If you've never said to your kid, "You LOOK at me when I'm talking to you!" are you even a parent?
Most parents have, at one time or another, said this to their kid. (Especially if said kid is/was a teenager.) And that's because we think it's disrespectful to not make eye contact.
When parenting, this is often true.
The problem is, it's not true across the board.
Eye contact does not equal respect. But thinking it does causes all sorts of problems.
For example, if you believe that you should always make eye contact, this will cause you to:
Here's the deal: eye contact does not equal respect, it equals engagement. Which means you need to look at whatever you want (or want jurors) to engage with.
For example, if you are using visuals during your opening statement, I assume you want jurors to look at them. If so, you need to look at them too. Telling jurors to look at your visual while you maintain eye contact confuses them. You say "look up here" but if you maintain eye contact you nonverbally communicate, "keep looking at me." If you want jurors to engage with the visual, you have to engage with it too.
When you're objected to, look at opposing counsel. This will force the jurors to look there too because people follow our eyes. (Don't believe me? Go to coffee with someone and look over their shoulder as you sit across from each other. It will be near impossible for them not to turn around to see what you're looking at.) When you look at opposing counsel, jurors will associate the objection with them ("why are you interrupting?") versus you ("did you say something wrong?")
When you need to move in the courtroom, break eye contact. It's ok, I promise! It's much weirder to sashay to where you're going than to merely break eye contact and walk normally.
You've been told that eye contact is the holy grail of connection. It isn't. It's merely one way to connect with jurors. But if you insist on making eye contact at every possible moment you not only risk totally weirding the jurors out, you miss out on opportunities to systematically use eye contact to your advantage.
Click here to listen to my podcast on eye contact.
Sari has been dubbed the "Attorney Whisperer" because of her unique ability to help attorneys communicate their real selves.