Eye contact is helpful. Authentic and natural eye contact is priceless. So much has been written about the importance of eye contact in communication, but I’ll leave you to search around for that online if you so choose. I’d just like to share a few thoughts on this for us as preachers.
1. Too fleeting gives the impression of being untrustworthy. It’s tempting to just scan your eyes around while really you are just waiting until you can look down at your notes again. Just because people see your eyes doesn’t mean you have made eye contact.
2. Too lingering implies intimacy or intimidation. Opposite gender folks will start to shuffle uncomfortably, same gender folks may wonder if you are wanting a fight. I suppose the danger here is an unthinking “eye lock” on one person as your mind is elsewhere.
3. Too predictable implies eye contact is contrived or secondary. Have you listened to a preacher that alternates between their notes, the clock and a fascinating plant over in the corner? It’s thoroughly distracting and annoying. It feels like they are looking up from their notes because they’re supposed to, but the room might as well be empty because their is no connection with the people (and in time may become empty, but that’s another matter).
4. Beware of blind spots and find out what they are. I’ve learned that my blind spot is usually in the middle front of the congregation. I tend to get the sides, and even singers behind me on the platform, but often fail to make any meaningful eye contact with the front few rows in the middle. I recently observed a preacher who would look up to the right side up to 17 times before he’d look up to the left side of the congregation.
5. Do you really need to look down? It’s amazing how preachers often claim to have their notes simply as a security blanket, but actually they barely look at them (but when filmed discover they are looking down perhaps 70% of the time!) Do you need as many notes as you have? Do you look up as much as you think? When you look up are you making eye contact with people, or just pausing until you can look down again?
Eye contact is worth so much to communicators trying to appear genuine. It should be valued even more by those of us who actually are genuine and desire to genuinely connect with people.