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May 2003 - Look at the Speaker

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John A. Kline, PhD jkline@klinespeak.com
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May 2003

Look at your Audience

Eye contact is one of the most important tools a speaker has. Nothing enhances delivery more than effective eye contact with the audience. Eye contact is important for it:

  • Shows listeners that you are interested in them. Most listeners like speakers to look at them.
  • Lets you receive nonverbal feedback from your audience. You can gauge the effect of your remarks.
  • Enhances your credibility. Listeners believe speakers are more competent if they use effective eye contact.

To achieve genuine eye contact, you must do more than merely look in the direction of your listeners. You must really want to communicate with them. The old advice of looking over the tops of your listeners' heads or attempting to look at all parts of the audience systematically simply does not describe effective eye contact. Furthermore, looking at only one part of the audience or directing attention only to those listeners who seem to give you reinforcing feedback may cause you to ignore large parts of the audience. Show each person in a small group and each part of larger audience that you are interested in them as individuals and eager to have them understand your ideas.

Here's a little exercise to try with a group of friends to see how well you look at all of them when you are speaking. Stand in front of them and begin to speak. Ask all of them to raise their hands. Tell them each may lower their hands in turn as they feel you have established direct eye contact with them for at least three seconds. After all their hands are lowered, ask each of them to reverse the process and raise their hands in turn when they feel you have established eye contact with them again for at least three seconds. The objective is to get all the hands down and back up again as soon as reasonably possible.

While this is just an exercise and would be unnatural behavior in an actual speaking situation, it will help you understand the importance of looking at people when you speak. Practice effective eye contact. It's one of the best tools a speaker has.

(This information was extracted from Dr. Kline's book, Speaking Effectively, which Prentice Hall will publish later this year.)

John Kline
Montgomery, Alabama

May 2003 - Look at the Speaker
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