For every speech that we prepare, there are two parts. First and foremost is the content, followed closely by delivery. I believe content is always the king. But, a good content can be diluted by a very poor delivery. At the same time, a good delivery cannot save a poor content.
I think while many are good at producing quality content, where we tend to fail is the delivery. Whether it is our posture, tone, pitch, eye contact or body language, striking a balance with all these elements is a Himalayan task for most.
The eye is considered the portal to your soul. Eye contact is one of the important aspects of effective communication. You can better connect with the audience through good eye contact. I would like to share some simple strategies that you can adopt to achieve better a relationship with your audience through good eye contact.
Let’s first examine what can be done prior to the speech. Advanced planning for better eye contact can be very helpful for a powerful delivery of quality content.
1. Practice, Practice, Practice – Be well versed with your speech so that your focus is more on delivery than figuring out what to say next. When you have clarity on your content, you will be able to focus on delivery, including good eye contact.
2. See location in advance – Go and visit the stage or location to figure out where to stand, how the lighting falls, audience size. If you know the location well, you will be able to position yourself better for delivery and you will be able to strike a better eye contact with the audience. If you can influence the audience seating arrangements, go for it. If not, prepare to adapt to the settings that is forced on you. If you plan to use a slide presentation, identify where to place the screen and where to stand. Advance knowledge will help to prevent turning your back to the audience.
3. Usage of Notes – Avoid using notes. Creative use (e.g. if you are telling a story and the character is reading a note in the story, use a note and read it from it) of notes can be incorporated. The reliance on notes will tend to make you look downward and reduces eye contact.
4. Create interacting opportunities in your talk – While preparing the speech, see if you can build opportunities for audience participation in the speech to make people feel that they are part of the speech. During the interaction, you will be able to strike better eye contact with the audience.
Now, that we have looked at what can be done prior to the speech, let’s analyze what can be done during the speech to improve your eye contact.
1. Look at eye level – When you look at a person, look at eye level. Looking below or above will make the audience feel that you are not talking to them.
2. Do not stare – Establish eye contact, sustain it for couple of seconds and then move on to another person. Do not stare at one person for too long, it makes people uncomfortable.
3. Let your eyes talk – Eyes are considered to be a portal to your soul, a direct connection with your emotions. When the eyes emote in line with the content of your speech, there will be better connection with the audience.
4. Move closer to the audience if possible – If the stage setup allows you to move closer to the audience, embrace that opportunity. You will establish better eye connect when you are nearer to them.
5. Strive to make eye contact with all – Make a deliberate attempt to make an eye contact with all audience members. Ignoring audience members who are sitting in one part of the room is definitely not a good idea.
6. Look for the nodding heads – When you find supporters, it increases your confidence. Better eye contact with them helps you feel more connected. However, strike balance with others as well.
7. Record your Speech - Last but not the least, video-record your speech whenever possible. By analyzing the recorded speech, you will be able to analyze the effectiveness of your eye contact and where you can make improvements.
Soft skills are not easy to acquire. But, one important point to note is that, these are skills that you can master by practice. By adopting the strategies listed above, you will be able to improve eye contact with the audience, and thus the effectiveness of your presentation.
Biju Arayakkeel is a Competent Communicator and serves as Vice President of Education for 2ChangeU Toastmasters in Plano, Texas