As speakers we are always being urged to “connect with our audience”. Now this sounds all fine and good; however, as with everything else in life the devil is in the details. Just how is a speaker supposed to connect with a room full of people who are staring at him or her? It turns out that you already know the answer – you need to use your eyes. As simple as this seems, all too often we do it wrong…
The Right Way To Make Eye Contact
What’s so funny about eye contact is that as speakers we’ve always been told that it’s important to make eye contact with our audience; however, we’ve never really been told how to go about doing this. In fact, a lot of us do it incorrectly.
All too often speakers decide that what they need to do is to make eye contact with every single person in their audience. Many times. This leads to what I like to call “machine gunning your audience”. The speaker quickly, and all too often in a very predictable sequence, quickly makes eye contact with each member of the audience. The effect of doing this is that you make no real contact with them, but you do succeed in creeping everyone out as they wait for you to come back around to them again.
So what’s the right way to handle this eye contact thing? Here’s what you really want to do. It turns out that your audience can’t really tell exactly who you are looking at. When you pick someone out of the audience and gaze into their eyes, the 20 or so people sitting around that person all think that you are gazing into their eyes.
Once you’ve located a person in the audience, look at their eyes and make your point. This should take anywhere from 10-30 seconds. You are not trying to stare them down, rather you are looking at them as though you were having a conversation with them and them alone.
When you do this, you achieve what every speaker is looking to do: you become intimately connected with your audience. The members of your audience feel as though you are talking directly to them and nobody else.
How To Tell If Your Message Is Getting Across
Making a connection with your audience is a critical skill to have, but it is really only half of the story. Not only do you want your audience to hear what you are telling them, but you want them to be able to tell you if they are comprehending what you are saying.
The best way to go about doing this would be to halt your presentation, take a trip down off the stage and out into the audience, pull up a chair, and have a chat with your audience to see if they are really “getting” the points that you are trying to make.
Since in most cases this really is not a practical thing to do, we need to come up with a different plan. It turns out that if you know how to pay attention to it, your audience is already telling you if they are understanding what you are saying.
What you need to start to do is to read your audience. Their eyes and face will be telling you all that you need to know about how your speech is being received. You need to pick up on everything from smiles to frowns, boredom to excitement. This steady stream of information from your audience to you gives you the information that you need in order to adjust the speech that you are giving on the fly in order to become a more effective speaker.
What All Of This Means For You
They say that our eyes are the windows to our souls. I’m not sure if that’s really true, but when it comes to your audience their eyes are the key to understanding if they are understanding what you are telling them.
As speakers we need to ensure that we are making good eye contact with our audience. This means taking the time to connect with individual members of the audience – not attempting to connect with everyone all the time. We also have to take the time to read what our audience’s eyes are trying to tell us.
So much of our daily human communication is based on what the other parties’ eyes are telling us. When we get up to speak, the same rules apply. We just need to learn how to read what’s in our audience’s eyes.
Question For You: How long do you think that you can continuously stare at one member of your audience?
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Note: What we talked about are advanced speaking skills. If you are just starting out I highly recommend joining Toastmasters in order to get the benefits of public speaking. Look for a Toastmasters club to join in your home town by visiting the web site www.Toastmasters.org. Toastmasters is dedicated to helping their members to understand the importance of public speaking by developing listening skills and getting presentation tips. Toastmasters is how I got started speaking and it can help you also!
What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time
We’d all like to be seen as being great speakers. We imagine ourselves as the next Tony Robbins, standing in the middle of a huge stage with a large audience hanging on our every word. I fully support your dream, but perhaps we need to have a talk about how you are going to go about achieving it. Before you can give a great speech, you are going to have to learn how to write a great speech.