When you are presenting in a meeting, who do you look at? I’ve generally observed some combination of 3 approaches –
1. Don’t freak out: Do whatever it takes to keep you calm (look frequently at the material while moving your head around in general).
2. Focus on the boss: Focus on who you think is the most important in the room.
3. Equal opportunity presenter: Make an attempt to make eye contact with most people in the room.
Experienced presenters don’t have to worry about keeping themselves calm. So, really good ones do a combination of 2 and 3. They look at most people but make sure they give the key decision makers the largest portion of time share. That makes sense as a strategy.
However, I’ve been in a few meetings over the years where the presenter is ONLY focused on whoever he/she feels is the most important person in the room. On a few occasions, I have been that person. And, in all others, I have been totally ignored. In both cases, I’ve found it to be a bad experience. When I was the point of focus, I would shift uncomfortably in my seat and find myself looking at other people to give the presenter a hint. And, when I’m ignored, well, I generally lose interest in the material very quickly.
The bigger issue with the “focus on the boss” approach is that you just, unnecessarily, deposit negative credits in the emotional bank accounts of the other folks in the room. And, who knows when you might end up needing their help – especially if you work in the same company.
Who you look at isn’t generally emphasized as an important piece of presentation preparation. I think it should.
Consciously choose your approach. Your material will get forgotten in time. How you made people feel will not.