All you have to do is make solid eye contact. You may have heard this mentioned before, but today I am going to show you how to do it. :)
Have you ever wondered why some speakers seem to engage their audience effortlessly, while others struggle to keep them awake? It is likely that the engaging speaker has developed healthy habits around maintaining eye contact.
Looking at people draws them in and makes them feel connected to you. It taps into that human desire we all have for wanting to feel special. You want your listeners to think that—out of the 100+ people in attendance—you took the time to chat with them on a personal level.
Unfortunately, whenever we get up to give a presentation, there tends to be an imaginary wall between our listeners and ourselves. It is that awkward “them against us” feeling that precipitates within the audience unless we change it.
Eye contact is just one way of breaking this barrier. It communicates, "I am confident and friendly; you can trust me!" (Let’s not say that out loud, of course). Seriously, though, after learning about eye contact, the rapport with my audiences improved almost immediately. But, if eye contact is so important, why don’t we do it?
One reason is that the act itself is daunting. I can equate the feeling to looking at a stranger in an elevator; there’s just enough time to feel extremely uncomfortable, yet not enough time to hold a substantive conversation (I always think to myself "uh…soo...where do we go from here?” and then the door opens). Eye contact can also seem confrontational and somewhat threatening if not done correctly.
Below are two ways to help you overcome these eye contact concerns:
- Focus on three points alone. These points can be random people, sections, or objects in the room. It is important to pick the points and stick to them. The trick is to make sure they cover the entire audience. For instance—for very basic purposes—have one point to the far left, another in the middle, and finally one to the far right. As you make your way through the speech, look at each point from time to time. Make sure to spend a few moments on each one. Try not to rush frantically between spots. Holding our eye contact for a while shows poise and control. Just make sure you have addressed each point by the time you conclude.
- Use the bridge of people’s noses (and depending on the size of the room, their chin also works). You will have the same impact, without all of the accompanying panics that come with direct eye contact. If done in a reasonable manner (notice I did not say “perfect”) no one will realize that you are not giving direct eye contact. With time you will become more confident, and looking at people directly will become simple and fun; when that happens, you will be shocked by how well you are received. It will feel like you are having an enjoyable conversation with close friends in the room.
This strategy might feel uncomfortable at first, but as you do it a couple of times, you will notice yourself getting better and better.
It took me a while to figure out this helpful tool; it was a rough journey. I’ve tried looking at the ceiling, the back wall, and even the floor. Then, when I did start making eye contact, I remember feeling embarrassed after believing that I was staring at people. The good news is that you never have to worry about this if you follow the simple steps above. With time, making direct eye contact will feel completely natural. Start using it today!
Do you have any tips on how to maintain good eye contact?