Building a connection is a big part of an effective public speech.
One of the best ways to do that is through Eye Contact.
Whether we like it or not, our eyes are the windows to our soul. To be a successful presenter, you need to understand how important eye contact is in public speaking.
Especially for persuasive or argumentative speeches, purposeful eye contact will go a long way in supplementing your speech.
The term eye contact has been quite misunderstood. Many people take it to simply make fleeting contact while you glance around the room.
This is absolutely not right. To establish a connection, you will need a sustained look at each person. The goal is to make every person feel like this is a personal conversation.
Typically, people become very aware of their eyes and end up flickering them all around the room.
Some people choose to stare into open spaces or constantly look up towards the ceiling or down towards their feet.
They don’t realize that this can make the audience lose interest in your speech.
But the question still stands, is eye contact simply a natural gift?
Can effective eye contact actually be practiced?
Let’s find out!
Table of Contents
- Why is effective eye contact important?
- How to practice effective eye contact?
- Extra Tips on Natural Eye Contact
- Wrapping up,
Why is effective eye contact important?
Before we get into how, let’s clarify why. There are many things an effective eye contact can add to your presentation. Once you learn these benefits, you are more likely to be motivated to learn exactly how to make it happen.
1. Connecting with your audience
A purposeful and sustained eye contact turns a public speech into a more personal conversation. Your eyes can convey a lot of emotion.
You can use this to your advantage to show your audience how much you care about your message.
You may have noticed that even in a regular conversation, direct contact prompts you to listen more intently.
It creates an instant bond and makes you more invested in the speaker. When you make direct eye contact, the listeners are also going to return this look.
Once this connection is built, your message will be much more easily delivered.
2. Improves your concentration
A presentation scene has plenty of distractions. The murmurs of the audiences, lights, and environmental sounds cannot be avoided.
You might find yourself easily losing your footing in such unreliable circumstances. Solid eye contact, in this case, is not only beneficial to your audience but also to you.
No matter where you present, this is the one constant you can depend on.
As you focus on the audience, you will find it easier to keep a clear head. It can calm your nerves but also slow you down.
If you practice deliberate eye contact, you will notice that you naturally speak at a more normal pace and have a better overall concentration.
Your eyes are a great way to project authority. Do you remember your teachers back in school? When they looked you in the eye and gave you tasks?
Effective, wasn’t it? Averting your eyes is the number one way to look nervous and unsure of yourself. You will subconsciously be telling your audience to undermine you by doing so.
Good eye contact makes you look confident. Who would you rather listen to, someone who believes in his message and looks like it or someone who seems uncertain and unauthoritative?
The answer to that question is why eye contact is so important.
4. Reading the room
Let’s face it. One of the most obvious benefits of eye contact is to read the room. If your message is resonating with your listeners, then you’ll see them nodding along.
If you notice that your audience looks lost, you can change your pace to slow down and let them catch up with your message.
Many people choose to look only at the back of the room or empty spaces when delivering a speech.
But you are missing out on a lot of information that your audience is giving out when you do that.
Once you master effective eye contact, you can adjust your speech depending on your listener’s reactions to deliver exactly what they want and win over the room.
5. Promote audience engagement
As we stated above, eye contact gives you a lot of valuable intel about your audience. When you tailor your speech to match their reactions, they are more open to your message.
As such, participation will be easier to encourage. This is because you can be sure that they are then active participants.
When you fail to establish that audience connection, they are less likely to volunteer as they may not even be listening.
It is difficult to tell without reading the room. So to facilitate good participation, effective eye contact is crucial.
6. Slow down to a natural pace
Without human connection, you are at risk of babbling away your speech. This makes it look like you’ve simply memorized your speech instead of customizing it for your audience.
The pace of this repetition is not very natural and will quickly make your audience lose interest.
However, if you take the time to look and pause at your audience for three to five seconds, you will realize that you automatically slow down.
This is a natural human reaction that makes you speak at a more natural pace.
How to practice effective eye contact?
Now that we’ve learned why effective eye contact can make such a difference, we are ready to learn how to implement it.
People often say that practice is key, but in order to get the most out of your practice sessions, you can remember the following tips:
Not a crowd but a conversation
When you scan the room, don’t look at it as one big room. Look at it as a bunch of individual listeners who’ve come to hear you speak. This will not only motivate you to personalize your speech to them but also make sure you exude friendliness. The listeners are sure to respond to your energy.
When you work on a one-on-one connection, the vast room of unfamiliar faces will begin to seem much smaller. This will keep you conversational and help you calm your nerves.
Divide and Conquer
While we stress about the importance of individual eye contact, sometimes this is merely impossible.
Let’s say you’re facing a large room or an auditorium; individual eye contact is not only impossible but also distracting for you.
