This is my daughter playing a mini green giant in a kids’ performance of Ella Enchanted last week. Shows like these warm the cockles of my heart. I love watching my girl on stage, even though she forgets half the words in the songs and lots of the dance steps.
Which is why, she told me, she spent just about the entire show looking above the heads of everyone in the audience and directly into the mirrors along the back wall. Mesmerised, she was, by what she saw. And disconnected too – no presence whatsoever – from the audience.
She said, when I asked her why she was so focused on the mirrored wall, that she needed to see what the other kids were doing to make sure she was singing and dancing correctly.
I didn’t buy that. Not for one moment. I reckon the truth is she just likes looking at herself in the mirror.
It got me thinking about public speaking, presenting, meetings, and all sorts of important conversations, as I am wont to do.
I remembered the first time I sat in a women’s sharing circle many years ago and we all had to take a few moments to look into one another’s eyes. I found it incredibly confronting, all I wanted to do was look away in embarrassment. I felt vulnerable and insecure.
There’s something about being truly seen that I shied away from then. These days, I savour it.
Let me explain why.
Studies show that people who make higher levels of eye contact are perceived as more:
- Warm and personable
- Attractive and likeable
- Qualified, skilled, competent
- Trustworthy, honest and sincere
When you’re presenting, eye contact is the difference between connecting with your audience – or not. It’s essential to ensure people are engaged with what you’re saying, or doing.
Eye contact creates more intimacy, and that makes your message more convincing. Eye contact is a win-win.
Here’s how to do it:
- Before you start speaking, take a few moments to make eye contact with your audience members. This shows your intention and willingness to connect.
- Look at everyone, not just the friendly faces in the crowd. It’s easy to choose the people who are giving you the most attention. But your eye contact can help other people to become more engaged in what you’re saying too.
- When you’re speaking to a large audience, it’s impossible to make eye contact with every single person. And scanning the room (or looking over everyone’s heads to the mirrored back wall!) is not the go. You need to make actual eye contact with individual members of the audience. And to do that, you need to know what you’re talking about (because ideally you’ve practiced your speech and know your main points and the stories that support them) so that you can allow for spontaneity in your speaking and look at your audience instead of staring down at words on a page. Some people like to divide large audiences into five or six imaginary groups, and shift their gaze from group to group, choosing a different person within each group with whom to make eye contact each time. Have a go and see what works best for you.
- At the end of your talk, remember to make eye contact as you close to ensure your message hits home.
When you’re presenting, and you make a point of catching someone’s eye, you acknowledge their presence and their attention. You’re giving them a gift.
When I’m in an audience, and the presenter looks at me, it makes me feel so special. It also makes me listen more intently. And I want more eye contact. It’s like I’m sitting there saying “pick me, pick me!”
I mentioned this to my darling after her performance. I told her I really wanted her to look at me because it would have made me feel special and loved. I said looking at people makes them feel important. I’m not sure she got it.
But you do. So, please, go forth and look people in the eye. Be a powerful, confident, authoritative communicator.
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