When new speakers present before an audience, a common issue they struggle with is making eye contact.
When I first began delivering speeches at my Toastmaster’s club, I’d often fidget with my clothing, and look either at the floor or the back of the room. There was something so terrifying about looking people directly in the eye.
One thing I’ve learned is to make eye contact with people I feel comfortable with. Consider these your eye contact safe zones.
Keep in mind you don’t necessarily need to know someone well to feel comfortable with them.
American punk singer Ian Svenonius has stated that when performing, he chooses one individual in the crowd whom he imagines “gets it” and he directs his performance energy at them. This is not to say that he stares at one person during the entire performance, but rather that he uses this person as an anchor so that he’s not distracted by others in the crowd who might be less enthusiastic or outright hostile.
Here are a few other helpful tips you can follow:
1. Try to prepare well. Do this by listing key points on recipe cards, and either memorizing them to the best of your ability, or placing them on the lectern beside you as you present. This will provide you with peace of mind, even if you don’t need to glance at them. There’s something to be said for just knowing they are nearby.
2. Practice reciting your speech in front of the mirror. When doing so, look directly into your own eyes for as much of it as possible. This will seem awkward at first, but will get easier the second, third, fourth time around. Practice, practice, practice.
3. Try recording yourself with your phone or solicit a friend’s help with this. We learn a lot from watching ourselves on tape. Our perception of our own mannerisms, body language, eye contact, and posture shift when we are able to see ourselves objectively. It offers a fresh perspective.
4. If all else fails, try the simple technique of looking at people forehead level, as opposed to directly at eye level. You will naturally progress beyond this, but until you locate your safe zones, it can be a helpful route to take.
Remember that confidence comes with facing our fears and practicing. Everyone was once a beginner, just like you.
We’ve all stood in novice shoes, whether they were heels, runners, skate shoes or work boots.
Tasha Waite is a member of Thunderbird Toastmasters Victoria. The club can be reached online at thunderbirdtoastmasters.org.