One of the most important things you can do in public speaking is to make eye contact with your audience. Watching a clock on the wall, gazing above the heads of the audience, keeping your focus on your notes or a powerpoint presentation, or staring at just one person in the crowd is not making eye contact.
There are some people who will tell you that if you are nervous, stare at the wall. That is not only bad advice but it defeats your purpose for speaking. There are also articles you can read on the internet which will list 10 or possibly even 15 reasons for looking into the eyes of your listeners.
Below are the 5 most important reasons to make eye contact:
1. For the purpose of communication.
2. To bolster your confidence.
3. To control your nervousness.
4. To treat your audience like you were having a conversation.
5. To instill trust.
Your goal in public speaking is to communicate with an audience – not at them but with them. What this definition means is that you are conversing. Their response to you is the other half of the communication process. If you are not looking into the eyes of your audience, then you are oblivious to their reaction to you. (If such is the case, you might as well memorize your words and spit them out in a rote fashion – much like those telemarketers who interrupt your dinner hour!)
If your desire is to either inform or persuade your audience, then it is your job to acknowledge their response to your words and to your message. And, that can only happen if you actually see them.
You will discover, when making eye contact, that some people will nod their heads in agreement with you. You will also have smilers. Smilers enjoy listening and they are a tremendous boost for your confidence as are those who nod their heads, agreeing with your every word.
When you can acknowledge those in the room with your eyes, you will pause and breathe just as you would were you talking to them in your living room. And those pauses and supplemental breaths are one of the best means of controlling your nervousness in speaking.
The last reason is the result of the first 4. When you communicate, feel confident, control your nervousness, and treat your audience as if in conversation, you will build a connection with your listeners which personalizes your relationship with them. You then become someone whom they will believe in, the most important goal for any public speaker.
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