Have you ever had a conversation with someone who averted eye contact with you? It may have felt awkward and off-putting. At the least, it probably made it difficult for you to feel connected to what that person was saying.
A presentation is a conversation with your audience. The degree to which you use eye contact effectively will help you and your audience feel more comfortable and engaged.
When you get nervous you tend to look at the audience, but not see individuals.
It's a good idea to reverse that tendency. Seek to be aware of individuals in the audience by making good eye contact with them.
The degree to which you can normalize the presentation experience and make it more like a conversation (albeit one-way), ultimately determines the engagement level of your audience and your comfort level as the presenter.
Here are three tips for using eye contact to your advantage.
1. Seek 3-5 seconds of eye contact with individuals in the audience.
During that brief time make sure you're aware of seeing the person.
2. Only look at one person at a time.
Don’t rapidly scan the audience, seek individuals. If someone looks away, simply find another person.
3. Only talk to people.
Don’t talk to the screen, the floor, or even the wall!
Keep in mind that the length of eye contact varies by culture. Some cultures use eye contact more than others. If you're giving a presentation in a culture other than your own, make sure you investigate the cultural norms and behavior of the people in your audience.
For example, generally speaking, some parts of Asia use less eye contact than is used in the rest of the world. Anytime you're presenting, it's important to know your audience—that includes being aware of cultural norms and taboos.
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Admittedly, I've struggled to find a reliable way to help people reduce their public speaking anxiety, despite years of trying. I’ve advised people to do just about anything I could think of that might help, e.g., breathing, meditation. While I haven't found the thing that works every time for every person, there is one technique that seems to be more effective than most. Even if you've already found something that works well for you, this technique is worth trying out.
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