Some speakers recommend that beginning speakers who experience difficulty in making eye contact with members of their audience look at their foreheads instead. Or the back wall, or just above the heads of those in his audience. I disagree, since this means not dealing with the root cause of the problem – the speaker’s fear.
We might illustrate it this way: If you had a cancerous lesion on your skin, would you simply cover it with a Band-Aid? True, you can no longer see the lesion, but have you effectively addressed the core of the problem?
What’s the Real Problem?
The beginning speaker is usually consumed with concern about the audience’s reaction to his speech. In other words, he is afraid, not of the audience itself, but of what people in the audience will think about his speech. To narrow it down even more, he is concerned with what they will think of him as a speaker.
Two Changes to Make
A novice speaker with this fear should change the way he views his audience, since that’s likely to be at the heart of his problem. He must overcome the feeling, for instance, that the audience consists of critics who are assembled for the sole purpose of taking delight in his shortcomings as a speaker. Usually, they are there to benefit from what he has to share. Viewing matters from that perspective diminishes fear.
The second change has to do with his view of himself, and of the role he plays in the process. His fear is further reduced if he shifts his focus from himself, as the speaker, to his presentation. The information he presents is of primary importance; he is merely the messenger.
That makes sense when we consider the speaker’s purpose. His objective is twofold. First, to assemble and organize pertinent information needed by the audience. Second, to prepare and present that information in a clear and convincing manner. His purpose should not be to cover himself with glory.
Thorough preparation of the presentation breeds confidence. When added to the changes recommended above, this will eliminate the fear which makes it difficult, if not impossible, to make eye contact during a speech.
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