Do you look at the back of the room? Or perhaps the first row? Or between the rows? Or on the heads or on the nose? Or stare your audience in the eyes? There are so many answers to the question of where do you look during a speech.
And while the right answer is to look your audience in the eye, aka, make eye contact, it might not be as easy as it sounds. Let’s dig deeper.
Eye contact is the moment when two people look at each other at the same time. In this article, we will explore everything about eye contact. Why it is important in a speech, how do you make eye contact and where do you look if you’re nervous to make eye contact.
Now that we have answered your first question of where do you look during a speech, let’s move on and address a few key things related to it. To start with,
Why is Eye Contact Important in a Speech?
You must have heard it a hundred times before, and we get it, you know it is important. But what exactly does eye contact do to become this important? Allow us to help you understand this.
1. Aids Concentration
Well, you might believe that the opposite is true. That looking at a point in the room, or gazing up above the audience, into the abyss, will help you recall your points better.
However, what this does is slow down your brain. This happens because when your eyes wander, they take in irrelevant and random pictures of things around you and send them to your brain, occupying it with more things to do.
2. Increases Credibility
When you make eye contact with someone while communicating your message, they are more likely to buy it. Looking people in the eye reflects confidence and makes you look more authoritative, believable, and credible. Moreover, it also adds to your confidence and encourages you to be more assertive.
3. Strengthens Listening
Have you ever been in a class where the students start talking amongst themselves the moment the teacher turns towards the board? What does this example highlight? The importance of eye contact! Only when the teacher is facing the class and making eye contact with the students while talking to them, they are attentive and looking and listening to what is being taught.
It is the same situation during a speech. When you look people in the eye, they will most likely look and listen to you. The moment you stop doing this, they stop looking at you, start thinking about something else, and hence, stop listening.
4. Boosts Engagement
Have you felt obliged or invited to engage with a speaker making eye contact with you? You will notice that this happens only because the speaker made eye contact with you.
As a speaker, when your audience can perceive you looking at them, they feel as if they are being asked to engage with you. Hence, they reply with non-verbal signs like nodding, raising their eyebrows, smiling, etc.
This is what transforms them from passive receivers to active participants. This further enables you to mold your speech according to the response you get from your audience’s signals.
5. Helps to Pause Effectively
Looking someone in the eye for about two to five seconds naturally slows down your speech. As we have seen before, speaking slowly, with emphasis on the right phrases is of utmost importance in a speech.
This will make you sound a lot like one of those effective political leaders. Obama, for instance! If you consider yourself a fast talker, making eye contact will help you to pause and increase your overall impact.
How to Make Eye Contact During a Speech?
There really isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer to this question. It depends on several things like your venue, audience, the topic, your confidence, etc.
In a Large Setting
If you are talking to a huge crowd of people you don’t really know, looking just above their heads will make it seem like you are looking at them. Also, make sure to “lighthouse”, that is, to move your gaze from left to right occasionally so that no side gets excluded.
In larger settings, an auditorium, for instance, the lighting often makes it difficult to see your audience. Here, it is best to follow the lighthouse method that we talked about. Add a little bit of looking up and down to that and you are good to go.
In larger settings, also be mindful of people sitting furthest from you. For instance, include the people sitting in the balconies and the last rows. If you aren’t able to see the features of these people, ensure that your voice reaches them with as much energy as it appears to the folks in the front row.
Pro tip: While speaking in a larger setting, see if you can rehearse your speech at the venue before people come in. During this rehearsal, practice looking at different places in the room while speaking and try to cover as much area as possible. This will automatically direct your gaze to different parts of the room while talking about specific things in the speech.
In a Small Setting
However, this won’t work in say, a boardroom setting where there are a handful amount of people you know. In this scenario, it is wise to direct your gaze towards individual members by making eye contact.
