When I was in college, I took a speech class where I learned that eye contact was one of the most powerful forms of non-verbal communication. Physiologists and linguists tell us that we can speak and listen with our eyes.
The poet Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “An eye can threaten like a loaded and leveled gun or it can insult like hissing and kicking; or in its altered mood, by means of kindness, make the heart dance with joy.”
As a preacher, communicating with your eyes is an important skill. This is more than making eye contact, it’s communicating with your eyes. You don’t just preach with words, you preach with your eyes. So lets talk about the eyes of preaching and what you might be communicating.
When you’re sitting in a meeting, and someones eyes are darting all around the room, you are not engaged in that conversation and that person doesn’t seem interested. Eye contact is a sign of respect, while darting eyes communicate a lack of focus.
When your eyes dart all over the room, you don’t appear trustworthy. Looking into the eyes of the congregation makes you appear more believable. It creates a personal connection.
A University of Miami study found that 43% of the attention we focus on someone is devoted to their eyes. That’s because the eyes express emotion.
Constantly looking down at your notes makes you seem unprepared. When you’re looking at your notes, you’re not looking at your people. And while you may get your phrase or statement correct, did you know that failing to make eye contact with people decreases their involvement and retention? It’s possible that you’re getting your content right but it’s not connecting with anyone because you’re not looking at them.
When you’re having a great conversation with another person, you look them in the eye. When you’re drawn into the the plot of a good movie, you’re looking the characters in the eyes. So closing your eyes puts a barrier between you and the congregation. They can’t really see you if they can’t see your eyes.
Prayerfully closing your eyes during key moments in your message might be incredibly meaningful to you, but it’s creating an unnecessary barrier with your congregation.
Now when you’re preaching to a full room of people, you can’t look everyone in the room in the eyes, so here’s a tip. Pick four people in different parts of the room and look in those directions. Don’t look them in the eyes all the time (unless you want them to feel awkward), but rotate your eye contact between those four places in the room. And if your messages are being filmed, pretend the camera is one of those four people.