Why and How to Maintain Eye Contact with your Audience
One way to lose an audience’s attention to our public speaking is to appear disconnected from them. This can easily happen if you fail to maintain eye contact with them.
Think about it: you are talking with a friend on the street, having a conversation for about 5 minutes and in that time you only look at him in the eyes once or twice. The rest of the time you are looking down at your phone, or at other people across the street. Would you be surprised if your friend looks puzzled? Or if he stops listening to you and looks at his phone or across the street too?
To capture our audience’s attention and keep it throughout our public speech, we need to maintain good eye contact. Let us look at 3 ways we can look at our audience in the eye and keep them focused on our words.
1. Focus on one member of your audience at a time
Instead of having a sweeping motion with our eyes, trying to cover everyone while speaking one or two sentences, look at one person. Speak a sentence or two to that person. Then focus on someone else in a different section of the audience and ask them a rhetorical question. Then move on, to the back of the room, then to the side, then back to the front.
Keep them guessing who are you going to address your words to, next.
2. Know your speech material inside out and speak from your heart
Learn the substance of your subject so you can speak extemporaneously to your audience without having to read your sentences from your notes, word for word. Use your notes just as a reminder of the different points in your speech. Look at the notes briefly, then look up and speak from your heart and mind.
3. Look directly at your webcam, when speaking to an online audience.
During this pandemic we are likely still meeting online or in a hybrid setting. If you are speaking to your audience over an online platform such as Zoom, think of your webcam as your audience. If you look at each audience member in the gallery view, to them it appears you are looking down at your screen or maybe to one side or the other of it.
It is challenging to speak to just the eye of a webcam on top of your laptop or PC, or even on a tripod away from the screen. It takes practice. Think of looking away from the webcam in the same way as looking down at written notes. It may be necessary from time to time, but keep that as brief as possible and look at your audience in the eye, again.
Maintaining eye contact with our audience is a skill that is developed over time.
Do not feel discouraged if at first you find yourself rather tied to your notes or pc screen. Keep practicing and over time your audience will feel more and more your eye contact.
This is just one key skill to make your speech a memorable occasion for your audience. At Toastmasters you have many opportunities to present a speech to a live audience or virtually, online and perfect maintaining eye contact with your listeners.
Post by: Massimo
Vice President Education and Membership 2020-21
Immediate Past President
Tube Talk Toastmasters Club