Oct. 17, 2013 at 2:28 PM ET
Forget what you learned in Public Speaking 101: Eye contact may actually dissuade your audience from your argument, says a new study in Psychological Science.
In the study, participants watched videos of speakers expressing controversial opinions, and were told to focus on either the orators' mouths or eyes. The results: People were less likely to shift their opinions when the speakers made direct eye contact.
Researchers say if you're skeptical, excessive eye contact makes you less inclined to change your mind, unless you already agree with the speaker to begin with. How come? The researchers speculate that eye contact sends different messages -- trust in friendly situations, but competition or hostility in others. (Pull up a chair. The way you arrange seating during meetings can persuade your audience to agree with your ideas. Discover how to Persuade Your Colleagues and Clients With This Trick.)
Beyond that, "staring directly into someone's eyes without looking away is unnatural," says non-verbal behavior expert Marc Salem, Ph.D.
Instead, exude non-threatening, natural confidence to get your way. It starts with your posture, Salem says. Sit or stand in a way that's open and similar to those around you -- for example, if your boss is leaning back in your chair, you should do the same. Don't rush your words, either; when you speak too quickly, your body doesn't know what to do with itself, and you end up looking awkward, Salem says.
Finally, put your phone down. Even in a casual setting, speaking while holding a device (or anything at all, like a pen) in your hand will make you seem closed off, says Salem. (Freaking out before your big presentation? Don't sweat it. Reframing the way you look at stress may improve your performance. Find out how to Make Stress Your Secret Weapon.)
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