Eye Contact: Are You Looking At Me?

Eye ContactThe most important skill you have as a public speaker is the ability to make your audience feel connected to you and what you have to tell them.  This isn’t an easy task.

See, all these people are LOOKING at you.

(You just got scared, didn’t you?  I got scared writing that sentence!)

It’s awkward having people watch you and expect you to entertain them with nothing but your voice, your ideas and… your body.

Get Them On Your Side

To connect with your audience, you need to make them feel what you want them to feel.  That sounds kind of manipulative, but in fact, it’s the heart of performance.  Just like an actor, your job is to put into flesh the ideas that you want your audience to understand.  A speech is an action.  Every action must have a specific job to do.

The best way to win over an audience is to smile at them.  Smiles make the human face its most beautiful.  When a person is smiling, most of the time, people will smile back.

I’m not talking about that ugly, gritting your teeth smile you use when your grandma says, “Smile for the camera, honey.”  Inside you is a very natural smile.  It’s your job to find that and bring it out.

Here’s a technique that may work for you.  Every morning, get up and brush your teeth and comb your hair.  Face the mirror and for 90 seconds (time yourself) talk to yourself with a smile on your face.  Not a goofy one.  Find the smile you make when you’re genuinely happy.  That smile.

Smile genuinely.  Don’t fake it.  But you can learn how to smile honestly while you speak.  Best-selling author Andy Andrews has a blog post that explains the technique to learn to smile and speak.  http://www.andyandrews.com/how-to-smile-while-you-talk/ 

Don’t worry about feeling silly while you practice.  Within a short time, you’ll find that you’ll smile and talk naturally.

Tell Your Story With Your Eyes

Eye contact is one of the hardest skills to learn but it’s the most powerful tool I have to give you.  When you make eye contact with a person, you’re building a relationship with them.  That’s risky and that’s fun when it works.

When you’re on stage, you need to make eye contact with your audience.

If you’re too dependent on your speech notes or reading your speech, you can’t make eye contact.  That’s why you need to know your material very well.  Should you memorize it?  I’m not going to insist on memorization of every speech, but it will free you up from your notes.  That’s pretty important.

Try to look at people at different points in the room.  If you’re at one end of the stage, look across at the people on the far side of the audience.  Look at the people in the middle and back rows.  Try to look directly at everyone at least once, but not in order.  Skip around a bit.

Be sure to focus directly on someone when you hit a critical, emotional point in your speech.  Don’t look off to the side or up into the corner of the ceiling.  There are times when not looking at the audience is effective – but not then!  Not when you need them to connect to your feelings and the importance of what you’re saying.

We will work on some eye contact exercises in class.  You can try the same exercises at home or at church.  It will be interesting to know what you discover when you learn how to make your eyes work for you.