Just like a newborn baby whose eyes meet yours for the first time, your audience is looking for that same window into your soul. Don’t deny it to them – they are thirsty for information and they are going to be looking at you for access to it! Think of your eyes as a conduit, like a tractor beam, that can lock onto a person and draw her into your world, enveloping her in your message.
Here are some tips on how to improve the quality of your eye contact.
It’s only natural to get a little excited when you present or speak in public. The little shot of adrenaline that goes along with the experience can make you more alert and more dynamic as a speaker. Good stuff! However, the adrenaline also tends to make you speak more quickly, move around nervously, and, if you’re experienced enough to leave your notes in your pocket, to start scanning through your audience. Not so good. Try slowing it down. Just like it’s important to consciously slow down your speech when you present, you should also consider slowing down your eye contact. What does this mean? Try this: lock eyes with a person. Speak to that person for a few beats. Ba-dum, ba-dum. Enough time for that person to feel like you are speaking only to her. Your eyes should let her know that she isn’t just another face, hair, clothes, and combination of colours as you look around the room. Is she with you? Yes? Ok, good. Now move on to the next. Ba-dum, ba-dum. Connect. Repeat.
Make eye contact with specific people
If you are presenting to just a few people, you will probably be able to connect with everyone around the table. But what if you are speaking to a room full of people? It’s going to be physically impossible to make eye contact with every single person in your audience. When I’m faced with this kind of situation, I try to pick out a few individuals, equally spread out around the room, that I can focus on at least once. These are the people that I pick out:
Supporters are the people I know are already on my side and willing to support my project, my product, or my message. I’m connecting with them because I owe it to them, and their wonderful optimism gives me the confidence I often need to proceed.
Naysayers are the people who aren’t on board yet. They’re holding out for some reason, and I’m going to pay special attention to them while I’m speaking in order to hammer home my points. By paying special attention to them, I can also adjust my tone or message according to their body language.
Leaders are the ones who can motivate others to action, whether through designated authority or earned influence. I know that if I can connect with them, and get them onboard (if they aren’t already), my presentation will be more effective and generate more “return” on my time spent through my presentation.
Let your soul shine through your eyes. Make sure your eye contact is solid by counting a couple of beats before breaking it and moving onto the next person. Maximize the value of your eye contact by connecting with the most important audience members in the room: your supporters, your naysayers, and the group leaders.
Have I missed anything? Let me know in the comments section below.