Speak Eyeball to Eyeball!
In his book “Great Speaking – Stage Techniques to Tame Those Butterflies” Hal Persons says……
“In verbal communication, your eyes are the most important organ”
Big statement, but is he right?… you bet he’s right.
Think about it, when you talk to someone in a normal conversation, you speak eyeball to eyeball and you have no problems doing it. In fact, not looking at someone sends out signals of not being interested or being nervous or even worse… not telling the truth.
Same in Public Speaking. The speaker has to create that eyeball to eyeball experience in order to make you feel that they are speaking to you. If they ain’t looking at you… they ain’t speaking to you, so you feel excluded and stop listening.
Eye Contact… how do you do it?
The old advice was to scan the audience in a letter W configuration, creating the impression that you are looking at people in the audience. Trouble is, that looks pretty artificial and the speaker doesn’t get any feedback from the audience.
My advice… actually look people in the eyes and speak to them. Look at someone in the front and speak to them, look at someone on the right and speak to them, look at someone at the back and speak to them… I could go on all day, but you get the idea.
When you ask a question, ask a single person and wait for their reaction, when you deliver a punchline, deliver it to a single person and wait for their reaction.
The audience will feel involved and you will get that all important feedback. You’ll notice frowns, smilling faces, nodding heads. You are interacting with the audience.
Practical things to improve eye contact
In an ideal world we would all speak off the cuff without notes and with our eyes fully on the audience. But for most of us, we will be using notes, and if you are looking at your notes… you ain’t looking at the audience. Don’t worry, there are a few practical things that you can do to improve your eye contact with the audience whilst taking the odd crafty glance at your notes:
- Use your notes wisely – whatever form of notes you use, make sure that the writing is big enough to read easily. Rehearse enough to allow you to take quick looks to remind you what’s coming next. And if your notes are on A4 sheets, only write on the top two thirds so you don’t have to lower your head to see the bottom of the sheet.
- Are your glasses up to the job? – if you wear bifocals or variofocals make sure that you can read your script easilly, through the bottom of your glasses. If you can only read your script through the top of your glasses, you will have to keep dropping your head. Keep your head still and drop your eyes to see your script.
- The lectern is your friend – make sure that the lectern is set at the correct height for you i.e. so that you don’t have to drop your head to see your notes. And stand about an arms length away from the lectern.
Never Speak to an Audience
I’ll finish where I started by going back to Hal Persons book. Having stressed that you must always speak “eyeball to eyeball” and never to an audience, he says……
“To accomplish this, you must eliminate from your very thinking that you ever talk to a group of people. Never talk to an audience. Never talk to a class. Never talk to a meeting. Never talk to a congregation. Never talk to the Kiwanis Club. Never talk to the PTA.
You talk to 1,000 people… one at a time.”
I’ve no idea what the Kiwanis Club is, but Hal’s solution sounds perfect to me. It cuts through all the theory and technique, you don’t have to remember or practise anything, all you have to do is what you do every day of your life… speak to real people, eyeball to eyeball.
Thanks to Hal Persons for writing such a great book
Special thanks to Elena Snow for allowing us to use her stunning image