Speaking to live audiences comes in many forms – as host, speaker, presenter, lecturer or preacher to name a few. Each has it’s own subtle differences. For instance the purpose of a speech could be to educate, entertain, motivate or inform. But the purpose of a presentation is almost always to persuade. With a good budget it is now quite possible to persuade via multimedia presentations without having humans in the presentation at all. However, even the most successful hi-tech marketing campaigns tend to rely on the “human touch” to get their messages across. A case in point would be Steve Jobs launch of the iPad for Apple. So if you’re the one fronting for your product, you need to understand the power of the greatest connecting tool you have – your eyes.
Watch any presenter who reads most of their presentation from the screen. Ask yourself how long you, the listener, are likely to remain interested? When they’re not looking at you, you’re unlikely to stay looking at them. Because our eyes feed us more information than the rest of our senses combined, we are most likely to focus where our eyes are. So, if you’re the presenter, you want to maintain eye contact for practically every second that you’re speaking so that you keep your audience with you.
I’m often asked if it’s possible to make eye contact with everyone in the audience? Logically, the bigger the audience the more difficult this becomes. You then want to appear to be making eye contact with everyone. You do this by including sections of the audience in your block of vision. Be careful not to accidentally pay far more attention to one section than another. You want to include everyone, so move from side to centre to side. Be alert to taking in people seated on the periphery, particularly those at the front.
If you’re feeling somewhat nervous, find a few friendly faces in the audience and keep going back to them. Those smiling faces will give you power and soon quell any nerves you may be wrestling. That positive visual interaction will in turn benefit the rest of the audience as you gain in confidence.
What if you’re using cue cards or a monitor? The trick is to look at these aides as you finish a sentence, pick up on your next point and only start speaking once your eyes are up again. That pause gives the audience a much needed opportunity to absorb what you have just said. The only time you should ever look at the screen is when you’re using a laser pointer. Those little red beams should be used sparingly in any case.
It should be obvious that use of a slide show can compromise your eye contact, particularly when you have plenty of slides for a short duration. The trick is to use as few slides as possible, with as little text as possible. Use as only a few words per point. Slides should be interesting enough not to detract from your ability to connect with your audience. And remember not to stray too far from your monitor, or you may be forced to look back at the screen.
Of course, if you rehearse a few times, you may not be as reliant on your slides as the person (can’t call them a presenter, really!) who simply reads their slides. Rehearsal will serve you by ultimately increasing your audience eye contact.
And as you become adept at connecting with your eyes, the strongest connecting tool that there is, you can win hearts too by adding a smile from time to time. That extra warmth is what really cements the connection!