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Why Eye Contact Is So Important In Public Speaking

Why Eye Contact Is So Important In Public Speaking

There are a lot of things that can make someone an effective public speaker. They can play to their audience, speak clearly with an authoritative tone, or even simply possess natural charisma like Steve Jobs or Richard Branson. One thing that is universal is eye contact. All of the best public speakers use eye contact for a myriad of reasons and we’ll go over some of those now.

1. Eye contact helps you concentrate

When your eyes are just scanning a room you end up taking in a lot of imagery. All those colors and shapes actually slow your brain down because it’s trying to concentrate on what you’re saying and also on all of this other stuff that your eyes graze over. By making eye contact every now and then, it allows your brain to focus on just one thing which clears it out to focus on what you’re trying to say.

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2. It helps others pay attention

Making eye contact with somebody is a good way to get them to pay attention to you. These days with smartphones, readily available WiFi for laptops, and other distractions, it’s really easy for a crowd to start to lose focus. You can help restore this focus by making eye contact with people. If you look at them they will also look at you. This is especially effective for smaller crowds. It’s a simple formula. If you look at them then they will look at you and if you cannot then they probably won’t.

3. It gives you authority

This one is easy to understand once you’ve seen an example. Parents and police officers especially know this. If your child can’t look at you in the face when they tell you something, chances are they are lying or are ashamed about what they’ve done. The same can be said for public speaking with small variations. If you can’t make eye contact with your listeners, your listeners will subconsciously lose faith that you know what you’re talking about. This is why tech companies typically find the most charismatic person to give presentations instead of the nerdy guys with stage fright. A lot of your authority comes from looking someone dead in the eyes and telling them what is what.

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4. Sustained eye contact can give you confidence

eye contact

    In the movies, you’ll see something akin to this in action. The man and the woman stare at each other for about 30 seconds and then they start kissing uncontrollably. Now we’re not saying that people are going to rush the stage and kiss you because that’s absurd. However, when you have eye contact with an individual you can give yourself more confidence.

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    5. It turns your listeners into participants

    When your audience notices that you’re look at them, it encourages them to respond using facial gestures. If you’re speaking and you look at someone who then frowns then you know something isn’t going right. This gives you a chance to change tactics. Looking at people, reading their expressions, and adapting after the fact turns your speech into a conversation with your audience. This can be the difference between a successful and enjoyable speech and a total flop.

    6. It will help you talk at a more pleasing pace

    When you look someone in the eyes for about three to five seconds it will actually slow your speech down. This helps you talk at a more natural pace and makes it easier for others to understand you. It may even help you pause entirely which is a popular tactic used by a lot of leaders and speakers.

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    When you combine all of these things into a single package you end up with a pretty significant difference in your speech giving. You’ll be more confident and talk at a better pace with more concentration. It can be the difference in convincing the audience and not convincing an audience. Need proof? Every time Steve Jobs took the stage at Apple’s yearly event, Apple’s stock went up.

    Featured photo credit: Carbonated via media.carbonated.tv

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    Joseph Hindy

    A writer, editor, and YouTuber who likes to share about technology and lifestyle tips.

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    Last Updated on July 17, 2019

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    The Science of Setting Goals (And How It Affects Your Brain)

    What happens in our heads when we set goals?

    Apparently a lot more than you’d think.

    Goal setting isn’t quite so simple as deciding on the things you’d like to accomplish and working towards them.

    According to the research of psychologists, neurologists, and other scientists, setting a goal invests ourselves into the target as if we’d already accomplished it. That is, by setting something as a goal, however small or large, however near or far in the future, a part of our brain believes that desired outcome is an essential part of who we are – setting up the conditions that drive us to work towards the goals to fulfill the brain’s self-image.

    Apparently, the brain cannot distinguish between things we want and things we have. Neurologically, then, our brains treat the failure to achieve our goal the same way as it treats the loss of a valued possession. And up until the moment, the goal is achieved, we have failed to achieve it, setting up a constant tension that the brain seeks to resolve.

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    Ideally, this tension is resolved by driving us towards accomplishment. In many cases, though, the brain simply responds to the loss, causing us to feel fear, anxiety, even anguish, depending on the value of the as-yet-unattained goal.

