Believe it or not, more than fifty percent of everyday communication takes place nonverbally. You are constantly sending nonverbal messages. When you speak in public, your listeners judge you based on what they see, as well as what they hear.
Communication is Not Just Verbal You Know!
The aim of this blog series is to help you learn to use your entire body as an instrument of speech. As you read on, you’ll learn how nonverbal messages affect an audience and how to make your body speak as eloquently as your words. If you are new to the series you can read all about energy, posture and gestures here. The focus of this follow-up article is eye contact. Let’s continue with step 4!
4) Eye Contact
In terms of communicating a message, after your voice, your eyes are the most powerful tool. When you speak, your eyes function as a control device. Simply by looking at people, you have an influence on their attentiveness and concentration. You have the opportunity to make your presentation direct, personal, and conversational.
Making eye contact boosts confidence and helps us to overcome nervousness. When you look at your audience and realise that most are interested in your message, your fear will evaporate, and you will become more comfortable on stage.
However, despite the benefits, making eye contact is often seen as one of the most difficult aspects for a person delivering a presentation. To many people, eye contact is an intimate act – almost like touching someone. And to reach out and touch a stranger – even with your eyes – can feel particularly uncomfortable.
Making Eye Contact Matter
How can you give your audience the eye contact and personal attention they deserve? Here are three important rules to follow when making eye contact:
1) Know the Material Inside Out
Being prepared, by knowing your core verbal message inside out, is a prerequisite for establishing effective eye contact. You should know the contents of your speech so well that you can focus your attention on remembering the sequence of the ideas and words, rather than having to worry remembering the words themselves.
By mastering the material in advance, you can look up and outward to the audience, not downward to pages of notes.
While speaking without any notes is the ultimate perfection, a brief outline of the speech can be a useful resource to have on standby, and available for a quick glance every now and then. Many experienced speakers are highly adept at this skill, taking advantage of natural breaks, for example during audience laughter or in the moment after an important point to glance at their notes.
2) Make Lots of Friends
Making effective eye contact means focusing on individual audience members and creating relationships with them.
You can achieve this by following the aptly titled ‘Making a Friend’ technique…
- Observe the selection of people scattered throughout the room
- Look for those who are responding. The best people are the ones smiling, nodding or just “getting it”. Give each section of the room equal time and energy
- Focus initially on one person, talking to him or her personally. Treat it like a one-on-one conversation, where you would tend to stand closer to people you care about
- Hold the person’s eyes long enough to establish a bond – perhaps three to five seconds, or the time required to say a sentence or share one thought
- Then shift your gaze to another person. And repeat…
3) Monitor Visual Feedback
When you deliver a speech, your audience is responding with their own messages. By looking closely you can determine how they are reacting to your message.
- Are you performing well?
- Does the audience understand what you’re saying?
- Are you holding the audience’s attention?
- Is your message being accepted?
By gauging the audience’s reaction, you can adjust your presentation in real time. Many speakers consider this feedback to be the biggest benefit of eye contact.
Over to You
Congratulations! You’ve completed the two part body language blog series. Hopefully you now understand the key body language ‘requirements’ for delivering an energetic speech, with correct posture, effective gestures and powerful eye contact, all in one! Now get out there and speak!