Eye Contact, Eye Communication and Eye Roll

Eye Quote Ralph Waldo Emerson

  • Two weeks ago a speaker looked down at his TV monitor most of the time, and glanced fleetingly at the audience.
  • Last week a sales person looked me in the eye when he explained how the camera worked, and I believed him when he said he wouldn't bargain.
  • The other night my wife made a comment, and unfortunately I gave one of my (rare) eye rolls, and she picked me off.

At Decker we teach and preach six behavioral skills - they have nothing to do with content and everything to do with establishing confidence, trust and authenticity. The most important of these is eye communication.

eye contact 2Clients often ask us what is the difference between eye contact and eye communication.

Eye contact is fleeting. It can be in passing, just a glance or a fraction of a second. It can be eyes flitting across an audience not really connecting. It could turn into a form of connection, but it isn't necessarily communication.

Eye communication is connection - think of eye contact on steroids.  It's the act of two pairs of eyes connecting and the contact leading to communication.  Eye communication involves more extended eye contact (at least 3-5 seconds for speakers communicating to a group) that forms a bond between two people.  As a speaker communicating to an audience, eye communication is the key to engaging with your audience.  It makes your presentation more like a conversation than a pitch.

Eye communication:

  • establishes rapport
  • strengthens listener involvement
  • contributes to a higher retention leveleye contact
  • increases your ability to persuade

A successful communications experience requires engaged eye communication.  If the listeners' ears are open but their eyes are closed, no connection can be made.  Eye communication is the key.

On the other hand, eye roll is discounting what the other person said. It is a put-down, and is actually much stronger a put-down than we tend to think. Often after an eye roll is picked off by the other party we hear the reply, "But I didn't say anything."

Look at this classic case of disdain shown by the many eye rolls (and other behaviors) from the TV show, The Apprentice:

"To make oneself understood to the people, one must first speak to their eyes." - Napoleon Bonaparte

Don't just make contact, communicate with your eyes. Positively.

8 thoughts on “Eye Contact, Eye Communication and Eye Roll
  1. One of the reasons I landed my role on “The New Lassie” was eye contact. At the final audition I did a scene with Will, the boy who was to play my brother. Apparently I looked away and rolled my eyes in part of the scene. But it was a moment that I should have been intent with my eyes. I later learned that when I left the room, the producers and cast members liked me. There was just something not quite right with my performance. Dee Wallace, who was to play my mom, was pulling for me. And she pinpointed the problem. They called me back in to do the scene again. But this time, Dee gave me direction. “When you do this part of the scene. Do not look away. Don’t roll your eyes. Stay right there with him.” I followed her direction. I got the part. The power of eye contact – it goes goes a long way.

    1. GREAT story Wendy, thanks! If only everyone knew how powerful eye communication was, we’d have a lot better communication. And could play in a lot more roles – on stage or in life.
      Appreciate your comments.

  2. You are, of course, dead right about the importance of eye contact, which gets quite a lot of attention in my book ‘Lend Me Your Ears’. One thing I talk about in relation to public speaking and presentation, which I’m sure you’ll have noticed too, is what I call ‘skewed’ eye contact, where a speaker spends much more time looking at one half of the audience than at the other, thereby ‘weakening audience involvement, to use your term, for quite extended periods of time.
    What continually surprises me in the UK is that people in very high places have this problem – e.g. Mrs Thatcher used to look 3 times to the left for every once she looked to the right and our current prime minister, Gordon Brown, and probable next prime minister David Cameron is afflicted with it.
    You can see Cameron doing it in a short video clip at https://bit.ly/3jumru and what really baffles me is that it’s (a) so obvious, (b) damaging to his rapport with audiences and (c) so very easy to cure once you’re aware of it!

    1. Thanks Max, coming from your great expertise I appreciate the comment. And Cameron is a bafflement – as is Obama. Both have the same eye contact problem, but with Obama it is obviously poor teleprompter skills. Ping-pong, 4 seconds one side and then 4 seconds the other. He needs coaching – it’s all about eye communication.

  3. Didn’t Emerson say that the “eyes were the window to the soul?” One thing we do learn is that the face is the most trainable and convincing part of our non-verbal communication with others or an audience. Recording one’s presentation and reviewing one’s own delivery in light of non-verbal communication training can be enormously helpful. Let’s keep our camera’s rolling!

Leave a Reply
blog post