“Did you see his maniacal stare?”
“I felt like she was looking right through me.”
“Stop staring at me!”
According to the authors of The Definitive Book of Body Language, Americans maintain eye contact just 40 – 60 percent of the time when talking. That’s probably a good thing, since anyone displaying an over-abundance of eye contact can seem downright creepy.
But the media spokesperson who maintains eye contact just 40 – 60 percent of the time will fail. On television, the lack of eye contact comes across as nervousness (at best) or evasiveness and defensiveness (at worst).
In general, television guests will look one of two places, depending on the format: at the interviewer or at the camera. Regardless of the format, you should lock your eyes at the interviewer or camera and never let go. Aim for 100 percent eye contact.
Keeping your eyes locked in a fixed position during an entire interview will probably not feel natural, at least at first. That’s because we often look away when trying to retrieve information from our brain (depending on the type of information, we either look up, to the side, or down). But since great spokespersons do most of their thinking before the interview begins, there’s no need for them to look anywhere but at their target.
Finally, a word about straight-to-camera interviews, in which interviewees have to stare at the lens. It’s a tough format. You might practice by delivering your answers to a specific place on your office wall. But the most creative approach comes from a former trainee, who told me she succeeded in that format by drawing a face on a sheet of paper and taping it just below the lens.
Whatever it takes, lock your eyes and don’t let go.