However, you still want to connect to as many people as possible. Our tip here is to then divide your audience visually into sections.
From here, pick a person from each section and make eye contact for a couple of seconds before moving to a different section.
Try not to follow the same patterns as it is quite noticeable. Pick a variety of people and build that connection.
Sustain, but don’t stare.
There is a difference between maintaining purposeful eye contact and straightforward staring. The latter is sure to make your audience very uncomfortable.
The general rule of thumb is that you should maintain eye contact for a maximum of 5 seconds during a speech.
This is enough time to get your point across, emote, and build a connection. Any more than that can make the rest of your audience feel neglected.
Recognize when an audience member isn’t responding
While there are many active and willing participants, you have to remember that not everyone is a fan of eye contact.
Some of your listeners might feel very uncomfortable with it and might prefer being a passive audience.
Depending on the culture and location as well, eye contact can have different meanings. So make sure you can read the room enough to know when to stop making this eye contact as well.
Pair eye contact with key messaging
Even if you cannot maintain eye contact for your entire presentation, you need to plan it so that you can do so during the crucial parts of your speech.
Strong eye contact is a great way to emphasize your key points. Especially when you pair it with your body gestures and facial expressions, your audience is sure to connect.
Mingle with the audience
This isn’t applicable in all speaking settings but can put you at a good advantage. Try to arrive at the venue early and introduce yourself to the people in the audience.
This will not only make them more open towards you but also put you at ease. It is challenging to depend on just forming an instant bond with a room full of strangers.
This is a much more practical way to put people at ease.
No substitute for preparation
No matter how many tips you read through, the most effective suggestion is practice. It is entirely okay to be nervous when you take up the stage.
Many people begin by looking at the ceiling or at the ground because they feel too vulnerable. But as we know, you cannot learn swimming by merely reading about it.
You need to get in the water. You need to take up the stage, maybe practice with smaller groups, to begin with. Eventually, you will begin to see the difference.
When you combine all of these things into a single package, you end up with a pretty significant difference in your speech giving.
You’ll be more confident and talk at a better pace with more concentration. It can be the difference between convincing the audience and not convincing an audience.
Extra Tips on Natural Eye Contact
Once you have mastered the basics, here are some extra tips on how to create natural eye contact. While being a natural speaker is well-revered, natural eye contact actually plays a big part in looking natural.
Look at people, not spaces
This is a common mistake that beginners make. Looking into spaces to avoid looking at the ground.
While this will make you look less nervous, it is not enough to build a connection. Looking at empty rows or the wall in the back will make the audience lose touch with your message.
If you seem distracted, so will the audience. Therefore, you need to divide the room and make sure they all get equal attention.
Make eye contact and deliver with confidence, glancing around the room to get everybody involved.
Begin with eye contact
It’s essential to start off on the right foot. Don’t begin by looking at your notes or shuffling your feet.
Project confidence right away. Establish eye contact before you even start speaking. This is how you grab the attention straight off the bat, which makes it easier to maintain.
Use the 50/70 rule
Finding the right balance between sustained eye contact and staring can be tough. Don’t worry.
We’ve got just the trick for you! Establish eye contact and hold it for 50% of the time while you speak.
Maintain it for 70% of the time when listening. This is how you can keep the interest going and project confidence.
Hold it for 4-5 seconds.
Once you establish eye contact, hold it for 4-5 seconds. After you get enough practice, this will just happen naturally.
When you maintain eye contact, make sure not to flicker your eyes around too much. Commit to your connection for those 4-5 seconds.
Breaking that contact will hamper the connection you’ve been building. It can also make you look unsure of yourself.
Express with your eyes
Your eyes do quite a bit of conveying. For instance: if you’ve seen the actress Emilia Clarke smile, you will see precisely how much of her smile is through her eyes.
When you’re happy, your eyes project a warm appeal that the audience can recognize. When you’re sad, your eyes tend to be smaller and convey that pain.
Use this to your advantage to emote and take your audience on a journey with you. When you have good eye contact, your audience will be able to mirror your feelings, and that is a true natural connection.
Natural eye contact does not always come naturally. Talent is nothing without discipline. So make sure you practice until it becomes second nature.
Practice in front of a mirror, study how your eyes move. Practice in front of a familiar audience so you can get comfortable building a connection.
You might be slow and steady, but you’re en route to winning the race.
Communication is much more than what is verbally expressed. You are giving out so much about how you feel simply by the way you stand or through eye contact.
Luckily, you can use this to your advantage. Your eyes can bring a lot of emotion to your message, and it is an incredible way to build a connection with your audience.
It can also improve your concentration and improve how you read the room. The key ingredient in this mix is practice. Go out there and build some connections! Good luck!