Last month I was invited into a grade nine classroom to give them an introduction to public speaking. Instead of giving a “talking head stranger speech,” I took a different approach and tried to do three things:
- Draw out the students’ existing knowledge of public speaking.
- Give them a demonstration of what a credible speech looks like; and,
- Answer student generated questions in a conversational format.
During this session, I asked the youth one form of non-verbal communication and one smartly answered, “eye contact”. Then, when I asked what good eye contact communicates, the class was able to provide a few more great responses:
“That you are paying attention.”
“That you can be trusted (shows sincerity)”
“That you are important to them.”
We certainly don’t need a body language expert to tell us what these kids inherently know, good eye contact creates a powerful two-way connection between a speaker and a listener.
Here are five things to pay attention to for effective eye contact:
- Keep your eye contact diversified. Try reach as many people as possible and include the people on your sides.
- Avoid the “sweeping sprinkler” pattern. Try to distribute your eye contact naturally instead of looking like a robot.
- Linger your eye contact. Try to maintain eye contact with one person long enough to give a complete phrase or sentence. This will maximize audience “draw-in;” making it seem like you are speaking directly to everyone and it helps avoid brief glimpses that can distract and impact sincerity. The 3-4 seconds it takes to properly linger will seem awkward. Practice by lingering eye contact with strangers on the street.
- Consider eye contact when you rehearse. If you only practice eye contact when you present, it will be tricky to turn the switch and do it well. Distribute your eye contact to imaginary people when rehearing.
- Know your stuff. The better you are prepared, especially when reading from a script, the more you will be able to look up and put some brain cells to maintaining lingered and diversified eye contact.
This is one skill that takes time to develop but will greatly enhance your ability to connect with your audience. What do you pay attention to with regard to