Clintonian Eye Contact

Clintonian Eye Contact

When it comes to delivering presentations. There are basically three types of eye contact. There is the bottom 1% of speakers. They are staring at the floor or reading their notes completely ignoring you or looking at their bullet points on a slide, completely ignoring the audience. That is the bottom 1% of speakers.

Then there is sort of another ninety-eight point nine, nine, nine percent of speakers. They are doing some version of the windshield-wiper.  They are looking at the room the whole time. It might be fast going back and forth it might be slow. They are never really looking at you. They are never really looking at one person at a time.  They are looking at the group and because of that the audience feels anonymous.  It also means they can pull out their cell phones because they do not feel like you are really looking at them.

If you are the speaker that is not what the best speakers in the world do. Have you ever seen Bill Clinton speak in person?  Now most fair-minded observer forgets the politics and the other stuff most fair-minded people would say “well-known figures in the English-speaking world, in the last 25 years, 30 years he is one of the best public speakers even his enemies would concede that.” Well one of my colleagues, one of my trainers used to work with him just as a low-level campaign assistant.  They were out together.  It was re-election time during the re-election campaign up in the end of a long day of campaigning, they are sitting around a table, having a beer, sleeves are rolled up, playing some cards. My guy Andy turned to him said “Mr. President you nailed that speech today. You had 10,000 people in the palm of your hand.  How did you do it? “President Clinton turned to Andy and said “it is very simple I did not speak to 10,000 people today. I picked one person in the audience.  I had a private one-on-one conversation with that person for a full thought. Then I went to another person in the audience.  I really looked at that person in the eyes now. It is not a long stare. It is only a couple of sentences and then I go to another person in the audience. And I do this. Here is the thing Andy you are not doing it in a systematic way. You are mixing it up but when I look right at someone, they feel like (wow the president is speaking directly to me) the other thing is it is easier for me because this is closer to a one-on-one conversation.  Because I am now just looking at one person.”

Now the beauty of this technique is that even people are not looking at over there. They see me my head is steady I am not doing this kind of thing. So I look much steadier but here is the thing Andy, this works even when I have bright lights in my eyes. I am on a stage and I cannot see the audience.  I can look 50 feet out that way in a dark spot and the 15 people in that area will all be like (Wow he is really speaking to me.)

That is how you make a much stronger connection. You are doing the whole room. You are not just doing it friendly faces or the decision-makers you are really mixing it up. That is how the best speakers use eye contact.  This works for anyone you can be in a room of 20 people if it is a five-minute conversation, you can look at each person in the eye for five six seven seconds, couple sentences every person in the room. You can give eye contact several times. They will feel like you are caring about them. You are listening to them. So that is how the best speakers use eye contact.

Okay so what did I tell this story? I am trying to convey a purely technical speech, three types of eye contact bottom, one percent is just ignoring the audience next 98.9% windshield wiper, top 0.1% holding eye contact for a full thought for five six seconds and then moving on. Purely technical information but I Illustrated it with a story. People remember it. Now in this case it us a secondhand store. I was not there but this was told to me by my colleague Andy. He was there. So preferably what I try to do most of the time when I advise you to do most the time, tell stories where you are actually there, talking to someone but sometimes there is just something too good you cannot pass up. You can retell a story secondhand and it still works.

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