Increase impact by making eye contact in your writing

On a recent episode of television news-comedy The Weekly, contributor Kitty Flanagan put together a funny but telling story about road rage. She asked the question: Why is it that we are so ready to lose our cool in the car, while we almost never do so as pedestrians?

I've thought about this before and I believe a major contributor to road rage is a lack of eye contact. When someone cuts in front of us on the road, we don't see another person. We see a hunk of metal with an invisible driver. There is no emotional connection between us and the other driver. That connection exists on the footpath and guess what? Little or no 'path rage'.

Our eyes are an incredibly powerful tool for making emotional connections. As a photographer, I've always been taught that featuring a subject's eyes makes for a much more powerful picture. As a child, your mother taught you to look at adults in the eye for the same reason.

So what does all this have to do with writing, where clearly eye contact is not possible?

It means we have to work extra hard to make emotional connections. This is especially the case with business writing.

Most business writing – whether in webpages, reports, articles or even speeches – is dry and impersonal. Open a few business websites at random and you'll quickly see what I mean. Dry, third-person prose that tells us nothing of the person or people behind it. It's the written equivalent of driving a car.

On one hand this sort of writing is eminently forgettable – not usually a good thing for a business. It is also cold and distancing. It gives the reader no reason to want to learn more. At its worst (and we probably see this in politics more than business), it actually causes a negative emotional reaction.

How to make eye contact with a reader

Making eye contact in your writing is all about being willing to reveal something of yourself – just as we do when we look someone in the eye physically.

  • You can do this by telling a personal story, especially about your past. People love to know how you got to where you are.

  • You can do it by being self-deprecating. We are all fallible and being willing to share your vulnerabilities in a self-effacing way is a sure-fire way to convince others that you are human after all.

  • You can do it by sharing a heartfelt opinion, demonstrating that there are feelings below that stony exterior.

And these are just the start. In the end, making eye contact through your writing is all about being yourself in your writing rather than disguising yourself behind the wheel of business-speak.

It's not always easy, especially at the beginning (help is at hand if you need it) but with a little practice there's a good chance you'll come to enjoy it. And you'll certainly be better remembered for it.

As usual, if you have any questions or comments, please add a comment below or contact me.

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