Presentation Skills: Body Language: Eye FocusStrong, Direct Eye Focus
How It Connects You to Your Audience, Inspires Trust, and Helps Keep You In Control
Ever wonder what your eyes are saying when your mouth is moving?
Simply put, strong, direct eye focus is a hallmark of straightforward, effective communication. It's one of the most important elements in building a relationship with your audience. Proper eye focus helps you to present effectively in a number of ways:
It initiates communication.
In a one-on-one meeting, imagine speaking to someone while looking away from, instead of at, the person you're addressing. How effective can you be in communicating with someone if your eyes are focused somewhere else? Actual in-person communication doesn't really take place until you look someone in the eyeuntil your eyes establish a connection with someone. That's true whether you're speaking to one person or to a group.
It inspires trust.
When you want someone to believe you, trust you, agree with you, eye focus is a must. You certainly wouldn't buy a car - or make any major purchase - from someone who doesn't a look you in the eye. That truism applies just as much when you're trying to win over a group of people.
It helps you to stay in control.
You want to keep your listeners focused on you. Lack of proper eye focus allows your listeners to enter into their own private world. Worse, it can give them license to engage in their own conversations, distracting others and drawing attention away from you. When that happens, regaining control is difficult. It requires you to use such tactics as remaining silent for a moment, while maintaining a neutral, non-threatening facial expression - a tactic which, not handled with finesse, can prove embarrassing to you and your listeners. Strong eye focus that engages your audience can help you avoid such moments.
It helps control stage fright.
When you focus your eyes on one person at a time, you instantly go from addressing an audience (even if it's just an audience of two,) to having a series of one-on-one conversations. This not only helps make your talk more personal; it can also reduce and help control your anxiety. In any case, it's impossible to talk to a group. Part of your mental preparation should be to focus on speaking with and engaging individuals who just happen to be in a group.
It puts others at ease.
People on the receiving end of good eye focus benefit as well. By focusing your eyes on people, you can draw them in and make them feel you're addressing them directly. If you're successful, a large part of your audience will leave thinking "she was speaking just to me."
More tips on how best to use eye focus:
Look at your audience - not at the walls or the floor or the ceiling, or beyond your audience at some distant place over their heads. Nobody, after all, is there. They are in the room, wanting and deserving your attention.
Be careful not to limit your focus to just a couple of people - or worse, to just one person, who may wonder why you're staring at him or her. Your audience may well end up wondering too. Instead of establishing rapport, it could have the opposite effect of intimidating the poor soul who's just become the sole object of your attention.
Focus on one person at a time, when you're speaking to a small group. Finish an entire thought, coming to a natural breakpoint (typically, that takes about three to five seconds.) Then move your eyes to someone else. Once you've focused on anther person, then continue speaking. Move randomly around the room, and not in some kind of linear or row-by-row fashion.
If you're talking to a large audience, begin with one person at the back of the room, holding your focus a little longer. This too will help draw them in, and will also serve as a connection to others at the back of the room. This technique has the added advantage of leading you to reach out with your voice to your entire audience.
Remember the basics. Adopt a neutral, pleasant expression. Rehearse every day leading up to your presentation, addressing an imaginary group if that's all you can muster. Better, of course, if you can assemble a few colleagues and rehearse with them.
Communication is a two-way interaction. Effective eye focus is critical to the communication process. The more effective you are in using this important skill, the more effective your presentation will be.