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Confident and respectful eye contact, depending on the culture and your surroundings, can be another asset for successful speaking. Speakers that visually connect with their audiences scan them comfortably, yet make intentional eye to eye contact with as many people as they can. Now, when I say eye contact, I mean the kind where you can remember the color of the other person's eyes. Not the flighty one that says, "I'm in a hurry." Here are a few tips if maintaining eye contact with a group makes you sweat.
Use the 3 second rule. Look at each person in the room for at least 3 seconds as you make your points. That keeps you from constantly scanning the room like you're a well-trained lifeguard. Look at the friendly faces first. There are always audience members who give you positive non-verbal feedback. They smile, they nod, with everything that you say they give you audible confirmations. "Mm hm, uh huh, yes." They're the ones you want to speak to.
The ones who are furiously writing notes and they're not even making eye contact with you should not distract you. Focus on the positive. Practice at eye level. I see many nervous speakers who either look at the floor directly in front of them or scan comfortably over everyone's eye level. In the United States eye contact communicates confidence and credibility. Now, no matter your preference and comfort level you need to practice this on a day to day basis.
Practice maintaining eye contact with people you're less familiar with. So, when you're paying at the check out counter or you're ordering coffee. Practice in the room. If setting up a screen with multiple faces looking right at you, or placing visual landmarks in the empty audience seats works for you, do it. I worked with an executive that placed his daughter's stuffed animals in the room, so that he could practice looking out towards his audience. Others have placed post it notes on the walls of the room, or they've invited their friends to be stand-in specialists.
You may have heard the saying, "Eyes are "the windows to the soul." Without being too philosophical, I must admit that this quote is pretty valid. For you, as a speaker, eye contact is your most powerful non-verbal. It communicates interest and confidence. It exudes trust and it shows a willingness to connect with your audience. If you have trouble with it, use some of the practice tips that I've shared.
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