All of those eyes looking at you can feel like the sun burning your skin on a hot summer’s day. And if you have a drastic fear of public speaking, you can get so nervous that you may forget what to say. One of these easiest ways to calm yourself and connect with the audience is to make eye contact. The ability to establish eye contact will ease you and your nerves before and during a public speaking event.

The use of threes is quite common in public speaking and storytelling. But I wanted to take it one step further and apply it to the audience. Before your next speech you should look for three people or areas in the audience, usually one is somewhere in the middle, the other two may be in the back or to the sides of the speaking venue. The goal is to establish direct eye contact with those people during your speech. The ability to make eye contact with people that have a friendly demeanor helps build your confidence during the speech.

If you use eye contact to connect with the audience you can make the speech conversational.

When I studied communications in college our Radio/TV professor always encouraged us to speak to the one person we felt most comfortable with in life. We were told to pretend as if we are having a conversation with them when we were behind the microphone or staring into the camera. The reason we did this is because we had no one to make direct eye contact with. We had to imagine a person in front of us so we could have a conversation with them. But with public speaking you have an entire audience that you can make eye contact with.

Depending on the size of the audience and the venue, you want to make eye contact with people in the middle of the audience, someone on each side of the audience and then people in the back and front of the venue. I like to focus on three people or areas of the audience, but in larger venues you have to focus on more than three areas of the audience.

You want the audience to feel as if you are making a connection with them.

If you are able to make eye contact with people that are nodding their heads and agreeing with you come back to them later in your speech. This will help you establish a personal connection with not only the person you are looking at, but the people sitting around that person.

Too often people fail to make eye contact with anyone in the audience. They look over the tops of people’s heads or they look at the ground and never connect with the audience.

If you have ever been to a speaking engagement where there wasn’t any eye contact made with the audience you probably didn’t buy into what the speaker was talking about.

Making eye contact is critical to connecting with the audience. If you are able to connect with people in the audience by looking them in the eyes, they feel as if you are speaking to them and communicating more than just words.

To become a better public speaker and communicator you need to practice every day. I’m not saying you have to get in front of groups of people every day to speak, but you need to practice eye contact in your conversations with friends, family, and even strangers.

Start connecting with people by doing these 5 things.

1. In your everyday conversations with friends, family, or strangers force yourself to keep eye contact as long as possible. This will seem very uncomfortable at first, but it will help you connect with the person you are speaking with.

2. When you get up in front of a group of people before you speak do a quick scan of the room and figure out where you want to focus your eyes at. This can be done hours, minutes, or seconds before your speech. Knowing the audience and the venue will help put your nerves at ease.

3. Keep eye contact long enough to make the point you are trying to make. Don’t start shifting your eyes from person to person mid-sentence or mid-point.

4. If you ask a question don’t start by looking one person in the eyes and then in the middle of the questions you look towards someone else. If you’re going to ask a direct question, give that person or the audience enough time to answer the question.

5. Look for a friendly face or faces. If you feel as if something maybe going wrong or you are getting nervous, take a silent pause, reassure yourself, and try to focus on the friendly face or faces in the audience. The audience wants you to succeed.

Making eye contact with the audience will help build your confidence during a speech. You can also connect with the audience by using eye contact effectively. Looking people in the eyes will not only help you connect with them, but it will also help them remember the message you are sharing.

The eyes can captivate an audience and express that which words may not be able to deliver.

Are you using eye contact during your speeches or presentations?

Photo Credit: Maurice