For aspiring and experienced speakers alike, each aspect of credibility is to be closely guarded and continually built upon. This series of articles will focus on 15 facets of credibility that must exist for all speakers to succeed over the long run. “Instant Credibility” through celebrity or notoriety must be nurtured for a career to flourish. If you are building from the ground up, each point must be examined and properly attended to in order to build deep roots on the speaking circuit.
Facet #3: Eye Contact
It’s mid-afternoon during day two of your annual conference. You’re hearing your 6th speaker of the weekend, and they are making some good points, you think – but you are tuned out. Until she stares right at you! Your head pops up, you sit up straighter, and you are laser-focused, listening to each point, hoping not to be caught “napping” again.
Eye contact is a critical tool for all speakers in front of any size of group. Even if you are working from notes (see Facet #5: Notes), eye contact must be a part of your speaking arsenal if you expect to be taken seriously.
5 Ways to Use Eye Contact to Win the Audience:
1. Maintain audience interest. If you won’t look at them, why should they look at you? If they aren’t looking at you, they’re losing a significant portion of the message, or are becoming engrossed in something else, from your hand-outs to a game of hangman with their neighbor.
2. Make a point. When you make a point, stare at one person for at least 2 beats. It will create intensity and exclusivity, forcing the audience to listen closely to be sure they hear what you are telling that “one person”.
3. Gesture with your eyes. Wide eyes. Rolling eyes. Squinted eyes. Distracted eyes. Closed eyes. Your eyes must reflect the feelings in your words. What they see in your eyes, they feel in their hearts.
4. Inspire trust. When you look at the audience instead of looking at notes, they know YOU know your stuff. That the stories are true. That you are the expert. That you have invested the time in preparation to speak to them.
5. Show strength and vulnerability. When your eyes are on the audience, they know you aren’t afraid of them. If you are personally revealing, they see the emotion in your eyes. Either way, they are closer to you, and your message.
Practicing eye contact requires that you know your material well, and know when to use each tool mentioned. Just as you plan gestures and vocal variety, plan eye contact. Mix with your audience ahead of time, and find out who’s friendly, and where they sit. Play to all parts of the audience – even split them up in your mind. If your speech presents pros and cons – pick which part of the audience you speak to for each.
Eye contact adds to your credibility to a greater extent than most realize. Think about it…who do you trust? Someone who looks at you, or their shoes? The number one rule of job interviews? That’s right – look them in the eye. When your eye contact becomes smooth and authentic, your message grows exponentially stronger!
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Rich Hopkins is a speaker, coach, and consultant who aligns his clients with their own potential. He has 20 years of business background in marketing, sales, and customer service. He consults with individuals, student groups, non-profit organizations, and corporations. http://www.richhopkins.net
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