As presentation trainers we tell our clients over and over, “More eye contact, more eye contact.” But sometimes you’ve got other stuff to do, and it’s okay to look away. Not to read your slides or look at your shoes, no. But to visualize something you’re talking about.
Like when you’re telling a story. Sometimes in order to tell a story really well you’ve got to look into the distance and visualize it. See the people. Run your hands across the fabric on the furniture, or feel the grass. Remember what people said, hear their voices, see the dirt in the corner. Feel how you felt. And when you do these things, your audience will realize there is a reason you are not looking in their eyes. They will know it is because you have transported yourself to another time and place, and they will come with you.
Remember that the point of making eye contact is not just to make eye contact for eye contact’s sake. The point of making eye contact is to connect with your audience, to bring them into your head, into your heart. And if your head and heart are busy telling a story so vivid that your audience has decided to come with you, you don’t need to make eye contact. Look at your audience every once in a while to make sure they are as interested in your story as you are. But don’t feel the need to make eye contact just because experts told you to make eye contact.
When you are visualizing your story, it is highly likely that you are serving eye contact’s purpose better than eye contact would.