By Jonas Ezeanya.
The importance of eye contact in communication cannot be overlooked. Studies conducted over the years have affirmed that the eyes play an important role in both verbal and non-verbal communication.
Public speaking still ranks high on the list of most dreaded things in the world, but there are times when we have to come out of our comfort zone and deliver a speech, especially in our professional lives. If you are an able orator and can impress people with your oratory skills, your boss is likely to sit up and take notice.
Researchers studying human psychology are of the view that non-verbal communication plays an important role in effective communication. Eyes are known as the “windows of the soul” and express our emotions when words fail us. We all are well aware of the importance of eye contact in communication. It enables us to develop a connection with the people we speak to and so, not making eye contact can send out signals to others that we are uninterested. Maintaining eye contact doesn’t mean staring constantly in the other person’s eyes; doing this, in fact can send an offensive non-verbal message.
While delivering a speech, it is important that you make eye contact with several people or groups of people. Fixing your gaze on one particular individual or group may make other members of the audience feel that they do not hold any importance to you and this can cause them to be disinterested. This can happen when you spend more time facing or looking at a particular section of the audience, hardly turning to face others. It is important that you know the appropriate duration for which you are supposed to make eye contact with the members of the audience. There is a difference between making eye contact with your friends and loved ones, and members of the audience. It is important that you remember this. When you’re speaking to one particular individual, all your attention is focused on that one person, but in the case of an audience, you have to make sure that you make eye contact with as many people as you can. Successful orators agree that the way they use their body language to put their point across plays an important role in delivering an effective, well-received speech.
Interviewers often make statements like, “we selected her because she appeared more confident” or “he came across as an assured young man, with a lot of potential”. How does an individual make himself/herself appear more positive than others? The answer to this lies in how we communicate both verbally and non-verbally in an interview. If you fail to make eye contact in an interview, you run the risk of being labelled an introvert or the interviewer may get a feeling that there is something not right about you. Making eye contact portrays you in favourable light and ensures that you make a positive impression on the interviewer.
Eye-contact in Foreign Cultures
While I have mentioned the importance of eye contact in communication, it is also very important to know that in various cultures, making eye contact is considered offensive. In China people tend to avoid making eye contact as they consider it a mark of disrespect. In Central Asian countries, eye contact between a man and a woman is minimal unless you are closely related to each other. Women don’t look men that are not their husbands straight in the eyes. In Western cultures, however, direct eye contact is welcomed as a sign of sincerity and honesty. So it is very important therefore that you do a bit of research on how to conduct yourself in public, if you are planning to make a speech to a multi-cultural audience, or a trip abroad.
Making eye contact with the audience is the most difficult part of dealing with the fear of public speaking. It is the toughest task for people who are glossophobic. Many would prefer to fix their eyes on the ground or on the ceiling fan! It is imperative for us to put in the required effort so that we master the art of making appropriate eye contact to ensure good social and interpersonal skills.
PS: glossophobia is the “fear of speaking to a gathering of people”— or public speaking.
Jonas Ezeanya [BG] is an executive speech coach and public speaking trainer. As the founder of LiveSpeech Consult, based in Lagos-Nigeria, he facilitates the LiveSpeech Training Programme for presentation and public speaking. He works with companies and organisations whose executives, managers and staffs want to speak and present more effectively to improve personal and professional success. He also works with individuals in private [1-on-1] coaching. He can be reached on 0818-972-0737, by email on email@example.com or through his website www.LiveSpeech.org.