Whether you're speaking to an audience of one or many, it's important to make eye contact in order to connect.
It demonstrates your willingness to connect to the audience on a personal level. It also shows that you are confident and proves that the information resides in your head, not your notes or the slides. When you present, you are talking to individuals, not an impersonal mass of people. You want each person to experience the communication one-on-one.
How long should you look at each person? About 5 seconds, which is about the time it takes to complete a thought. Then move on to another person. Yes, 5 seconds will feel like a long time at first!
If someone is uncomfortable with your looking at them in the eyes, they can choose to look away. If you're nervous about looking the audience in the eyes, you can try this as a starting point: look right above their eyes, at their eyebrows. The difference won't be that obvious to them and it will help you get more comfortable until you can look them straight in the eye.
Here are other tips to help you use eye contact more effectively:
**Avoid "tennis eyes" - moving from one side of the room to the other in a repetitive pattern, as if you were watching a tennis match.
**Avoid scanning the room quickly, trying to look at everyone at the same time.
**Aim to connect with all sections of the audience on a random basis - no one should be able to predict where you will look next.
**Stand where you can look at people seated in all parts of the room - don't ignore any section or person.
If you practice your eye contact, you will be able to face any audience with confidence.