If I had to choose one ingredient that is most vital to the delivery of an effective business presentation it would be eye contact. And if you were to ask me what needs most work in the Presentation Skills training sessions I run it would also be eye contact. Happily, I now have a new role model to help in my quest to improve presenters’ eye contact and it is none other that HRH Prince George.
Strong eye contact makes a presenter more credible, trustworthy, confident, assertive, as well as more friendly. And yet most people have to work at improving eye contact that is typically indistinct, hesitant, too brief and poorly spread. This is often as a result of inexperience, but nerves can play a big part and many people using PowerPoint have an additional struggle – that their eyes are drawn continuously towards their screen, whether or not anything there has actually changed!
“Keep looking forwards”, I say. “If your eye contact is strong, then your audience’s eyes should follow yours into the screen – when you want them to look there specifically”. Magicians know more than almost anybody how the eyes can be used to direct attention. Their mantra is ‘if you want your audience to look at you (which you do most of the time), look at them. If you want them to look at something (ie where the magic is about to happen), look at it’.
So how does Prince George fit into all of this? Well, many of the people I coach have young children, so I personalise the principle to them by asking if their children are at the age of being taught how to shake hands and say ‘thank you for having me’. We generally agree that without accompanying eye contact, the words are relatively meaningless. To ram the point home, I have for many years been showing pictures of my own daughter Eliza at that age, both with eye contact (delightfully engaging) and without (rather grumpy).
The trouble for me is that Eliza is now 18 and about to go to University! So thank you Prince George, whose nervy greeting of a Red Arrows officer at the Royal International Air Tattoo last Friday provides a charming up to date example of the point I seek to make. Little does he know just how much hand shaking lies ahead of him!