Wherever you look, your audience is probably going to look there too.
This is a human trait. You’re not going to get around it. There’s no amount of presentation training that is going to help you overcome it.
If your audience sees you looking at your slides, they will probably also look at your slides. That doesn’t mean that looking at your slides is inherently bad, but it does mean that, since you compete with your slides for attention, when you look at them you are almost guaranteed to move the audience’s attention off of yourself and onto your slides.
Another way that this plays out is when people are participating in panels. When you are on a panel, even when you are not speaking, you are basically performing. Wherever you look, the audience will look too. If, while you are not speaking, you look at the floor, or at your hands, or at the ceiling, your audience is also going to look at the floor, or your hands, or the ceiling, too, and not at the speaker. You are distracting the audience.
So keep in mind that when you are on a panel or when you are using other people on your panel, that you are performing the whole time, not just when you are speaking. Wherever the audience should be looking, you look there too.
By the way, we recommend that you run a little test, just so you too can see how natural and unavoidable this little human quirk is:
Get a couple friends. Go out on to the street. Look at the sky.
Chances are pretty good that people passing by will also look at the sky. If they’re busy and they’re hurrying to get somewhere they might only look at the sky for a second or two, but they’re going to look at the sky.