How to Maintain Proper Eye Contact

Eye contact is generally considered the most important visual reinforcer a speaker has. Listeners like to be watched;, this is particularly true in persuasive business speaking. The American business culture relies heavily on the “look ’em straight in the eye” approach.

Generally speaking, eye contact should be a controlled speaking behavior. Don’t stare at people, yet don’t be too fleeting. That may sound contradictory, so here are three tips for effective eye contact while speaking:

  1. Hold eye contact for approximately one to three seconds, then move on to someone else. If you’re in a deep and serious one-on-one conversation, the time could easily double or triple.
  2. Use the X-Y-Z method, which means moving eye contact around the room in an X, Y, or Z pattern. Imagine yourself drawing one of these letters with your eyes.
  3. Move your eye contact everywhere; don’t look at only one or two people. This is a common mistake. You may find textbooks on speaking that urge you to “find a friendly face in the audience, make eye contact with, and talk to that person.” Don’t do it. It’s nice to feel comfortable with your listeners. However, if you get too comfortable and have too much eye contact with one listener, you’ll lose the others. They will feel rejected and ignored. Be careful of this common mistake. Move the eye contact around.
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