Archive for the ‘eye contact’ Category

Does Obama Give People the “Evil Eye”?

Your facial energy can have enormous impact, even at the highest levels.

In fact, White House staffers allegedly are joking about President Barack Obama’s tendency to give people the “evil eye.”

I’m not sure how much stock to put in this story because it was reported with no attribution on the conservative news/gossip blog “Drudge Report.” But we pass on the story simply to highlight the impact of facial expressions.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with giving someone the “evil eye”.

But make sure that you know you’re doing it.

A CEO once asked me to work with one of his in-house attorneys. “He’s pissing off our clients,” the CEO told me.

When I met with the attorney,  I immediately saw the problem.  When he spoke, he always gave you a nasty squint. He was unintentionally giving everyone the “evil eye.”

When I showed him what he was doing, he was surprised and immediately fixed the problem, reserving the nasty look for special occasions.

I’m glad Obama gives people the evil eye. It’s a valuable tool in the communication skills arsenal.

I just hope he’s using it with a purpose and not accidentally.  yw6jn287zh

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Wednesday, July 1st, 2009

Auctioneers Makes Big Sales By Connecting With Bidders

Ever wondered what it takes to auction off a priceless Picasso or a rare Egyptian artifact?  The key to success is one word: connection.

Great auctioneers “connect more spontaneously with bidders,” says Jamie Krass, director of auctions at Christie’s in New York.

“You want to make everyone comfortable,”  he says in.  “Build a relationship with me. Don’t make me feel like a number.” 

That just one bit of sage communication skills advice from an article about how to become an auctioneer posted on

Of course, the same is true whever you’re trying to make a pitch.  Just like a great auctioneer, you want to speak in a personal, animated way, like you’re having an intense conversation with a friend. 

That connection is what separates the great auctioneers from the rest, says Krass. “It’s not just about eye contact. To make the bidder go one more, you have to convey that you know his bid matters to him, and that it matters to you too.”

If you want to connect well during your business presentations, one key is to think of your presentation as a series of “mini-conversations” with your listeners. 

Look at a single audience member and chat with her for about eight seconds.  Then randomly move to another audience member until you’ve made eye contact with everyone in the room.  Then make the rounds again.

That way, everyone will feel that you’ve connected with them personally.

Do that well enough and you’ll be the kind of communicator that, like a great auctioneer, always makes the sale.

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Thursday, May 21st, 2009

Public Speaking Tip from a Karaoke Bar

Last Friday night, I enjoyed the music scene in Nashville and went to both a Karaoke Bar and a blues bar.   While the Karaoke bar was an interesting novelty, I left after about 30 minutes.

By contrast, I didn’t want to leave the blues bar and only did so when I remembered that I had to get up early the next morning. Of course, a major part of the reason why was the quality of the performers. Performing at the blues bar was Josh Garrett and the Bottom Line, a magnificent blues band. The joint was rockin’.

But comparing them to the Karaoke singers, you really got a strong sense of the importance of connection with the audience. Even the best Karaoke singers had no connection with the audience. They were up there reading the words from the Karaoke machine. More importantly,  the experience was for the singers.  It like they were on an “American Idol” ride at a theme park. The goal was for the singers to have a great time.

Contrast that with the professional blues performers. For them, it was all about the audience. They were connecting with the audience from the start, doing everything they could do ensure that everyone in the audience had a good time. Of course there was eye contact. But more than that, there was an audience-centered attitude that everyone in the joint appreciated.

And we were all happy to pay for that connection.

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Monday, May 18th, 2009

How Do You Make Eye Contact Over the Telephone?

In a workshop the other day, a participant asked “How do you make eye contact over the telephone?”

I love that question.

Of course, you can’t make eye contact over the telephone. But in today’s “conference call” business environment, connecting with your listeners in a personal way can be a challenge.

The most important key to connecting on conference calls is energy.  You need to make sure that you’re projecting energy into the telephone.  The technology can mute your enthusiasm and make you sound flat.

We tell people to gesture and smile as they speak.  In fact, many people put mirrors on their desks to ensure that they’re energized.

I’ve said it before and I suppose I will again. “People can hear your smile.”

