Why Eye Contact Is So Important When Performing

Sometimes, we don’t notice eye contact until it’s not there. The effects of eye contact can be subconscious when it takes place, and really obvious when it doesn’t. Here we discuss the importance of eye-contact and how to achieve ‘soulful eye-contact’

Imagine you are watching a singer perform and they are looking at the floor. What would it say to you about the singer? How would you feel as a member of the audience? You’d probably feel ignored, like the singer is uninterested in you, or maybe even dislikes you.

What qualities does eye contact give a singer?

…it displays confidence

An audience knows that it takes bravery to perform in front of them, but if that bravery isn’t obvious in a singer’s performance, it can be off-putting. Not making eye contact can indicate to them that you’re scared to be there.

If you flaunt your bravery, however, it can make your performance more impressive. It’s also more likely to make an audience member think, “I couldn’t do that!”

…it shows you are prepared

As is the case with public speaking or interviews, if you face away from your audience, it can indicate a lack of preparation. That’s partially a matter of the confidence we addressed above, but it’s also a separate issue.

If your eyes are wandering, particularly upwards or downwards, it looks like you’ve either forgotten or don’t know what you’re doing, even if this isn’t the case. But looking at your audience will have them believe that you are totally ready for your performance.

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…it engages your audience and shows you care

According to The New York Times’ article ‘How To Make Soulful Eye Contact’, studies have shown that eye contact helps human beings to empathise with one another. Think about how powerful your performance can be if that’s the case.

Adrienne Osborn, who we mentioned earlier, talks about performing as though it were ‘giving’, and points to confident eye contact as the way to achieve this relationship with your audience.

If you look away from them, they may simply think you don’t care about them, or your performance. Show them that you do.

…it can improve your vocal quality and projection

A study published by PLOS One says that the direction of our eyes often affects the direction that our head faces. So, if your eyes are facing downwards, your head will naturally begin to face that way as well.

This constricts your neck and vocal chords, meaning the quality of your voice gets worse. As well as this, it means you are not projecting outwards, but downwards. Keeping your eyeline towards the audience ensures that your voice is clear and audible.

What’s the best way to make eye contact?

It’s not essential that you make eye contact with every audience member all the time – in fact, it would be impossible. But creating the illusion of eye contact is really important. This can be done by picking a random spot within your audience and focussing there.

But be careful – if you just focus on one spot, it can be dull for the audience, and a little overbearing for the audience members near your eyeline. This is what Adrienne Osborn calls ‘fearful eye contact’, the kind where a singer is obviously looking for audience approval.

The exception to the rule

There are times when a singer can express their emotions by diverting their eyes away from the crowd of even closing them altogether. It is important that this happens naturally and is in keeping with both the mood of the song and your own emotions.

Essentially, while eye-contact, and body language are important, they are also mostly involuntary (it is hard to control them for very long). Therefore, make sure that you choose songs that you can connect with deeply and it is likely that, with practise, the rest will come naturally.

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