There are several great reasons to improve your eye contact skills when speaking to a group.
- – It’s an effective way to connect with them on an individual basis.
- – It increases the support and buy-in you have from the audience as a whole.
- – When you are looking at one person directly, the people in their immediate vicinity feel you have also acknowledged them.
- – It can calm your nerves by helping you focus on one person rather than the entire crowd.
- – It will boost your confidence when people acknowledge you in return with a slight nod or a look in their eye that tell you they see you.
So now you know why improving your eye contact skill is worth investing some time in. What can you do to improve?
How to Practice
If you rarely make eye contact during your presentations and the thought of it makes you a little uncomfortable, remember that you aren’t alone. Eye contact is powerful and it can be a little intimidating because you are inviting someone to notice you. Here are some ways to practice.
Use the everyday opportunities you have
Spend a few more seconds at the cash register when you shop, looking your cashier in the eye as you chat and go through the transaction. Many people stand at a checkout counter for an entire transaction without ever looking the cashier in the eye. Having a meal out with clients or colleagues?
Look them in the eye during conversation when you have the floor, moving from one person to the next as you talk.
This is a great exercise for two. Take turns picking a topic your partner is likely to know little or nothing about. Give them the topic and have them talk for a minimum of two minutes while making direct eye contact with you.
Have a Conversation
When you are speaking, treat each person in the audience as if you were speaking to them alone. How long should you hold one person’s gaze?
Sheri Jeavons of Power Presentations, Inc. says it should be for the length of a complete sentence, beginning to end.
Although you are talking to a group, it’s really a collective conversation. You can gain valuable feedback when you address the audience members one at a time. Most will nod slightly or look back at you in a way that indicates they know you see them and they understand you. But if someone is not looking at you or appears bored or confused, move on to the next person.
If you see several people like this, you can make some changes in real time to recapture those whose attention has slipped. Add some vocal variety as you talk by raising or lowering your voice or pitch and using descriptive words that will resonate with the audience.
Over the next few days, make a point to try out some of these exercises.
If you are in a group like Toastmasters, use your next meeting to work on making eye contact with your audience and see how it improves your speaking skills. Then send me an email to let me know how it went!