Presentations – Stand Out Tip – Look ‘em in the Eye

The remarkable thing about having powerful presentation skills is that they “trickle down” to all of your interpersonal communications, whether in meetings, interviews, or even phone calls. So mastering the tough skills of standing up and standing out in front of a crowd also means you’ll have the ability to stand out in all your interactions. There are a handful of qualities that consistently do give you stand out status. Doesn’t matter how smart or talented or attractive you are-universally, these attributes can make you the kind of person that other people want to know, work with and do business with.

One powerful such attribute is “look em in the eye.” In our culture, eye communication is correlated with trust and credibility.

What do you think about those who can’t look at you while talking to you? At best, you might assume a lack of confidence or knowledge about what they’re talking about. At worst, you may think they’re lying. Neither are particularly desirable assessments! And turn it around. Suppose you’re the one talking and your listener is not looking at you. How does that make you feel? At best, you might feel like you’re not being listened to; at worst, it sends a signal of disinterest and disrespect. That’s certainly not conducive to good communication.

I do an exercise in my training workshops where I pair everyone up into partners, A & B. Each pair has a conversation where A talks and B listens. However, at a signal from me, B must break eye communication. What happens next varies from workshop to workshop, but it always has one of these results: (1) the room goes silent as all the As get so derailed, they stop talking, (2) the volume level increases substantially as some of the As talk louder to get the attention of the disengaged Bs, or (3) there’s hilarious laughter as the As realize they can’t communicate with B if B isn’t looking them in the eye!

In a workshop I did for a printing company, a participant, who happened to be the group’s manager, spoke up during the debriefing of that exercise and announced, “This was a life-changing event for me.” Wow. I asked her to explain.

“Well, I have always prided myself on my ability to multi-task. I could be proofing a galley and typing a memo, and if an employee came into my office, I could still listen to whatever they had to tell me without breaking stride on the other stuff. But what I just learned is, it doesn’t matter whether I’m listening to them or not. The perception is that I’m not. And I don’t want to make it hard for my team to communicate with me.”

The rest of that story is, several years later, I ran into this manager at a social event. I told her what a strong impression her admission had made on me all those years ago and asked her if it had truly guided her communications after that. She assured me that it had. And, by the way, she had in those few years, become one of the partners of the company. All due to being able to look people in the eye? Who knows? But it’s clearly an important “stand out” skill.

Here’s a great way to remember its value: “eye communication” insures you’re not having “I communication.” The ability to look someone in the eye — whether you’re talking or listening — conveys an interest in the other party, which makes that person feel special, appreciated, listened to. Keep in mind, I’m not talking about a stare-down. It’s natural to occasionally break a gaze, to glance at notes, to raise your eyes in thought. But when your eyes are primarily focused elsewhere, it’s a huge disconnect. Eye communication is a strong connecting behavior. It instills confidence and trust.