4 Ways to Use Eye Contact to Manage a Meeting

Meeting leaders worry far too much about what they should say. Sometimes there’s no need to say anything at all. Often a little eye contact will do the trick. Here are four ways I use eye contact when leading a meeting.

Add them to the line

When someone has the floor, it’s common for others to get in line to speak. This happens most in meetings that are tightly controlled. That is, one doesn’t talk until they are recognized by the meeting leader.

Often I’ll see them out of the corner of my eye. Their hands are either sort of half up, they are making some sort of gesture, or they are trying to make eye contact with me. They’re not rude, so won’t cut in on the conversation. They simply want to to be on the waiting list so that they will be given a chance.

I want to acknowledge them without making it a big deal or detracting from the person currently speaking. Usually all I need to do is make direct eye contact and give them the slightest nod of the head. That tells them I see you and you are on list.

Invite them to participate

Another way I use eye contact is when trying to bring someone into a conversation who hasn’t said much. I may look at one individual and say to the group, “What do you think?”

It’s the eye contact and not the question that makes the person know they are being called on. If they aren’t catching the subtlety, someone else typically will jump in.

What usually happens, though, is the person will ask, “Are you asking me?” To which I reply, “Well sure, I’d like to hear your thoughts about this.”

Stop bad behavior

There’s a third way I use eye contact. When someone is behaving really badly, especially if it’s clear the person thinks she is being clever, I will make eye contact.

I suppose my intent is to convey to the person, I see what you are doing here. I try not to be doling out punishment as a meeting leader, but every now and then, it does seem to help when I catch someone who needs catching.

Keep them talking (or stop them)

The simplest action I can take with my eyes is to maintain eye contact with the person who’s speaking. For many of us, this action is interpreted as interest. If I look interested, the person will feel appreciated and likely keep talking.

If they’ve been talking too much, I might purposely break eye contact as a subtle way to convey, it’s time for you to stop now.

That’s just a few of the ways to influence a meeting by using eye contact. It’s simple and effective. Give it a try.

By Tom LaForce

Tom LaForce owns LaForce Teamwork Services, a Minneapolis-based consulting company. He's on a mission to create better results through teamwork. He wrote Meeting Hero: Plan and Lead Engaging, Productive Meetings.