When it comes to making a connection with your audience, the first tool to use is eye contact. Rapport cannot be maintained without eye contact. Imagine you were on a date or business lunch with an important client. What would the other person think if you never looked at them or made eye contact? What impression would you be giving them?
In an international business context, eye contact is an essential sign of confidence, trust and honesty. Not being able to maintain eye contact indicates uncertainty. So how long should you hold eye contact? There are cultural and gender differences that you need to consider. Western audiences are more comfortable with direct clear and longer eye contact while Asian audiences might feel intimidated if your gaze is held for too long. In more conservative Middle Eastern cultures it may be better to not focus on the female audience members.
As a presenter you need to project your sincerity and confidence at all times. First, think about the size of your audience. For small group presentations where you can see your audience very clearly, you can deliver one idea or one sentence to each person before moving on. Around three seconds seems to be a good time to engage their attention. With larger groups (over 50), you will need to focus on areas of the room. So recently I presented to a group of around 60 hotel general managers sitting at around 8 – 10 tables. I focused on each table, delivering one idea or sentence before moving onto the next table.
The benefit of this is that every member of the audience feels like you have spoken to them directly several times throughout your presentation. This personal connection is essential to maintain the rapport and to ensure their attention is focused on your message.