Just getting comfortable with looking into your audience’s eyes is not enough to command their attention to your maximum ability. An unexperienced speaker may dart from person to person throughout a room and, although they do connect with each person, it may not be to the extent they want. In this post are some tips which can help you get all of the attention you need during your presentation. I came across one article by Jeremy Donovan of Speaking Sherpa. I encourage you to read “10 Public Speaking Tips for Making Eye Contact,” here.
One piece of advice I have heard is that you need to connect with each person in the room. I understand where the people who give this advice are coming from and I know what they are trying to help you accomplish, but I don’t entirely agree. Assuming you’re talking to a small group, you should have looked at each and every person in the room by the end of your presentation. Some have called it, “Spreading the love.” The problem with this advice is it’s exhausting trying to give your presentation and keep tabs on everyone you’ve shared eye contact with. I am not talking about very small groups of six or eight. Once you get to twelve to fifteen audience members, it starts to be too much work. I feel the energy spent on “Spreading the love,” would be better spent on trying to keep the interest of a few people and let their enthusiasm help hold the attention of everyone around them for you.
This is what I prefer to do. During the speech, I pick out the four or five people that are most interested in my presentation. What happens is those audience members will remain interested as long as I am truly connecting with them. Their reaction and interest will influence the people around them and before too long, the audience becomes dynamic and energetic. At the same time, I can watch for changes in interest and emotion and make any necessary adjustments.
Another piece of advice I’ve heard is that we should look at one person until you have completed a point and then go on to the next person. For the most part this is good advice, however, especially in a smaller audience, you have to be careful that you are not looking at one person for too long. Toastmasters International recommends looking at one person for three to five seconds. How they came up with that time is that it is the average for you to make one point or utter one sentence. The problem is that sometimes it takes more than three to five seconds to make a point. I would prefer to listen to my inner voice. I will start looking at a new person with the full intention of staying with them through that whole sentence. Usually that is what happens. In the case of a longer sentence or point, my inner voice, usually says something like, “What – you have a crush on that guy? Move on!” (Apparently, my inner voice grew up in South Philadelphia.) At which point I will move on.