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Westside Toastmasters is located in Los Angeles and Santa Monica, California


The First Signal: Eye Contact

An ounce of dialogue is worth a pound of monologue.


How do you know when someone is listening to you? The first important signal is eye contact, pure and simple. If someone is not looking at you, that person is not listening to you. How many times have you thought, or perhaps said, particularly to your children, "Will you look at me when I'm talking to you!" Do you know how irritating it is when people don't look at you when you are talking to them, and how much more comfortable you feel when they do?

A Recommended Experiment

Here is a little experiment you can do to illustrate how important eye contact is in communicating with another person. Start off by looking straight at the person to whom you are talking, or who is talking to you. Then slowly allow your gaze to drift away into the distance, no longer looking at the person who is talking.

The reaction will be almost immediate, as if you just pulled the verbal carpet out from under him. He will stop talking in the middle of a sentence as soon as you stop looking at him. It happens every time.

The Perils of Losing Eye Contact

In my early acting days, as part of my training I had a fencing instructor -- Stanley Coghan. He was a fine teacher and a modest, rather quiet man. But when he put on his teaching hat he was a terror. Woe betide you if you allowed your eyes to stray when he was correcting or demonstrating a parry or thrust. With fingers seemingly attached to wire hawsers in his bulging forearm, he would abruptly take your jaw in his grasp. And while the bones in your jaw seemed to be cracking under the pressure, he would slowly turn your head toward him and gently say, "Look at me when I'm speaking to you -- please!" I promise you, after a couple of those reminders, I always did.

Look Directly at the Speaker

Make direct eye contact. That's the basic way people will know if you're listening. The more eye contact you give, the more involved you seem.

How much eye contact is right? When you are listening, there is no such thing as too much: Ideally, it should be a hundred percent. If you look away too often or for too long, you will almost certainly trigger negative reactions in the other person, who will begin to think, "I'm boring, he doesn't like me," or "She's not interested in what I have to say."

Not one positive thought is created by poor eye contact. For you to be perceived as charming, you must practice excellent eye contact when you are listening.

Your Tools for Charming Others

In your next conversation, practice staying "in the moment." When you want to be charming, you must "be there." Whether you spend a minute or an hour with the other person, discipline yourself to remain totally focused on the now. You can't be charming if you're not there.

Resolve to develop the habit of using direct eye contact when you are listening. Select a social or business occasion when people are speaking to you. As they are speaking, make sure that your eyes are looking into their eyes, not the bridges of their noses, their foreheads, or beyond their left ears. Focus your attention. Try not to allow any distractions. Don't be tempted to scout the room looking for more important or desirable company. Don't eye the bar or food table. Allow your eyes and your attention to belong to them until they finish speaking.

Practice the technique of focused eye contact at home with your family as well. Once you find yourself paying close attention to others naturally and easily, you may then move from good eye contact to superior eye contact -- always a "must" for the skilled charmer.

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