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  • Bruce Rule

Eye Contact Will Improve Your Public Speaking (Part 2)

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Eye Contact is Vital No Matter How Large The Audience Is

Eye contact is a powerful tool for public speaking, as I explained in the previous post. As a beginner, you may wonder how to use eye contact effectively when speaking to large audiences. Here is a simple guide for you to follow.  


If someone is on stage introducing you, you should acknowledge that person by meeting their gaze (as well as shaking their hand if appropriate). And then take a few moments and silently scan the room. Try to include every portion of the audience in your scan. Don’t feel you have to rush this. A few seconds of silence before you begin speaking isn’t going to bother audience, and will help establish your authority and may calm your nerves.  


In your mind divide the room into thirds. Scan the middle third and pick a friendly face to start. Lock in eye contact and begin talking. After about five seconds or a complete thought switch to one of the other thirds and do the same. Then move your gaze to the remaining third. Repeat this in a random pattern for your talk, trying to look at different people in each section every time. Don’t select the same people over and over when there are others you can include.


Try not to forget the people who are sitting to the sides. You should include them in your glances.


Remember that you should be shifting your gaze from one part of the room to another at random. Be careful you don’t fall into a pattern of looking to one side, and then the other, as if you were sitting midcourt at a tennis match. That would look silly. Also avoid the mechanical “left-center-right, right-center-left, etc.” pattern or you will come across artificial, like a robot.


If the gathering is large enough and it is stadium seating, make sure you aren’t just including people at the same level. Try to acknowledge people down in front as well as in the back. If there is a balcony, include the people up there once in a while. If the audience is really large, say, over 400 people, it will become impossible to lock in on most people’s eyes. But continue to work the room no matter how vast the audience is.


If you are still working on gaining the confidence to look people in the eye, one thing you can do from the stage is look at their foreheads instead. At a distance that is close enough. NOTE: Don’t do this in smaller meetings or one-on-one conversations where it would be noticeable.


Confidence Builders

One other way to gain confidence, especially when the audience is comprised of strangers, is to make yourself available beforehand to greet people. I mentioned in an earlier post that this is my favorite piece of advice. (Click here for other reasons why you should show up early). When you take the stage and scan the room, look for those you talked to beforehand. They will feel recognized and almost always will respond positively, which should help calm any nerves you may have.


If there is a special member in attendance, say the president of the United States, a king, or the CEO of your company, it may be worthwhile to start your speech by looking at them and returning to them once or twice. But don’t spend too much time looking at any one person in the audience because you run the risk of locking in and forgetting to include the rest of the gathering. If that happens, some members of your audience may feel excluded and lose interest in what you are saying.

Small Meetings

The opposite may apply in a smaller business meeting.


For instance, most of your attention should be on your current or potential client (or clients) when giving a presentation. You don’t need to include your team members in your scanning of the room. You may want to glance to any team member that you refer to in your presentation, to give the client or clients an indication of who you are talking about, but otherwise focus on the people you are pitching.


The same can be true with meetings in your own company. If you have been selected by your team to present a proposal to the CEO, for instance, focus your attention on the CEO during the presentation. If the CEO has brought along others to hear what you say, make eye contact with them as well. You want them to feel included because they may give feedback to the CEO, and you want their impression of you to be positive.


One thing I have heard is that some very experienced speakers select a bored or even hostile-looking audience member when they take the stage. They use that member as a gauge for how the speech is going. I don’t advice that when you are starting out because it may dent your confidence. Better to focus on the people who are sending you positive feedback.


While it may take some time for you to get used to using the above method for establishing eye contact with a larger audience, in time it will become a habit and you will do it without having to think about it.


Once it feels natural to you won’t even notice that you are doing it. But your audience will feel it, and that is a good thing.

Illustration courtesy of Delegateconnectimages.  


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