As a speaker, you need to give the appropriate amount of eye contact to your listeners. But you also need to get eye contact from your audience. Their eye contact provides valuable information that can help you give your speech.
What to Look for when People Look at You
Eye contact helps you gauge the audience’s interest. Do listeners seem attentive and focused? Do they nod when you give key points? Are they busy taking notes? All of these indicate that you are connecting with the audience.
But when the audience starts looking at their watch or phone, stare blankly with glazed–over eyes, or start nodding off, you’re losing your audience. You need to take corrective actions before they tune out completely.
How Speakers Lose Audiences
How do audiences go from being interested to disinterested? Here are some reasons:
- Information that is irrelevant to the audience. For example, you may be going into more technical detail than the audience needs or can understand.
- Sections that drag on too long. Even if the information is pertinent, audiences can still lose interest if you take too long to get to the point.
- Concern that you’re going over time. Audiences need you to finish on time. They have other meetings to attend, calls to make, and bathrooms to visit. They will start getting restless if they think you’ll infringe on their time.
- Unfortunate timing. If you’re stuck giving a speech right before lunch, after a meal when blood sugar drops, or at the last session of the day, you need to work harder to keep the audience focused.
How Eye Contact Helps You Keep Your Audience’s Interest
If you are maintaining eye contact with your audience, you can see those warning signs of waning interest. In fact, eye contact alone can be enough to regain an audience’s attention. If you see people striking up a side conversation, look in their direction. People can sense when they’re being looked at, and they’ll stop and look back.
You also need to be able to adjust your speech so that you can drop sections that don’t interest your listeners or are going on too long. This is why I prefer speaking from an outline instead of writing my speech out word–for-word and giving it verbatim. It enables me to drop or shorten sections that aren’t working for the audience without losing my place in the whole speech. If I find that a section interests the audience, I may spend a little more time with it, but not so much that interest turns to boredom.
To regain an audience’s interest, you can ask them a question or invite discussion. Not only does this get the audience involved, it helps you select content that applies to them.
Speak to Your Listeners, not at Them
Eye contact creates a link between speaker and listener. When you use eye contact, listeners feel more engaged. They feel like you’re talking to them, not at them. The difference is that you’re showing an interest in your audience, not just reciting some words you expect them to assimilate.
Use eye contact to help you keep your audience’s interest. Use it to determine whether your audience is still tuned into you, or if you need to make adjustments to keep them listening. The goal of public speaking is to communicate. To do this, we need to use one of our most important communication tools, our eyes.