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Use Your Eyes: One of the Keys to Presenting

A business-English activity

Madrid resident Christopher Wright presents his views on using your eyes in presentations. Do the activity first here: Use Your Eyes Activity, or, if you prefer, simply read and listen to the article below.


Christopher Wright
Christopher Wright

Profesor de inglés de negocios y de inglés general imparte clases en empresas y a particulares en el centro de Madrid.
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The definitions of some expressions can be found at the bottom of the page and linked in the activity above.

Use Your Eyes: One of the Keys to Presenting

By Christopher Wright:

This may sound incredibly simple but when you listen to someone give a presentation or speech what do you prefer? Someone who reads directly from their scripted notes rarely looking at the audience, or someone who maintains direct eye contact with the audience.

Yes it’s not a difficult choice, eye contact is important but do you know why?

Recent research from Harvard University has shown that without eye contact we lose that all important emotional connection with the audience. A lack of emotional connection means you never get the chance to truly capture the hearts and minds of the audience.

People associate eye contact with honesty, sincerity, self-confidence and passion, all the characteristics of a great communicator. Think about the times you’ve been in a presentation or a public speech, as the speaker looked repeatedly down to read their notes, what were you thinking about?

Is confidence only communicated through words or are non-verbal clues just as important. Research into courtroom trials showed that jurors view witnesses who look at questioners directly in the eye as more credible and honest.

Next time someone speaks to you about something they are really passionate about, watch their eyes, are they dull or bright and sparkling. Most of us when truly animated by a subject come alive. Our body language becomes more dynamic, body gestures more energetic and our eyes twinkle and sparkle like diamonds.

Today’s audiences switch off to speakers who read from notes. Reading from notes chains you to the podium, have no body language and so lose over 70% of your ability to communicate. High impact presenters and speakers understand that their key messages have the greatest impact when both their body language and verbal communication are giving the same powerful messages with commitment and passion.

What about if you have no passion or feeling for presenting your company’s services or products? Well passion and feeling can be achieved by starting your speech speaking about something you do have passion and feeling for and deliberately relating it to the subject of your presentation. Say last night’s football game or place you visited that excited you, as long as you then relate it to the topic. The effect of the excitement in your body lasts for quite a while and will flow over into your presentation of company services and products.

How long should you maintain eye contact? Staring in any culture is as uncomfortable for you as it is for the audience. Some research studies suggest you should maintain eye contact for 80-90% contact, but staying focused that long can be tiring.

Some top presenters suggest controlling your eye contact by splitting the audience into three parts and focusing on one person in each of the three sections. Random eye contact with too many people loses you control of the audience. Then maintain eye contact with that person for as long as it takes to register their eye colour, any longer and you’ll be staring. Try and spend an equal amount of time addressing people in each of the 3 parts of the audience.

Practice with colleagues, a coach/trainer, friends or family. Ask them to give you a mark of between “1-10” to evaluate how credible they felt each of your key messages were. Where “1” you feel it’s a complete lie and “10” is 100% trust. Repeat your presentation 3 times and at the end of each presentation ask them to explain their marks.

Eye contact can also be combined with pauses to give your messages greater impact and energy. Pausing before you say something important, creates anticipation, makes the audience feel you are knowledgeable and in complete control. Pausing after you say something important (with good eye contact) gives the audience time to think about, understand and absorb a key message. It also keeps them involved in the presentation giving them time to catch up if they were lost. Top presenters use the PEEP rule:

  • P : Pause (first pause)
  • E : Energy and enthusiasm
  • E : (Focused) Eye contact
  • P : Pause (second pause)
  • Vocabulary

    Practice expressions from the text: Vocabulary Activity
    1. scripted notes - prepared written notes
    2. capture the hearts and minds - persuade and convince the audience
    3. come alive - the person feels more passionate about what they are saying
    4. twinkle and sparkle like diamonds - shine brightly
    5. switch off - stop concentrating
    6. chains you to the podium - remain in one place unable to move
    7. key messages - most important points of your presentation
    8. jurors - people who decide if somebody is guilty or not guilty of a crime
    9. flow over - something that continues on into the next thing
    10. making eye contact - both people see each other at the same time
    11. staring - keeping your eyes fixed on one thing without moving them
    12. register eye colour - looking until you know what eye colour a person has
    13. splitting the audience - dividing something into parts or sections

    Discussion Questions
    (Email me your answers to

    1. When have you used eye contact to persuade or convince?
    2. What’s the difference with presenters who maintain eye contact and those who don’t?
    3. How do you emphasise your key messages in your presentations?
    4. Describe what you think makes a great presenter?
    5. Who are / were your favourite presenters or public speakers? Why?

    See this text translated to Spanish by a professional translator at: El Contacto Visual.

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