If you met Bill Clinton you would be spellbound, no matter your politics.
People often comment that they feel like the most important person in the room when Clinton speaks to them, even if the encounter only lasts 15 seconds.
Even Newt Gingrich, Clinton’s political arch-rival, said that Bill was “one of the most charming and effective people I’ve ever negotiated with.”
One of Bill Clinton’s most potent tools in his charismatic arsenal is his laser-like eye contact. The video below shows how he used his incredible eye contact to steal the town hall debate (and later the election) away from incumbent George Bush Sr.
After watching this video one thing should become abundantly clear: when you master eye contact, connecting with people becomes effortless.
Here are the 5 most important takeaways that you can incorporate today:
Be present and show it (1:10)
How often are you in conversation thinking about what you’re going to say, what you have to do after, or who else you’d rather be speaking with? This lack of attention is communicated in tiny micro-gestures—breaks in eye contact, hesitations while responding, glances in other directions—that make the person you’re speaking with feel unimportant.
Bill Clinton makes the people he speaks to feel supremely important. He listens carefully to the woman’s question, even asking her to repeat it so that he answers it directly. He nods his head when repeating her question to her. To show her how important she is, he takes several steps towards her and instead of addressing the crowd, he looks at her for the duration of his response.
Maintain eye contact while speaking (1:25)
People generally find it easy to make sustained eye contact when listening, but while speaking is a different story. Bill Clinton hardly takes his eyes of the woman once he starts speaking with her (in sharp contrast to George Bush, whose attention seems to be everywhere else). This unbroken attention makes her feel like he “gets” her. She even nods along while he speaks.
Cultivate a narrow gaze (2:12)
While useful for both sexes, a narrow gaze is especially powerful in men because a heavy brow is associated with higher testosterone levels. Higher testosterone is correlated with power (much like height or a V-shaped torso). Bill Clinton happens to have a fairly heavy brow, which makes his gaze narrow nearly all the time.
You may not have been born with the same advantage and, unfortunately, there is not much you can do to change the shape of your skull. The good news is you can get the same benefits of a heavy brow by training yourself to speak with a narrow gaze. All you need to do is speak with a slight flexing of the muscles around the eyes.
So take some time to look into a mirror and try various degrees of narrow gazing. Notice the different impression you give off as you use different combinations of muscles. Make a mental note of how the gaze you like best feels physically – that you can employ it in conversation without having to run to a mirror.
Develop expressions with your eyes (3:34)
When people tell stories about Bill Clinton, they talk about him being able to communicate full thoughts with a single look. The reason isn’t supernatural. Bill Clinton just developed a range of emotive expressions with his eyes. Note the way he appears personally hurt at 3:34 – 3:42, or how he seems to say, “This is important” at 5:48.
To develop your own emotive expressions, do some more mirror work. Bob your eyebrows, squint, tilt your head. Pay attention to how each look conveys a different nuance. When you’ve found one you like, add it to your conversational arsenal. Start by adding just one to your interactions and build from there.
Signal when ending the conversation (5:56)
In his book The Power of Eye Contact, Michael Ellsberg describes how Clinton signals that he is going to leave a conversation. Clinton starts to turn, keeps his eyes fixed, and then walks away. In the video, you’ll notice that Bill Clinton shifts his weight as his answer winds down. This lets the woman know that he’s nearly done. Sometimes Clinton even turns back for one last look. This makes people feel special since he took extra time to “say goodbye.”
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