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Thursday, May 14th, 2009

How to Avoid Memorizing Your Pitch

People memorize a speech when they write out their script word for word and then commit it to memory. Don’t do that. Put together an outline and then simply begin to practice the presentation, figuring out the exact words as you go. 


Your outline might look something like this


I.      Safety is important to you.

II.     How we’ll promote safety on the job.

III.    How our program will save you money.


Once you have the outline in place, you should think of each of the key points as lead-ins for a short section. You might begin practicing like this:


When we met with you last week, you told us that safety was going to be an important issue for you on this job. Indeed, you told us that on your last job, you had a couple of minor injuries. We certainly want to make sure that we do everything possible to ensure that everyone working on and around the job is as safe as possible. That’s why safety is JOB ONE on our worksites.


Let me talk about what we’re going to do to keep your job safe. Blah. Blah blah.


Next, I’d like to tell you about how our safety program actually will save you money. Blah blah blah.


Then you should practice delivering the presentation several times, working on honing exactly how you say everything. Every time you do it, you’ll probably say it a little differently. That’s okay. After several tries, you’ll settle into a way of speaking that sounds natural and works for you. It won’t sound memorized and you’ll be ready to deliver it in a way that connects with the audience.

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Thursday, November 13th, 2008

CEO Must Remember that “It’s Connection”

“I’m worried about accidentally saying something that the analysts will pounce on. As a result, I speak slowly and have lots of “uhs”. I know I sound tentative. But I don’t know what to do about it.”

Those are the the words of the CEO of a $1 billion-a-year publicly traded company. I was working with him last week in preparation for a major presentation to analysts. 

Speaking in meetings, he is charming and engaging.  He smiles and is highly animated.

But when he stands to speak about his company to Wall Street, his voice is flat and tentative. He sticks to a script all costs. As a result, he doesn’t sound confident. Of course, that’s not what you want when you’re the CEO of a $1 billion-a-year company.

I understand his dilemma. On the one hand, he doesn’t want to make a mistake and allow the analysts to pounce. On the other hand, he doesn’t want to sound dull and uncertain.

What’s a poor CEO to do? 

My advice was to loosen up and rehearse like crazy. 

He clearly needed to speak with more animation, something he could do with no problem. In fact, when we worked together, I told him to get more excited and put away his notes. He sounded highly engaging. It was an incredible transformation.

Of course, he didn’t deliver his presentation perfectly. He made a few mistakes. But his mistakes weren’t catastrophic.  And with more rehearsal, he will make even fewer mistakes.

Too many people over-rely on notes in an attempt to get the words perfect. The problem is that the search for perfection makes you come across as tentative.

Better to loosen up. Remember the goal of speaking isn’t perfection. It’s connection.

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Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Public Speaking Tip from Singer Ray LaMontagne

My wife and I went to see Ray LaMontagne this weekend at The Tabernacle in downtown Atlanta.  We had fun and Ray sounded great. The band was, as they say, “really tight.” He brought the house down with perfect renditions of his hits “Trouble”, “Hey, Me, Hey Mama,” and “Jolene.”

But I have one caveat to my endorsement of the show.  Ray didn’t look at the audience once during the entire performance.  And it bothered me.

He had his band arrayed around the stage in a semi-circle.  He stood off to the right and faced stage left.

The result was that he looked like he was singing to his steel guitar player. 

Now I suppose I understand what he was trying to do. I guess he felt like “It’s all about the music man.”

And I agree his music was great. And the joint was rocking.

But I get his music from his albums.  When I come to a concert, I want something more than music. I want to feel a personal connection with the artist. And part of that connection comes from him simply looking at me as he sings. 

Sure it’s about the music. But it’s also about the connection . . .  man.

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Monday, October 20th, 2008

Use a Camera to Improve Your Presentation Skills

A UCLA Psychology Professor named Albert Mehrabian did a study in 1971 of the way we communicate. He found that 55 percent of the impression that we make is based on physical things like facial energy, posture, gestures, and eye contact. He found that 38 percent of the impression we make is based on how we sound.


 That leaves 7 percent for content.

This is one of the most famous studies in the public speaking business. It is often cited for the idea that content doesn’t matter.

That’s absurd.  Content matters a lot.

