The Psychology of Eye Contact. Video Presentation Coaching


The quote, “The eyes are the windows to the soul” has been attributed to many authors, but I am unable to find the definitive source. However, it is clear that the eyes are indeed the most expressive part of the face, and they form the most powerful component of our non-verbal communications.

Numerous articles have been written about the importance of eye contact and other forms of non-verbal communication. Have you ever been exposed to these “facts”?

  • 93% of communication effectiveness is determined by nonverbal cues
  • Effective communication is 7% the words used (what you say), 38% by voice quality (how you say it), and 55% nonverbal (what you do with your face, eyes, and body).

Yes, non-verbal communication is still an important component of your video presentations, but they certainly don’t comprise 93% of your message.

Bring on the Myth Busters!

The idea that “the vast majority of communication occurs non-verbally” is quoted everywhere by advertisers, motivational speakers, and in pop psychology articles. The trouble is; it’s just not true. They’ve been well and truly “myth busted”, but that doesn’t stop ill-informed people from continuing to trot them out.

Yes, non-verbal communication is still an important component of your video presentations, but they certainly don’t comprise 93% of your message. What I am going to cover here is what the most recent research teaches us about the importance of eye contact:

Film Makers Know…On-screen the Eyes Have it!

As I wrote previously in the section about real vs. fake smiles, that with a genuine smile, the muscles around our eyes crinkle up as well those that control our mouth, and we don’t have voluntary control over these eye muscles, nor the duration of the smile. Our brains have evolved the ability to distinguish real vs. fake smiles, by looking at someone’s eyes.

Our eyes are powerful communication devices, whether we are consciously aware of what they are doing or not. They can be as informative as the whole of the rest of our face put together.

Our brains have evolved the ability to distinguish real vs. fake smiles, by looking at someone’s eyes.

What is the Right Amount of Eye Contact?

Actually, that’s not a simple question to answer, because it totally depends on the context and cultural differences come into play as well.

For example, research has shown that people in western cultures generally perceive people who make strong, prolonged eye contact with the traits of self-confidence, leadership, and even aggression.

People in positions of power or authority have been shown to hold eye contact with their subordinates, rather than be the first to look away.

People in groups tend to look directly at another person for about 3-5 seconds, but when they are speaking one on one, it increases to 7-10 seconds before they glance away.

The Look of Love

Research shows that couples who are in love tend to stare into each other’s eyes for longer than those who aren’t in love.

However, a pickup artist in a nightclub will try to adopt the same strategy. Is he in love, or is he trying to stare his way into a girl’s affections with forced, creepy, prolonged eye contact?

Whether eye contact is creepy or even aggressive also depends on your culture. Many Asian and Pacific Island cultures find excessive eye contact to be off-putting, rude and aggressive. Many of them will deliberately avoid eye contact as a sign of respect for the other person, whereas Westerners might interpret this avoidance of eye contact as a sign of low confidence or even untrustworthy behavior.

At the other end of the spectrum, some Middle Eastern cultures will stare much more intensely into someone’s eyes than a typical Westerner would.

He Can’t Make Eye Contact. He Must be Lying

Actually, this is another myth. At the very least, it is not a reliable indicator of lying. Skilled liars and con artists have learned how to make more eye contact than normal.

Research has shown the persuasive power of looking into someone’s eyes when making a request. That is, if you look directly into a person’s eyes when you ask them to do something, they are more likely to say yes than if you look away. The same persuasive tactic has been often used in TV advertising and for making emotional appeals concerning children and animals.

Remember, the right amount of eye contact you need to make to create a good impression depends on the context and on the culture of the people you are speaking to in your video presentations.

If you are looking for some general rules of thumb, I recommend that you try to maintain friendly, constant eye-contact with the viewer (i.e. the camera lens), and to “soften” your gaze, as you would if you were looking at a dear friend. Look directly into the center of the camera lens and imagine you are looking into your friend’s eyes, someone you really care about. Or picture your viewer struggling, and how you really want to help them.  Your delivery will then stem from a genuine place, and your authenticity will appear more apparent on-screen.


Coaching note:  If you feel like you are “faking it” or your heart’s not in it, or you’re just going through the motions,  then that will definitely show on-screen (and your viewers will sense it too).  

My advice is – take a break, and pinpoint where in your video presentation that things feel “stuck” i.e. Is it your action, script, thoughts, energy or feelings?

For more eye-contact tips, see my article “How to look eye to eye with the video camera”.

See also:  Don’t Blow it. Here’s How to Deliver a Great Video Presentation and How to Give Good Face in a TV Interview for additional tips.

Thank you so much for stopping by!




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