In Persuasive Speechmaking, The Eyes Have It
This post has such a truthful title that I must say it again. In speechmaking, the eyes have it. That’s because your eyes play an essential role any time you are engaged in practicing the art of persuasion.
You’ve heard it said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. People search each other’s eyes for information about authenticity, love, connection and a whole host of intangibles that lead to respect and influence. Eye contact gives you a direct link to the emotions of your audience. When there’s no eye contact with the individuals in your audience, it sends all the wrong signals, like a lack of confidence in what you are saying, or worse, that you don’t mean it, might even be lying! EGADS! Eye contact is essential. The problem is, you can’t make eye contact with everyone at once. The solution? Quit trying to see everyone at the same time. Instead, make eye contact with one person at a time. And the easiest way to do this is to engage with one person at a time as you speak, like you do when you’re not speaking. Then complete your thought or complete your sentence before moving on to the next person.
You’ve probably seen presenters who scan the room, back and forth like an electric fan. I’ve done it. It’s not engaging. It’s not interesting. And it may cause dizziness for both the presenter and the audience. I remember even commenting on it. “I feel like an electric fan!” Yet it is a common pattern. It’s been a long time since I’ve fallen into that pattern, so I’ve asked presenters who had trouble with this to tell me what was going on for them. And consistently, the response is that they don’t want anyone in their audience to feel uncomfortable. I ask, “How does making eye contact make someone in the audience uncomfortable?” and the response is, ‘People don’t like people staring at them.’
I get it. Here’s the thing. You don’t have to stare at anyone! Relax your eyes, like you do when having a brief conversation with a friend. And then realize that if it was you being talked to like that, you would feel included and maybe even a little special that the presenter was talking to you! If the group is small enough, you can move among the members of it using a simple pattern. Pick someone out, stop and tell him something. At the end of that sentence or thought, find someone else, move towards her, and then stop and tell her the next sentence or thought. This means you are only spending a few seconds at a time making contact with individuals. The effect is your group will pay much closer attention to you, and be more interested and connected to what you are saying.
Now if it is a larger group, you can pick an area of the room and talk to that area as if you were talking to an individual. But regardless of the size of the group, this one little trick of using eye contact while presenting can make you a far more appealing presenter. And an easy way of preparing yourself to do it with ease is to find a few people from the group before speaking to the group, and establish a basic Click! with them beforehand. Make a few friends in the audience, and suddenly the whole audience can seem friendly as you pick those people out to continue the conversation and relationship.
If someone in the group doesn’t appear to be responding to what you’re saying, don’t concern yourself with it. Move on. Find the people who are making eye contact with you and return the favor. The person who looks away, or looks down, or looks asleep, or looks disdainful…you don’t know what’s going on with them. Maybe they are on medication, or dealing with something horrendous in their life. Keep going. Find the friendly face and the positive responder. Your ability to make eye contact with individuals determines much of your relationship with the group.
I’d like to see your comments below. Maybe next time, I’ll talk about what your body has to say while you’re talking.
Rick is a best selling author and the founder of the Art of Change Skills for Life. His book titles include, Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst, Life by Design and Influence and the Art of Persuasion. These days he is spending quality time away from the spotlight enjoying the company of his wife and practicing his electric guitar.