And it can kill your next presentation.  (More on that later.) 

Meanwhile . . .

I was in a NYC subway.  A big, muscular guy, seated opposite me, had a baseball bat that he kept tapping into his left palm. 

He looked angry, and he was staring at me as if to say, “Obviously, it’s all your fault.”

If this guy were giving a presentation, let’s say, “HOW TO RESOLVE 10 EVERYDAY PROBLEMS WITH A BASEBALL BAT,” he’d be making a classic mistake:  looking at just one person in the audience (me!) at the expense of everyone else.

Of course, no one else in the subway was looking at anyone.  They certainly weren’t looking at this guy.

What is good eye contact anyway?  A lot of people have taken the wrong subway, or read the wrong book. 

Good eye contact is not continuous.  I’ve interviewed job candidates who thought it was continuous—they never take their eyes off you.  Please don’t do that.  It’s scary.

In general, 3-5 seconds is about right; the person listening usually looks longer than the one speaking.  But it really depends on whom you’re looking at—and where. 

Maybe you’re in an elevator.  Or, maybe you’re out hiking and, suddenly, you’re face-to-face with a grizzly bear.  What if you’re in an elevator with a grizzly bear?  I’d say 3-5 seconds is a tad long, unless you and the bear ride up together everyday.

And 3-5 seconds may be too long if you’re in a non-Western culture, or talking with a really shy person. 

The subway guy didn’t look shy, so after a while I looked him in the eye to let him know, in no uncertain terms, “Buddy, your 3-5 seconds are up.” 

Then I looked away, to let him know, “I’m certainly willing to consider an extension.”

He got off at the next stop.  I’m sure it was the way I handled it.

Tip: At your next presentation, avoid these 3 mistakes. 

1) Looking too long, or—more common—not long enough, which means you’re  looking at the audience in general, vs. the ceiling or floor, but not really seeing anyone.

Look until you see the color of a person’s eyes.

2) Neglecting part of the group, e.g. people seated on the far left or right, front or back of the room. 

For a large audience, mentally divide the room into sections, then move your eyes accordingly.  You won’t be able to look at everyone, so choose a few in each section.

3) Only looking at the people you like, or who are most influential, or who may or may not have baseball bats. 

P.S. SHARPEN YOUR PRESENTATION SKILLS: Dynamic Speaking/BostonLimited to 7 people. February 4 & 5, 2019

P.P.S. SPECIAL BOOK OFFER: This tip was adapted from YOU’VE GOT 8 SECONDS: Communication Secrets for a Distracted World, named one of the best biz books of the year by an obscure, but obviously brilliant, Canadian newspaper.

GET A COMPLIMENTARY COPY (PDF version) in exchange for your rock-solid commitment to write an honest Amazon review within 30 days.  Your review can be short (1-2 sentences is fine) or long, good or bad.  It just needs to be honest. 

To get your copy, please email:

© Copyright 2018 Paul Hellman.  All rights reserved.

To get these FAST TIPS, please click here.