7

My question looks similar to this question but in my case, I am the one doing the talking and not the listening. So, in an office environment or while talking to friends, when I am talking and two or three people are listening I get confused about whom to look at. If I start the conversation looking at one person and then feel the other two looking at me, then I get confused, I feel if I keep looking at the same person, the other two might feel left out, and when I try looking at someone else, I get confused the first person might feel unwanted or something.

It gets weird, when I change the eye contact, then many times what happens is that the first person starts staring at me instead of just looking, making me feel awkward. So, how do I handle this situation of talking to multiple people?

12

... in an office environment or while talking to friends ...

I think you have 2 very different settings and backgrounds here. I never had a problem with family, friends and acquaintances, but I had to train and train (and repeat) again when I had to talk to people in an office or giving a presentation. That's why I'll focus on the professional part. And when you succeed in one, most of the time, you can't miss the other one anyway...

First, it's important to know / learn about the importance of eye contact during a presentation and learn some tips for making eye contact. You can also read about how to overcome eye contact anxiety. (I give very few links, as there are so many you can easily find, some being very useful, some much less, you need to sort this out...).

My only tip, the one I practiced, was to move my eyes following the rythm of the sentences. For instance: when you read for yourself, in your head, you may not "act", and just keep a neutral tone. No matter what you read, the words will do the job. But when you "read" for someone else, you want the words to be "real", and you want the tone that you use to convey the idea behind the words: frightning? loving? joy? pain? sadness? Try to do the same with your speeches to colleagues. Make ideas come to life using the appropriate tone. Slightly emphasize what needs to be, use a quick 1s pause after a punchline or an important fact. Let people catch the idea.

So, when I had to talk to teammates, I would make sure I evenly split the time of eye contact. One idea or sentence to each one of them, more or less. The sentence being directly said to the person, with eye contact. It's like reading a book to children. In your case, talking to adults, you sure don't need to emphasize. And make sure you don't, as it may be seen as patronizing.

If you have people sitting at a table, in front of you, with a 180° angle point of view, split this big area. 3 or 4 smaller areas, filled with 2 or 3 people. Then, talk to these 2 or 3 at the same time, then, move to another area and repeat. This way, people feel like they are important without being singled out. When on a stage (watch videos of great teachers or tycoons giving a presentation and see how they move, learn their body language), you should move from left to right, and back, with small stops. When you can't walk or move, do the same with your eyes and look at them; just like if they were taking turns, one on one.

Practice, and practice again. Keep in mind what you have to say, the idea you want to convey to these people, and "read" it to them. Tell them the story you wrote. Once I realized I was able to do that, I was much less nervous, and much more efficient.

4

My "theory" on eye contact comes from doing presentations and teaching classes. My first few attempts at such were pretty bad, where I was much in the same state as the OP, not knowing exactly how to proceed with eye contact.

The thing to focus on is why we make eye contact. It gives us the non-verbal feedback, the visual cues. We've all had the experience that someone is talking, looks at us and says something like "do you have a question?". They are reading our appearance and seeing a puzzled look.

So based on my experience, what I learned to do was to periodically scan over the people I'm talking to, making brief eye contact. But it's not based on a schedule, it's not "every n seconds I will change focus". Instead, as I feel it's necessary to make sure that I'm being understood, I'll look at faces and try to gauge understanding. It's useful to also pause a bit at that point, just to give people a bit of time to digest.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.