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Non-Verbal Communication Element #1 – <br>Eye Contact

Eyes are the ‘Windows to the Soul’.


We make eye contact!

The eyes are the first things we use for non-verbal communication when we meet someone.  The same applies when speaking to a group of people.

‘Look me in the eye!’

‘The eyes have it!’

The first thing to do, after taking the lectern, and before beginning your talk, is to find a friendly face and make eye contact.  This is one reason for arriving early at the place of your talk to and to ‘Meet & Greet’ audience members.  Introduce yourself and ask them questions.

Making eye contact with people you meet beforehand who express friendliness, and an eagerness to hear you speak, will get your talk off to a jumpstart.

Look at that person directly in the eye and start speaking.  Then, after a few moments, move on to another welcoming face.

By using good eye contact you are able to connect with the audience, and connecting isa major goal of public speaking.

Eye contact expresses honesty and sincerity.  Language like, ‘Look me in the eye when you talk to me’, ‘Eyes are the opening to the soul’ and ‘I can read it in his eyes’ confirm this belief.

Just like a good conversation, eye contact makes them look at you and keeps their attention.

Also, noteworthy about our eyes is that they can express fear, wonderment, openness, disgust and a variety of other human emotions.  Look for these emotions in the faces of your audience and be keenly aware that they will receive like messages from you when given.

Keep in mind that a great speech (you do want to give a great one, don’t you?) should be like a one-on-one conversation. The difference is that only you, the presenter, are doing most of the talking.

This doesn’t mean that you’re not also receiving communication.

You are interacting with everyone and it is a two-way street, and your eyes are one of the tools you use to catch and interpret the messages the crowd is giving you.

The expressions on the audience’s faces, the look and direction of their eyes, and their body posture and movement will indicate how well the communication is going.

Constantly make note of this as you look at the audience.  It is vital feedback for you.

The responses you get may suggest changes you need to make in your delivery.

For instance, a number of faces indicating confusion about something you just presented suggest that you repeat, perhaps in a different manner, the point you want to make.  Do this, and check, again, the feedback the audience is giving to see if you’ve cleared up the confusion.

(People yawning, snoring, or running for the exits are indications of serious problems with your speech!)

While it isn’t possible to have individual eye contact with everyone in an audience, the following suggestions will work.

Use the “lighthouse effect” as you scan the crowd.

But modify it. Don’t be mechanical and as predictable as those beacons are.  Try looking at quadrants of the audience, and do it in a random fashion.  Stop for a moment or two when you find a friendly face and make direct eye contact.

Don’t linger on one person because you don’t want to stare.  If you’re having eye contact with someone and they look away, move on to another face.  You don’t want to make someone feel uneasy.  (Be aware that in some cultures, direct eye contact is not acceptable.  In others, lowering the eyes actually signifies respect.)

By becoming skilled at using eye contact as you speak to a crowd, you are taking control of the presentation to make it do what you want it to do. And having control is a big key to success in public speaking.

One ‘eye contact technique’ is to use the ‘one thought – one person’ method.  Make contact with someone until your thought is finished, then go on to another audience member with your next thought.

The people next to the person you’re making contact with will also feel the connection.

Then, move on and find another friendly expression on someone’s face and pause again for a few moments to make direct Eye Contact.

Continue “Eye Contact communication” throughout the speech.

Since “Eye Contact communication” is a two-way street, remember your eyes also express emotions–thoughtfulness, confusion, excitement and others – just like the feedback you look for.

Be aware, also, of the involuntary messages your eyes can deliver:

  1. Blinking too frequently suggests discomfort and may indicate dishonesty.

  2. Rolling your eyes, especially after a question is asked, can convey that you thought the question was silly or inappropriate.

Eye contact is one means of expressing that you have ‘confidence in your competence’ and don’t need to completely rely on notes for all the information you’re distributing.  Your knowledge is in your head.  You ‘know your stuff’.  Notes, when you look at them, refresh those facts for you.

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Three ways to keep the attention of your audience.

About the Author Fred E. Miller is a speaker, an international coach, and the author of the books, “NO SWEAT Public Speaking!” and “NO SWEAT Elevator Speech!”

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