But don’t disregard Dr. Mehrabian’s study.  People judge us based on how we look and how we sound. Here are four steps to improving your communication style without the help of a coach.


Step 1. The next time you give a presentation, record it with a video camera.  If you’ve never done this, it can be shocking and revealing.  Working with an attorney recently, I showed her a brief clip of her presentation before I gave her any feedback.  “Oh dear,” she said, somewhat shocked. “I look like a slug.”  The camera showed vividly how bored she looked. I often tell my clients that the camera is a far better coach than I am.  Nothing beats seeing how you appear to others.


Step 2. Look first for eye contact. If your eye contact is down at the floor or directed solely at your notes, then you have a problem that must be corrected immediately. Failure to make eye contact makes connection with your listeners impossible.  You should be having random, miniature conversations with individual members of your audience.  To practice eye contact, set up chairs around the room and make eye contact with imaginary audience members. At our offices, we have Halloween masks mounted on sticks that we place in chairs to pose as listeners.


Step 3. Listen for vocal energy. This is where most people can make the biggest improvement. You have to sound excited about your ideas. One of the most common things that clients will say when I show them their videotapes is simply, “I don’t sound enthusiastic.” To improve passion, try speaking about something you’re passionate about, forcing yourself to get overly excited. You want to sound like you’re having an animated dinner conversation with a close friend.


Step 4. Look for facial energy. While watching the videotape of yourself, turn off the volume. Do you look excited? When I first saw myself on camera, I was appalled at my flat facial energy.  I forced myself to smile for a month. My “smiler” muscles ached.  To fix facial energy, exaggerate. Do more with your eyebrows and your eyes. It may feel weird, but it will look good. As Billy Crystal said, “It is better to look good than to feel good.”


As business people, we tend to think that the only thing that matters when we talk is content. But if you want to connect with others, pay attention to how you look and sound.

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Wednesday, October 15th, 2008

Survey Details PowerPoint Pet Peeves

I ran across an interesting study of what bothers people the most about PowerPoint.   In the online survey, people were asked to list the top three things that irked them most when watching a PowerPoint presentation.   Almost 700 people responded. Here is what they said.

  • The speaker read the slides to us — 62 %
  • Text so small I couldn’t read it — 47 %
  • Slides hard to see because of color choice — 43 %
  • Full sentences instead of bullet points — 39 %
  • Moving/flying text or graphics — 25%
  • Overly complex diagrams or charts — 22%
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Tuesday, October 7th, 2008

Happy B-day Jimmy Carter; He Smiled Into Office

Today is the birthday of a man who won the White House, in part, on the power of a radiant smile.  As much as anyone who ever lived, former President Jimmy Carter stands as an example of the power of personal connection.

Carter was famous for his inability to connect well on television.  Ronald Reagan did the TV thing far better. But Carter won the presidency in large measure because when you met him you couldn’t help but like the guy.

I’ve met Jimmy Carter twice and both times he blew me away with his personal charisma.

When I was a cub reporter with The Times in Gainesville Ga. I was assigned to cover a health conference at Emory University that was being led by Carter in 1984. At the conference, I had the chance to interview the former President in a small interview room.

The interview went fine. But what was most interesting to me was what happened after the interview was over. Carter started asking me questions!  He wanted to know where I had been to college and where I was from.  

And as I spoke, he smiled at me and looked me in the eye. He seemed truly interested in everything I had to say. For the short time I was with him, his eyes and that smile made me feel like everything I said was incredibly important to him.  He seemed totally focused on me.

I’ve met many people who have had similar encounters with Carter. Many have reported similar experiences.

The second time I met Carter was about two years ago on an airplane. I was returning to Atlanta from New York. As I boarded the plane, there was Jimmy seated in first class beside his wife Rosalynn.

When everyone finished boarding, Carter stood and made his way to the back of the plane, stopping to greet everyone on the flight. 

“Hi,” he said, extending his hand to everyone as he worked from row to row. “How are you. It’s nice to be traveling with you.” And as he said it, he looked you right in the eye and smiled. You couldn’t help but smile back.  The atmosphere in the plane was buzzing with excitement. 

The man has incredible personal charisma. And it’s largely because of his smile.

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Wednesday, October 1st, 2008