3 Reasons Eye Contact is So Important

Eye contact is one of the most powerful forms of communication. But we spend a lot of time looking down at our phones these days. Does that mean that eye contact is becoming a bit of a lost art? I sure hope not. But perhaps we could use some reminders of why it’s so important to look up from our phones and into the eyes of those around us.

Whether we are sitting in across the table from a friend engaged in conversation or we are speaking in front of an audience of hundreds, it boils down to this. Eye contact matters. Here are 3 reasons we need to remember to engage in this important form of communication.

1. It Communicates Confidence.

Eye contact can provide us with important clues about the nature of relationships. Researchers John F. Dovidio and Steve L. Ellyson discovered that eye contact is tied to social hierarchy and dominance, and here’s how it works. First, researchers would measure the amount of time you look at someone while speaking to them. Then, they would divide that number by the amount of time you look at them while you are listening to them. This is called your visual dominance ratio. If your “look time” is about even, you have a ratio of 1. But if you look at them more when you are speaking rather than when you are listening, you’ll have a ratio higher than 1. This means you see yourself as socially dominant. However, if you look away more when speaking and less when listening, your ratio will be less than 1, meaning you see yourself lower on the social hierarchy.

This reminds us that eye contact can be used to signal power and confidence. A balanced visual dominance ratio is ideal, but we rarely have a ratio of 1. So in situations in which you want to assert yourself and display confidence (like in public speaking), it’s important to make sure to make good eye contact while you are speaking.

2. It Increases Focus.

When you are delivering a presentation, there is a lot going on. First, you are probably trying to remember what you want to say. But beyond that, you are picking up on the sounds in the room. You are taking in visual feedback like audience facial expressions. And your eyes are naturally drawn to any movement, like the person shifting in his seat or the woman leaning over to whisper to the person sitting next to her. It’s a lot to take in. But eye contact can help to quiet your busy brain and give you better focus.

According to Sims Wyeth, President of Sims Wyeth & Co., when you make eye contact with someone for 3-5 seconds, it helps you focus and can even slow down your rate of speech. A slower rate of speech can help you to appear more calm and confident. So if you are having trouble focusing during a presentation, it might help to make eye contact with someone in the audience. That will quiet your brain and increase your focus on what you are trying to communicate.

3. It Fosters Connection.

Perhaps the most important reason to look up and make eye contact, though, is this one. It connects us. Think of how a baby uses eye contact. From the time we are born, we are on the search to lock eyes with someone else. In fact, Dr. John Amodeo says that we need eye contact to grow and develop. It’s essential to emotional health and attachment. That innate need to connect with other humans through eye contact doesn’t just disappear as we grow older. We still need eye contact as much at age 18, or 37, or 56 as we did at age 1.

So when you work to make eye contact a priority, you are meeting a deep need for your listeners. Just by making eye contact, you are communicating respect and attention. And that leads to connection.

We all need repeated reminders to look up and to engage with those around us by looking into their eyes. This is even more important for presenters who are eager to communicate confidence, increase focus, and foster connection with their audience members.

At Ethos3, we love helping people just like you develop, design, and deliver great presentations. How can we help you get started on your next big presentation?

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