Another tip to try in smaller settings is to make eye contact with one person at a time and to direct your gaze towards another member at the punctuation. For example, “Once upon a time, – change person- there was a wise king who ruled a land. – change person”
Avoid shifting your eyes when your mouth is moving. You can do this at every punctuation mark, or widen the gap, it is up to you. This trick will also help slow down your speech and allow you to give emphasis on key points. But don’t leave this for the last moment, it will require some practice!
The way in which you make eye contact changes with the level of familiarity you have with your audience. So, while giving a speech to a dry audience in a large space, it is not essential to make eye contact with each and every person in the audience.
Instead, you may want to have a more general gaze and focus on a person at every side of the audience to make eye contact with, while you are delivering your speech.
Contrastingly, if you are giving a speech to a small group of people, you will want direct eye contact with them to make them believe in your message. This works when you have to give a speech to a group of investors or convince your audience about a product.
Hence, having a fair idea of the context, venue, audience, etc, can help you decide which approach you can take to making eye contact.
Where to Look if you are Nervous to make Eye Contact?
It might be possible that you who are reading the article, knew where you are supposed to look during a speech. What you were worried about is where to look when making eye contact seems like the most difficult thing in the world.
Let me share my experience with you. I, like many people, found it terribly challenging to maintain eye contact while speaking. Making eye contact not only made me nervous, but it also led to me forgetting my speech. If you relate to my experience, here are some tips to help you.
1. Anywhere But the Eye
When making eye contact is a task for you, avoid looking directly into your listeners’ eyes. Instead, look at the forehead or nose. This will give the illusion that you are looking the audience in the eye when you aren’t.
Be mindful, because this won’t work when you have to talk to a small group of people.
2. Friendly Faces
One thing that helped me at school speech or storytelling competitions is looking at my best friend or a friendly face in the audience. If it is easier for you to make eye contact with people you know, you can invite them over and ask them to seat themselves at different places in the audience. When you make eye contact with them while giving your speech, it will appear that you are looking at everyone.
However, when this is not feasible, there is a fair chance that your audience will have at least one or two people with “friendly” faces – these will be the people who give you non-verbal signals like nodding, smiling, etc, while you are speaking. Apply the same trick of looking at these people while giving your speech.
3. Between the Lines
If your room is big enough and filled with enough people, you can actually look at the space between the rows or the space between the audience. Nobody will be able to tell whether you are actually making eye contact or not.
If you have to talk to a select group of people and are nervous about ming eye contact with individual members, you can resort to the triangle technique. According to this, you have to imagine an inverted triangle connecting a person’s eyes and mouth and look at one point of the triangle at a time. After every five seconds, rotate the point of the triangle you are focusing on.
4. Everyday Eye Contact
Making eye contact will become second nature to you when you start imbibing it in your everyday conversations. Start small by being conscious and maintaining eye contact while talking to friends or family. It might feel a bit odd at first, but you will eventually get hold of it.
If that is too stressful for you, you could start by making eye contact with characters on the television, while watching youtube or in video calls, or over virtual meetings.
Remember to Look Away…
Many people feel that looking away from your audience shows that you are trying to remember your content. However, looking away once in a while during your speech is not bad. It isn’t compulsory to look your audience in the eye for the entire duration of your presentation. In fact, looking at people non-stop makes them uncomfortable.
Take breaks by looking at your notes, pausing to take a sip of water, picking up a prop, or looking at the screen you are presenting on. Also, when you look away, look away slowly and not too quickly. This can make you look nervous or distracted. Ensure that you are looking at your audience for most of the speech.
To Sum Up,
With time, having good control over your eye contact will aid you to be a powerful communicator. This will happen when you realize how crucial non-verbal communication is in public speaking.
As you must have gathered by now, eye contact is one of the most essential tools in the toolkit of an effective communicator. And though we have given you tips on how to make it “appear” that you are making eye contact, it will benefit you only if you let go of your fear step by step and start making real and meaningful eye contact.