Speaking and eye contact. Does it matter?

Writers write to communicate. Speakers speak for the same reason. So doesn’t it make sense that an article or blog post could be “converted” into a speech, word for word?

the eye

The short answer is no. Reading a manuscript doesn’t make it a speech (at least not a very good one). So why do so many speakers “read” their speeches? Laziness? Lack of preparation? Fear? The presenter just doesn’t know any better? As an audience member, I may not know why the speaker is reading, but chances are I’ll be tuning out shortly. An effective presentation engages listeners, and eye contact is one of the best ways to do that. Here are some top-of-mind tips to enhance eye contact.

  • Prepare and practice. Develop a clear statement of purpose and organize your main points. Use note cards, not sheets of paper. Rehearse your presentation out loud — more than once. Look up, not down.
  • During your presentation, scan the room. Don’t focus on a single audience member, or zero in on a spot above their heads at the back of the room. (Student speakers have told me this “looking-over-their-heads” advice was given to them — I disagree).
  • If you’re using visual aids such as PowerPoint, don’t turn your back to listeners and read from your slides. It’s okay to glance at your visual, or even turn sideways, but reorient yourself to face the audience.

Tune in later for more on how to improve your speaking skills and confidence.

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