation down very well, the next step is to work on eye contact. You’ll need to make eye contact with several different people in the audience, but the critical skill to master is how long to make that contact; too long will seem creepy and too short will be distracting to your listeners. The general rule of thumb is to look at each person for no longer than three to five seconds. Other presenters say each time they make a new point they look at a new person.
You’ll also want to focus on more than just a few people. Some professional presenters say that if you look at a spot that is at the center of the audience (widthwise) and more than halfway to the back of the room (lengthwise), most people in the audience will think you’re looking at them. But it’s always a good idea to focus on specific people as you speak. Again, practicing in front of other students is a good way to ensure your eye contact skills are in place.