The importance eye contact plays in public speaking can't be emphasized enough. It's essential because this is one of the few communications in public speaking presentations which operates both ways. It's imperative that you get comfortable with this aspect of non-verbal communication ASAP.
I'll address a few of the reasons here:
First off, a strong visual reach develops rapport with your audience. You need this, and so do those listening to you. Your audience needs to feel a strong connection with you in order to feel engaged in your talk. The quickest and most effective way to accomplish this is by eye contact. When they don't feel they are engaged with you one-on-one, your message has a slim chance of registering.
Secondly, when the visual connection is strong, your credibility on the subject is strengthened in direct proportion.
As your credibility is raised, you are seen as more and more of an authority on the subject.
And the more you are seen as an authority, the more you will be looked to as a leader.
That's what happens on the outside. Inwardly the benefits are just as exciting.
By getting comfortable looking directly into another's eyes, you begin to develop better self-confidence, greater self-esteem and healthy assertiveness.
You start to realize you are making more and more decisions thoughtfully, while simultaneously thinking on your feet. You become more centered and more balanced, even in the most difficult of situations.
All of the skills outlined on this site are directly transferable into your everyday activities, and only serve to enhance the goings on in your life. The beauty of developing strong visual interaction is that it positively affects your life as a whole. It is an attribute that far supersedes the arena of public presentations.
Why wait to enhance this important skill?