In the previous QuickBites episode, you learned why eye contact is so important and powerful. In this episode, you’ll discover how to do it well.
In a smaller setting, making eye contact is reasonably straightforward. You move from one person to another, selecting people at random — as opposed to sequentially — as long as you make eye contact with each person at regular intervals.
With larger audiences, you still make direct eye contact with those closest to you, but you use a different strategy when speaking to those farther away. When distance prohibits you from making direct eye contact, randomly look at small groups so all your audience members, even those furthest away, know that you’re paying particular attention to them.
When you’re making a point, especially an important one, stop and maintain eye contact with one person or one area in the case of a larger group. This signals that your point has significance.
Be aware that there is plenty of well-intentioned yet useless advice out there. For instance, people will tell you that you don’t have to look your audience members directly in the eye. Instead, they’ll suggest that you look at your audience members’ foreheads or just above their heads.
Another suggestion you might hear is to avoid making sustained eye contact for even a short time. Instead, you should merely scan your audience, skimming across each row.
Please disregard these suggestions, even when people tell you they will help you get started. They’re neither effective nor practical and don’t allow you to receive the valuable information that making eye contact offers. Furthermore, these practices don’t provide your audience with any benefits.
Instead of avoiding it and losing out on its benefits, I’d rather you work on making direct eye contact before you get in front of an actual audience. One way to do this is to rehearse in front of your pets. This may be easier or more difficult, depending on what kind of pet you have. For example, my dog would keep eye contact with me for a while and then get bored. However, I could regain her attention. On the other hand, my cat would look at me and think, “You’re weird,” before walking away.
One of my clients doesn’t have pets, so she uses what she has — her extensive teddy bear collection. She sits dozens of them on her bed when rehearsing her talks. She makes eye contact with each bear at random. Does this sound odd? Maybe. But it helps her, and that’s what matters.
Here’s a bonus tip:
Many speakers tend to look at the people in front of them and those to one side. For instance, I tend to look to my left much more frequently than my right when speaking. Consequently, I need to make a pointed effort to involve the people to my right. Determine if you favor one side, and if you do, work on making eye contact with the opposite. Practice by positioning sticky notes in various locations on the three walls you face while rehearsing.
If you want to truly engage your audiences, be sure to employ effective eye contact techniques. Both you and your audiences will see the difference.
Get 52 easy-to-implement Public Speaking Tips that help you increase your impact, influence, and income!