Posted by: George E Burney | March 7, 2012

Public Speaking: Should You Make Eye Contact With Your Audience?

Actually, the question is: Should you make eye contact with individuals in your audience? The answer is: Yes.

Here’s why: When you speak to an audience, you are attempting to communicate with them. That’s what public speaking is, one person attempting to communicate with others. And what is communication? The flow of ideas from one mind to another, or to a group of individual minds.

In everyday life, if you’re talking with someone, and they look first at their watch, then the ceiling, then at a magazine they have in their hand, what feeling do you get? You feel that they have little interest in what you’re saying, and you’re probably right. Why? Because they’re not looking at you!

Similarly, when a speaker looks over the heads of those in his audience, or at the back wall, in an effort to seem to make visual contact, his audience is not fooled. He might as well focus on his notes and not look up at all. The effect on the audience is the same. They sense that the speaker has no real interest in them, but is simply giving a speech. So making eye contact builds trust.

Another benefit of making visual contact with various individuals in the audience is that the entire group is likely to feel that you are conversing with them. People find it easier to pay attention to a conversation they’re engaged in than to a speech. To be conversational, we have to look at members of our audience. This helps to maintain their interest.

Third, in one-on-one conversations, we look at the other person to get feedback. Even if they make no reply to a statement we make, we try to fathom their reaction by the expression on their face. If they smile or nod their head, we take that as agreement. That feedback encourages us to continue. If they frown or shake their head from side to side, we know they may not be in total agreement with what we just said, and we may give a more detailed explanation to convince them.

Speaking to an audience is similar. We need feedback, to see whether they accept what we’re saying, or if more explanation is needed. The person in the second row who smiles and nods her head is telling you something. She’s saying that she both understands and agrees with you. But how can you know that if you’re looking at the back wall?

A fourth reason to look briefly at different people is your audience is the emotional support you’ll often receive. While you are not primarily seeking support, you’ll often somehow sense that the audience is emotionally in tune with you. You cannot sense that if you avoid looking at individuals in your audience. This, in turn, is a powerful stimulant to you as a speaker, and may even improve your presentation.

Copyright © 2012 by George Burney and betterpublicspeaking


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