Why is it important to make eye contact with your audience? Would you like to make eye contact without the anxiety or awkwardness that often comes with the territory?
Eye contact is the number one way to engage with your audience. It make a big difference, and there are definitely some right and wrong ways to go about it. Learn why eye contact is important when giving a speech, and get some advice on how to improve eye contact in this context.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
- Why eye contact is important
- How to improve eye contact when giving a speech
- What to avoid when making eye contact
- How to avoid awkward eye contact
- How to overcome eye contact anxiety
5 Reasons Why Eye Contact Is Important
Before we look at some advice on how to improve eye contact with an audience, let’s discuss why it’s an important part of public speaking. Here are five reasons.
Reason #1: You Hold the Audience’s Attention
Eye contact is the number one way to increase your engagement with an audience. When you make eye contact with someone, their attention is on you. This is because eye contact is a powerful form of nonverbal communication that can help to captivate your audience.
Reason #2: You Connect With the Audience
Eye contact can help build rapport between you and your audience and make them more receptive to your message. The audience feels like you’re talking to them rather than at them. Even better, they might feel like you’re talking with them, as they also communicate nonverbally with you.
Reason #3: You Build Credibility
People who don’t make eye contact seem nervous and possibly dishonest. Eye contact is a sign of confidence and authority. When you make eye contact with your audience, you’re sending the message that you sincerely believe in what you’re saying. This can help increase your credibility and make your audience more likely to believe you.
Reason #4: You Improve Your Delivery
When you make eye contact with your audience, you’re forced to slow down and speak more clearly. This can help you project your voice and sound more conversational.
Making eye contact also can help you use fewer filler words. Have you noticed that people don’t say “um” or “uh” in conversations as much as they do in presentations? You’re more likely to use filler words when you look up or off to the side as you gather your thoughts.
Reason #5: You Receive Valuable Feedback
People tell you a lot with their eyes! When you make eye contact, you can read the room more effectively and adjust your presentation accordingly.
How to Improve Eye Contact: 6 Public Speaking Tips
If you just scan the audience—or, even worse, look just above their heads—you don’t enjoy the benefits of eye contact listed above. What’s more, you also risk looking like an oscillating fan! Sure, you can try to look at everyone, but you probably won’t connect with anyone if the group is large.
Here are six tips for how to improve eye contact when you’re giving a speech.
Tip #1: Talk to One Person at a Time
As we implied above, you tend to make eye contact when you engage in conversation. So, when you give a presentation, think of it as a conversation. You’re talking to someone. Whether your audience is 10 people or 100 people, it’s made up of individuals. So, here’s the main thing to remember about eye contact when giving a speech: Talk to one person at a time.
Here’s how to practice this tip. Look into the eyes of one person for a complete thought (usually a sentence) before you move on to another person. Connect with a few people sitting next to each other. Then, slowly work your way around the room, connecting with a couple of people to your left, middle, right, front, and back. Don’t let your eyes jump around randomly.
If this practice is new to you, take this baby step: Try it for at least the first few sentences of your speech and again at the end. You can expand on the skill in future speeches.
Tip #2: Talk to People, Not Paper
If you’re using notes, glance at them to snatch up your next phrase or two. Don’t talk while looking at your notes. After you glance at them, look up, and then talk. Double-space your notes, and put them in a large font (at least 14). Better yet, reduce your notes to key words only.
Tip #3: Don’t Look Down
Looking down either at the podium or at the floor can make you look submissive or insecure. Instead, keep your head up and make eye contact with your audience.
Tip #4: Don’t Stare
Staring is awkward for everyone. Staring at someone can make them feel uncomfortable or even threatened. A good rule of thumb is to look at someone for about three seconds before moving on to someone else.
Tip #5: Break Eye Contact When Needed
Don’t be afraid to break eye contact. It’s okay to break eye contact at times, such as when you’re looking at your notes or a visual aid, gesturing, scanning the audience, or thinking about what you’re going to say next.
Tip #6: Practice Making Eye Contact
It’s always wise to practice delivering presentations, and there are a couple of ways you can practice making eye contact.
Method #1: Practice With a Fake Audience
Take a few sheets of paper, and draw crude faces on each one. (Actually, all you need is the eyes.) Tape them up on the walls. Position them as though they’re seated in front of you as you’re standing. Then, practice your speech, looking into the “eyes” of your audience.
Method #2: Practice With an AI Speech Coach
Yoodli’s AI speech coach works with your webcam—the webcam simulates your audience. So, you won’t be able to practice moving your eye contact from person to person. However, you can practice looking up and out at your audience rather than looking down. Yoodli will let you know the percentage of time you made eye contact with your audience (webcam).
Yoodli is free to use. Here’s how to practice and get feedback on your eye contact (and more elements of your delivery and word choices).
- Sign up or sign in at yoodli.ai.
- Make sure you have a camera and microphone connected.
- Hover over Practice, and select Speech.
- Click Start.
- Next, record what you plan to say. Then, click on Stop and Save Recording.
- In just a moment, Yoodli will provide you with a transcript of what you said, analytics on your eye contact, and more.
How to Avoid Awkward Eye Contact
In addition to the advice on how to improve eye contact provided above, here are a few tips to help you avoid awkward eye contact.
- Focus on your message. When you speak, your primary focus should be on your message rather than on the people. Not only will this will help you stay on track and deliver your speech more effectively, but it will also help you feel more confident and less awkward about making eye contact. The eye contact you make will be more natural—connected to your message rather than particular people.
- Relax, and be yourself. The more relaxed you are, the more natural your eye contact will be.
- Use the triangle method. This is a technique where you focus your eye contact on the area between someone’s eyes and eyebrows. This can help to make your eye contact less intense and more natural. Learn more about the triangle method.
How to Overcome Eye Contact Anxiety
If you’re not comfortable making eye contact when you give a speech, try these techniques to help you relax and build confidence.
- Practice your speech. The more you practice delivering your speech in general, the more comfortable you’ll feel making eye contact with your audience.
- Remember that everyone feels anxious sometimes. It’s normal to feel anxious about public speaking and making eye contact, especially if you’re not used to it. Just remember that everyone feels anxious sometimes, and trust that you can build confidence over time.
- Believe that the audience is on your side. When you’re speaking to an audience, assume that you’re talking to your friends. Trust that these people are on your side, rooting for you and believing in you and your message. This can help you to relax and feel more comfortable making eye contact.
- Smile. Smiling puts you at ease. It helps you look more approachable and makes your eye contact more friendly.
- Avoid looking at the back of the room. This can cause you to feel self-conscious, and it might lead to difficulties in making eye contact with people in the front of the room.
- Practice relaxation techniques. A number of relaxation techniques can help you reduce anxiety of any kind. These include deep breathing and progressive muscle relaxation. Try practicing these techniques before your speech.
- Seek professional help. If you’re struggling to overcome eye contact anxiety, it could be helpful to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor. They can provide you with additional support and guidance.
While making eye contact during a speech might seem awkward and nerve-wracking, it’s actually the best way to get your message across and enjoy the experience. Make the connection, and then make the most of it with these tips.
Note: This post was created in partnership with artificial intelligence.