So how should you use eye contact during a speech? There are basically three different types of eye contact for any presentation. There is the bottom 5% of speakers that are staring at their notes, staring at the floor, their back is turned to you and they are staring at their bullet points on their power point, or they are looking over people's heads at their imaginary spot on the wall, or they are looking at a clock. This is the absolute worst thing because the audience feels ignored. You do not want to do that. It is a complete disconnect.
The next 94.9% of speakers do something like this. They are addressing the audience the whole time. I call it the windshield wiper. Now it may be fast, or it may be slow. If you are in the audience, you never really feel like that speaker is looking exactly at you. There is another way of doing it. There is what the top .1% of speakers do. Now if any of you have ever seen former president Bill Clinton speak, you know what I am talking about. We are bi-partisans here. We are giving examples of Ronald Reagan's good speaking skills too.
Bill Clinton is especially good at this. A colleague of mine was once having a beer with President Clinton. This was re-election time. It was after a long day of campaigning and their sleeves were rolled up. They were playing poker, and having a beer. My colleague turned and said "wow, Mr. President, you did it again, you had 10,000 people in the palm in your hand, how did you do it". The President turned and said "Andy, very simple, I didn't speak to 10,000 people today, it's not what I did, I picked one person in the audience, and I had a private one-on-one conversation with that person for a full thought, and then I went to another person in the audience and I really looked at them and I held a private conversation with that person for a full thought."
Now the key is, you are only looking at someone for maybe four or five seconds, but compared to the typical speaker who is doing like this, it seems like eternity. So that is what President Clinton does, but anyone can do that. It is simple. It is not really hard like learning how to hit a hole in one, or learning how to be a world-class ballerina. Those are hard tasks.
Just looking at someone for a couple of sentences is relatively easy. Here is what it does, it relaxes you because you are no longer looking at 10,000 people or 100 people. It also makes the person you are speaking to feel like "Wow, he is really speaking to me, she is really speaking to me." So it is a much more powerful impact on the audience. It also makes you look steadier as a speaker because if you are like this, you look nervous. So even when someone is over here and you are not giving them direct eye contact, you look steadier and it's a much, much more powerful impression.
So that's really the key, is you're holding eye contact with one person for a full thought. Now you are doing this throughout the room. You're not just looking at your best friend. You're not just looking at the pretty woman or the hunky guy. You're not just looking to the decision maker. You're not just looking at the middle of the room. You're doing it sporadically, in a random way, but you are trying to cover the whole room. So that is really the key. No one is left out.
Now if you're speaking to 50 people or fewer, for even ten minutes, that means that you can give every single person in the room direct individualized eye contact. Now occasionally someone may feel uncomfortable, they look away. That's OK. You just look away and go to the next person. Remember, it is not a stare down contest and you are not singling out just one person, you are giving people more or less equal time throughout the room and that's the most effective way to use your eyes during a presentation.