    Love, Loss, Dopamine, and Our Dreams

    The brains functions are carried out by a stew of chemicals called neurotransmitters. You’ve probably heard of serotonin, which plays a key role in our emotional life – most of the effective anti-depressant medications on the market are serotonin reuptake inhibitors, meaning they regulate serotonin levels in the brain leading to more stable moods.

    Somewhat less well-known is another neurotransmitter, dopamine. Among other things, dopamine acts as a motivator, creating a sensation of pleasure when the brain is stimulated by achievement. Dopamine is also involved in maintaining attention – some forms of ADHD are linked to irregular responses to dopamine.[1]

    So dopamine plays a key role in keeping us focused on our goals and motivating us to attain them, rewarding our attention and achievement by elevating our mood. That is, we feel good when we work towards our goals.

    Dopamine is related to wanting – to desire. The attainment of the object of our desire releases dopamine into our brains and we feel good. Conversely, the frustration of our desires starves us of dopamine, causing anxiety and fear.

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    One of the greatest desires is romantic love – the long-lasting, “till death do us part” kind. It’s no surprise, then, that romantic love is sustained, at least in part, through the constant flow of dopamine released in the presence – real or imagined – of our true love. Loss of romantic love cuts off that supply of dopamine, which is why it feels like you’re dying – your brain responds by triggering all sorts of anxiety-related responses.

    Herein lies obsession, as we go to ever-increasing lengths in search of that dopamine reward. Stalking specialists warn against any kind of contact with a stalker, positive or negative, because any response at all triggers that reward mechanism. If you let the phone ring 50 times and finally pick up on the 51st ring to tell your stalker off, your stalker gets his or her reward, and learns that all s/he has to do is wait for the phone to ring 51 times.

    Romantic love isn’t the only kind of desire that can create this kind of dopamine addiction, though – as Captain Ahab (from Moby Dick) knew well, any suitably important goal can become an obsession once the mind has established ownership.

    The Neurology of Ownership

    Ownership turns out to be about a lot more than just legal rights. When we own something, we invest a part of ourselves into it – it becomes an extension of ourselves.

    In a famous experiment at Cornell University, researchers gave students school logo coffee mugs, and then offered to trade them chocolate bars for the mugs. Very few were willing to make the trade, no matter how much they professed to like chocolate. Big deal, right? Maybe they just really liked those mugs![2]

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    But when they reversed the experiment, handing out chocolate and then offering to trade mugs for the candy, they found that now, few students were all that interested in the mugs. Apparently the key thing about the mugs or the chocolate wasn’t whether students valued whatever they had in their possession, but simply that they had it in their possession.

    This phenomenon is called the “endowment effect”. In a nutshell, the endowment effect occurs when we take ownership of an object (or idea, or person); in becoming “ours” it becomes integrated with our sense of identity, making us reluctant to part with it (losing it is seen as a loss, which triggers that dopamine shut-off I discussed above).

    Interestingly, researchers have found that the endowment effect doesn’t require actual ownership or even possession to come into play. In fact, it’s enough to have a reasonable expectation of future possession for us to start thinking of something as a part of us – as jilted lovers, gambling losers, and 7-year olds denied a toy at the store have all experienced.

    The Upshot for Goal-Setters

    So what does all this mean for would-be achievers?

    On one hand, it’s a warning against setting unreasonable goals. The bigger the potential for positive growth a goal has, the more anxiety and stress your brain is going to create around it’s non-achievement.

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    It also suggests that the common wisdom to limit your goals to a small number of reasonable, attainable objectives is good advice. The more goals you have, the more ends your brain thinks it “owns” and therefore the more grief and fear the absence of those ends is going to cause you.

    On a more positive note, the fact that the brain rewards our attentiveness by releasing dopamine means that our brain is working with us to direct us to achievement. Paying attention to your goals feels good, encouraging us to spend more time doing it. This may be why outcome visualization — a favorite technique of self-help gurus involving imagining yourself having completed your objectives — has such a poor track record in clinical studies. It effectively tricks our brain into rewarding us for achieving our goals even though we haven’t done it yet!

    But ultimately, our brain wants us to achieve our goals, so that it’s a sense of who we are that can be fulfilled. And that’s pretty good news!

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    Featured photo credit: Alexa Williams via unsplash.com

    Reference

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