May 22, 2023
8 min read
Why is it important to make eye contact with your audience? Would you like to make eye contact without the anxiety or awkwardness that often comes with the territory?
Eye contact is the number one way to engage with your audience. It make a big difference, and there are definitely some right and wrong ways to go about it. Learn why eye contact is important when giving a speech, and get some advice on how to improve eye contact in this context.
Here’s what we’ll cover:
Before we look at some advice on how to improve eye contact with an audience, let’s discuss why it’s an important part of public speaking. Here are five reasons.
Eye contact is the number one way to increase your engagement with an audience. When you make eye contact with someone, their attention is on you. This is because eye contact is a powerful form of nonverbal communication that can help to captivate your audience.
Eye contact can help build rapport between you and your audience and make them more receptive to your message. The audience feels like you’re talking to them rather than at them. Even better, they might feel like you’re talking with them, as they also communicate nonverbally with you.
People who don’t make eye contact seem nervous and possibly dishonest. Eye contact is a sign of confidence and authority. When you make eye contact with your audience, you’re sending the message that you sincerely believe in what you’re saying. This can help increase your credibility and make your audience more likely to believe you.
When you make eye contact with your audience, you’re forced to slow down and speak more clearly. This can help you project your voice and sound more conversational.
Making eye contact also can help you use fewer filler words. Have you noticed that people don’t say “um” or “uh” in conversations as much as they do in presentations? You’re more likely to use filler words when you look up or off to the side as you gather your thoughts.
People tell you a lot with their eyes! When you make eye contact, you can read the room more effectively and adjust your presentation accordingly.
If you just scan the audience—or, even worse, look just above their heads—you don’t enjoy the benefits of eye contact listed above. What’s more, you also risk looking like an oscillating fan! Sure, you can try to look at everyone, but you probably won’t connect with anyone if the group is large.
Here are six tips for how to improve eye contact when you’re giving a speech.
As we implied above, you tend to make eye contact when you engage in conversation. So, when you give a presentation, think of it as a conversation. You’re talking to someone. Whether your audience is 10 people or 100 people, it’s made up of individuals. So, here’s the main thing to remember about eye contact when giving a speech: Talk to one person at a time.
Here’s how to practice this tip. Look into the eyes of one person for a complete thought (usually a sentence) before you move on to another person. Connect with a few people sitting next to each other. Then, slowly work your way around the room, connecting with a couple of people to your left, middle, right, front, and back. Don’t let your eyes jump around randomly.
If this practice is new to you, take this baby step: Try it for at least the first few sentences of your speech and again at the end. You can expand on the skill in future speeches.
If you’re using notes, glance at them to snatch up your next phrase or two. Don’t talk while looking at your notes. After you glance at them, look up, and then talk. Double-space your notes, and put them in a large font (at least 14). Better yet, reduce your notes to key words only.
Looking down either at the podium or at the floor can make you look submissive or insecure. Instead, keep your head up and make eye contact with your audience.
Staring is awkward for everyone. Staring at someone can make them feel uncomfortable or even threatened. A good rule of thumb is to look at someone for about three seconds before moving on to someone else.
Don’t be afraid to break eye contact. It’s okay to break eye contact at times, such as when you’re looking at your notes or a visual aid, gesturing, scanning the audience, or thinking about what you’re going to say next.
It’s always wise to practice delivering presentations, and there are a couple of ways you can practice making eye contact.
Take a few sheets of paper, and draw crude faces on each one. (Actually, all you need is the eyes.) Tape them up on the walls. Position them as though they’re seated in front of you as you’re standing. Then, practice your speech, looking into the “eyes” of your audience.
Yoodli’s AI speech coach works with your webcam—the webcam simulates your audience. So, you won’t be able to practice moving your eye contact from person to person. However, you can practice looking up and out at your audience rather than looking down. Yoodli will let you know the percentage of time you made eye contact with your audience (webcam).
Yoodli is free to use. Here’s how to practice and get feedback on your eye contact (and more elements of your delivery and word choices).
In addition to the advice on how to improve eye contact provided above, here are a few tips to help you avoid awkward eye contact.
If you’re not comfortable making eye contact when you give a speech, try these techniques to help you relax and build confidence.
While making eye contact during a speech might seem awkward and nerve-wracking, it’s actually the best way to get your message across and enjoy the experience. Make the connection, and then make the most of it with these tips.
Getting better at speaking is getting easier. Record or upload a speech and let our AI Speech Coach analyze your speaking and give you feedback.