I apologize, Mr. Wilson. I didn’t deserve that good mark you gave me for eye contact during my first public speaking assignment. I cheated.
As an extremely shy eighth-grader, I could barely make eye contact with my classmates in the hallway, so the thought of a room full of them staring at me was almost unbearable. I made near-eye contact instead. I looked at temples, noses and other features—anything but their eyes—as I recited the material that I had memorized.
At the time I sensed that something was missing, but I didn’t realize until later what it was: a connection with my audience.
Now I know that by making eye contact I will become calmer, not more nervous. I speak with greater confidence, because I know that audience members are listening to me and want to hear what I say.
By watching great speakers over the years I’ve also learned to never speak to a room full of strangers. If I don’t already know some people who will be in the audience, I arrive early and get to know a few.
So if the thought of facing an audience makes you feel like a shy teenager, I have these words of advice: Don’t cheat yourself.
How do you master eye contact during your speeches?