The foundation of all good presentation technique is one single thing

Have you ever sat through presentations where the speaker:

  • reads their presentation from the slides with their back turned to the audience
  • looks over the audience’s heads at something fascinating on the back wall
  • casts a glazed look over the whole room in a steady fluid movement
  • talks to the computer screen in front of them (and even points at it to illustrate things on the slide !!)
  • looks at just one person in the audience for the whole time?

We all know what it feels like to sit in the audience and not be seen by the speaker. It doesn’t feel good.

This is an appeal to all speakers I will listen to in the future.

Please look at me when you speak to me!

eye contat 700 wideHere’s a little test you can do next time you attend a presentation. As soon as the speaker gets going, look down at your knees or desk and try to keep your eyes down there while they speak. If you are suddenly compelled to look up it’s invariably because the speaker is looking directly at you. Somehow we can sense by the sound of their voice that they’re looking at us.

A speaker who compels you to look up immediately is headed for success. So check out what they’re doing. You can learn masses this way.

Good eye contact is not enough to give a great presentation, but lack of eye contact is guaranteed to ruin even the best presentation.

Why is it so important?

It’s about making a human connection. The first step we always take in building a relationship. An essential step to developing the trust and credibility that you need in order to convince and persuade your audience. Try to introduce yourself to someone and shake their hand without looking them in the eye.

We all instinctively know this, yet it’s one of the hardest things to do if you’re nervous, unsure and inexperienced.

So here are some tips on how to make good eye contact with the audience.

Practice making connections

Gather a small group who volunteer to listen to you in a presentation-like situation. Ask them to raise a hand when you start speaking and to lower it only when they feel they’ve been properly contacted and seen. As you talk, your aim is to help them avoid cramp in their raised arm. It’s usually great fun but try to take it seriously!

When you look at someone be sure to see them

Take in what you are seeing, their facial expression, their hair, the color of their clothes. Don’t just look at them as inanimate objects. They will clearly experience the quality of that eye contact.

When you look at one person, imagine you are having a private conversation with them in a relaxed situation

Enjoy it.

Put some life and energy into your gaze

You could even imagine projecting a beam from your eyes to theirs, a beam that carries your interest and enthusiasm for the subject and everything that is great and important about it. Don’t let it get too freaky though!

Look for a reaction in the face of the person you’re talking to

You should get a similar quality of eye contact back. Many times that person will nod in acknowledgement. Looking for that reaction helps you be sure you’re really seeing the person.

Don’t look at someone for so long they feel uncomfortable

For some people this only takes a few seconds. Look at their expression to tell you when to look away.

Speak a sentence or two to each person

Then move onto the next one. Be sure you’ve made a connection before you look away.

There is nothing more wonderful than looking out at a sea of faces and receiving human contact and acknowledgement from each of them in turn! Be warned that this can create an addiction to giving presentations.

When you focus on the importance of eye contact you will realize a number of things:

  • Talking to the projector screen is A VERY BAD THING
  • Excessive use of notes is fast heading towards A VERY BAD THING
  • Anything that keeps your eyes from the audience for more than a few seconds is A VERY BAD THING
  • If you find yourself standing in a section of the room where you can’t see all of your audience this is – A VERY BAD THING

Next time you hear a speaking coach describing how and where to stand, how to handle technology and contents of your slides and so on, remember that the whole point is to keep your eyes on your audience. It’s really very simple. There are many ways to do each of these things but understanding why gives you a better chance to find your own way.

So please find your own way.

And look at me when you talk to me!

Thank you.

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