Some people listen better with their eyes closed, shutting out visual distractions to focus on what they hear. Some people are uncomfortable making eye contact because it feels too much like an invasion of their personal space. Some people who do make eye contact feel compelled to break the eye contact while they're doing some momentary evaluation of what the speaker just said. None of this is news-worthy, right?
Not long ago I had the opportunity to do some substitute teaching. Small class size -- not at all like speaking to 200 people at a homeschool convention. Much more intimate. I couldn't believe how important it was to me for the students to be looking at me. When they weren't looking at me, I wondered if they were bored. I wondered if they'd gotten lost because I'd explained poorly or used a word they didn't know. I wondered if maybe they were distracted in a good way, like making connections between what I said and something they had read earlier in the day. I wondered if maybe I did still have their full mental attention, even as their eyes gazed unseeingly out the window.
The experience made me think I should take care to make eye contact nearly constantly with whoever's in front of me. But I'm one of those people who can't listen critically and thoughtfully if I'm making eye contact. However, now that I know how much it helps a speaker for her listeners to be watching and not just listening, I should try harder to keep my eyes focused too, at least some of the time.