If you view the listeners as piranhas, you’ll grab any chance to avoid looking them in the eye. Lisa, a friendly, charming woman who had just been elected president of a large national church group, was dreading her first talk to the state leaders in her organization. She asked me if it was OK to aim her speech at the clock in the back of the church she’d be speaking in. “Surely,” I suggested, “you can find a face in the audience more friendly than the one on the clock.
In order to see people in your audience for what they are – people – master the eye-contact techniques I taught Lisa. Your listeners will see you as warmer, more influential, and well-versed in the art of communication.
Warm up. Get the good feeling of relating well to your audience by making small talk with several individuals before your talk begins. Then when all eyes are on you, you won’t be confronting a mass of strangers.
Follow the “Rule of Three.” If you’re new at public speaking, pick three specific people to focus on – one in the middle, one on the right, and one on the left of the room. These audience members will be your eye-contact landmarks as you scan the room. Be careful, though, not to look at any one person for more than about five seconds. It’s creepy being stared at by the speaker!
Do the one-minute scan. Include everyone in your audience by scanning the people in the room about once a minute while you’re talking. You will have a tendency to focus more attention on the folks directly in front of you. That’s all right, but be sure you don’t ignore those to your right and left.
Learn the art of “nose contact.” If you are speaking to a small audience (three to thirty people), it’s not necessary to look right into their eyes. Just glance at the center of a listener’s face (usually his nose). It’ll suffice.