At a meeting I went to a few weeks ago, one of the speakers made the classic error of fixing his eyes on the ceiling rather than on us, his audience. As a public-speaking coach, I took a professional interest in this and found my mind wandering from his message to wondering why this man, who in every other way appeared confident and in control, was unable to look into the eyes of the people he was talking to. My companion told me afterwards he’d had the feeling this speaker was hiding something, since he seemed so shifty, always averting his gaze. And I would wager other members of the audience were also distracted or put off by not being looked in the face.
The eyes are the windows of the soul and, at times of vulnerability such as when giving a speech or presentation, it can be hard to force ourselves to look into the souls of the audience, for fear of what we might see. Equally, we may not wish to open our own windows, lest the audience get a glimpse of the quivering jelly within us. However, let me assure you these worries are unfounded. You cannot go wrong by looking at your audience in a natural way. Eye contact engages people, reinforces your message and gives an impression of openness, honesty and confidence.
If you’re apprehensive about looking at your audience, start by focusing on the people you feel safest with and spread out from there. Because eye contact brings your talk to life, you’ll find positive vibes coming back to you when you look at people and you’ll be on an upward spiral.
Members of your audience you don’t look at will lose interest in what you’re saying, so make sure you look at everyone, even those you can’t really see. If you’re addressing a big crowd, look out into the far rows just as if you could make out the individual faces.
Eye contact makes the communication personal and therefore memorable. Don’t waste a good speech or presentation by delivering it to the ceiling: talk to the people in front of you.