Eye contact is a powerful tool for building trust and camaraderie with your audience. Looking your listeners in the eye is important whether you’re speaking to a hiring manager, your corporate board of directors or a packed auditorium. That visual connection makes audience members feel valued and keeps them attentive. Effective eye contact also establishes your credibility as a speaker, while helping you gauge your listener’s level of interest. By mastering certain eye contact exercises before you greet your audience, you can make the difference between closing a deal and walking away dejected.
Rehearse your client presentation or job interview questions in front of a mirror. Many people don’t realize how much they scowl or glance downward until they see their own reflection, according to an online column by Joey Asher, president of Speechworks, a sales and communications skills company. The best way to win over an audience is to exude sincerity through both eye contact and smiling. If you don’t see positive energy in the mirror, practice your speech or conversation several times before the big day arrives. This will help you feel more natural holding you're audience's gaze with confidence.
People often avoid eye contact for fear of becoming nervous and having their minds go blank. Instead, they become too consumed with stage fright instead of focusing on their pitch or presentation. In an article on The Genard Method website, speech coach Gary Genard says he helps break that pattern by writing 20 separate questions on pieces of paper and then asking someone to randomly pull one of those papers. That person must give a two- to three-minute impromptu talk on whatever question is drawn while maintaining constant eye contact with the speech coach. The questions should be general, such as naming a person who influenced you or defining our country’s greatest challenge. Giving an unrehearsed talk on a topic that has no right or wrong answer shows you how to think more about effectively communicating instead of worrying about what comes next.
Toastmasters International suggests an exercise that shows you how to lock eyes with many people when you’re addressing a large group. Several people sit at a round table and raise their hands. The facilitator must make eye contact with every person for a full three seconds. Each participant lowers her hand once the leader has maintained eye contact with her and moves to the next person. If the facilitator doesn’t achieve that three seconds per person, the game has to start all over again. This activity helps you get into the habit of gazing at someone for about three seconds, which is typically enough time to speak aloud one entire sentence, before making connection with your next audience member.
Practice eye contact techniques on a variety of people so you get the hang of communicating with your eyes. Rehearse with your family, friends and co-workers because you’re already comfortable with them. Next, start using your techniques on waitresses, bank tellers and store clerks. Get in the habit of fixing your eyes on theirs so that eye contact becomes second nature to you when you’re talking face-to-face with your manager or presenting data to a team of senior executives.
- Genard Method: Speak For Success! To Dramatically Improve Your Eye Contact, Use This Technique
- Speechworks: Use a Mirror to Improve Your Presentation Style
- Speaking Sherpa: 10 Public Speaking Tips For Making Eye Contact
- Toastmasters: Speaking Eye to Eye
- Susan Constantine: The Secrets of Eye Contact – Revealed
- Toastmasters: How to Become Skilled in Nonverbal Communication
- Speaking Center: University Of North Carolina Greensboro: Making Friends With Your Public Speaking Anxiety Monster
- Photo Credit Medioimages/Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images
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