Why Eye Contact is Important in Communication

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 11, 2022 | Published October 9, 2020

Updated August 11, 2022

Published October 9, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

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Maintaining eye contact can be an important form of respect in workplace conversations, meetings and job interviews. It’s also a powerful presentation technique: If you're the one speaking, eye contact helps to indicate that you want the audience’s attention, and it can inspire people to take action.

In this article, we list steps and tips to improve your eye contact at work. We also discuss alternatives to making eye contact if this kind of body language doesn't apply to you.

Why eye contact is important in communication

a woman looking directly into the camera

Eye contact is can help improve your conversations with others as well as your public speaking skills. Here are a few reasons to improve your eye contact communication:

  • Improved concentration and confidence. Eye contact helps you maintain concentration and focus while showing confidence in what you're saying or presenting. If you maintain eye contact with another person, you can feel better knowing they’re paying attention and thinking about your topic.

  • Improved authority and empathy. Eye contact can project that you're an expert on what you're presenting. Holding eye contact while delivering information can also show your audience that you’re processing their reactions and have empathy for their feelings.

  • Improved engagement. Through eye contact, you can turn passive audience members into active participants in your speech or presentation, increasing the likelihood they’ll retain some information or perform the action that you're requesting.

Although eye contact can be helpful when talking with others, it's important to treat each conversation as its own unique situation and remember that some people cannot make eye contact, or are extremely uncomfortable doing so.

Read more: 8 Types of Nonverbal Communication (With Examples)

How to engage in eye contact communication: 6 steps

When you're able to make eye contact with others during a speech or a job interview, it can make what you have to say that much more impactful for your audience by capturing their attention and getting them to focus on what you're presenting.

Here are six steps to make better eye contact during presentations:

  1. Project confidence.

  2. Scan the room for individuals.

  3. Focus on one person at a time.

  4. Maintain appropriate eye contact.

  5. Understand body language.

  6. Hold eye contact for impact.

1. Project confidence

It's important to project confidence as you begin speaking or presenting. With a clear, steady tone and confident body language, your audience may expect some eye contact and you'll feel better about establishing it. Projecting confidence throughout your presentation also will help you maintain eye contact until the end.

2. Scan the room for individuals

Instead of seeing the room as a collective whole, focus on as many individuals as possible and see the group as being made up of these individuals. It'll be easier to establish and maintain eye contact when you see that you're talking to a few people instead of a large group.

3. Focus on one person at a time

Once you've trained your brain to understand there are individuals in the group, focus on one audience member at a time during your presentation. While you might be able to make an impact when you seem to look at the group as a whole, you'll probably find more success when you take stock of each person and make them feel valued as an individual audience member.

This also applies to eye contact communication when interviewing for a job with a group panel. While dialogue occurs here, be sure to focus on individuals when giving your responses or talking about yourself.

Related: How To Use Nonverbal Communication in an Interview

4. Maintain appropriate eye contact

It's usually not enough to casually glance at an individual during a presentation before moving on to the next person. To truly develop eye contact, make sure to hold it for an appropriate amount of time to form a connection. It shouldn't take longer than five seconds to do so, which is typically the time it'll take to finish an idea or thought. If you hold onto eye contact until you come to a comfortable pause in your presentation, you'll also remain more focused.

5. Understand body language

While some people enjoy eye contact, others may feel uncomfortable holding eye contact with someone. Pay special attention to the body language of the person you're maintaining eye contact with. If they shift a little in their seat or divert their gaze, consider moving your attention to someone else.

6. Hold eye contact for impact

As you approach impactful parts of your speech, deliver these statements or questions as you hold someone's attention with eye contact. The reaction you experience from this–especially during a funny joke or while revealing an impressive statistic–may help give you momentum to finish your presentation strong.

Read more: How To Give a Memorable Speech

Tips to improve eye contact communication

Consider these additional tips when you want to improve your eye contact communication during a work presentation or job interview:

  • Take a breath. Taking a deep breath before you start your presentation or interview can prepare you for eye contact during it. Especially if public speaking is new to you or makes you nervous, this can help you feel more prepared.

  • Share your eye contact. While you may feel more comfortable focusing on one person during your speech, especially when they show they’re engaged, make sure to share your eye contact with others so they feel equally valued.

  • Be prepared. The more prepared you are for your presentation or group interview, the easier and more natural it'll be for you to maintain eye contact with others.

  • Meet people beforehand. If applicable or time allows you to meet people before your presentation, do so. You may feel more comfortable making eye contact with them because you forged a connection earlier.

Read more: Why Eye Contact Is Important (With 8 Tips and Alternatives)

Alternatives to eye contact

It's important to note that it's not appropriate to expect eye contact from every person. Blind and partially sighted people as well as those with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), social anxiety disorder or extreme shyness may have a hard time making or maintaining eye contact.

According to a study published in The Journal of Blindness Innovation and Research, "since face-to-face communication relies heavily on nonverbal cues, people who are blind can be at a disadvantage in social situations." For some people, eye contact is extremely uncomfortable and should not be forced. A study published in the journal Scientific Reports suggests that individuals with ASD may have an oversensitivity to socio-affective stimuli, and a common strategy for decreasing their arousal levels is to avoid eye contact.

Some strategies that can serve as alternatives to eye contact include:

  • Turning your head to face the person you're speaking to

  • Using phrases and nonverbal vocalizations such as laughter and saying "uh-huh" to indicate that you're listening and agree or disagree with what's being said

  • Addressing the person you're interacting with by name

  • Taking turns when speaking

If you're unable to regularly maintain eye contact, you may consider letting your workplace or the person you're talking to know that you're uncomfortable making eye contact. You don't have to disclose a disability, but if you feel safe doing so, it could help you in requesting reasonable accommodations.

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