Do you remember how if felt to get “the look” from your parents? That look is a stark, nonverbal reminder (or threat) that you are outside the confines of what is deemed appropriate behavior. How is it possible for two people to lock eyes and say so much without uttering a word?
Behavioral studies conducted by people much smarter than me suggest that the most expressive form of nonverbal communication is eye contact. Successful presenters not only understand this, they use it to their advantage. Eye discipline is one of the biggest areas of opportunity for speakers. The secret to success is remembering that audiences often see what you’re saying more clearly than they hear what you’re saying.
What primal signals are you sending to your audiences? Do your eyes complement or compete with your message?
Surely, we’re all guilty of misdemeanor eye offenses like looking at the floor or ceiling when conjuring up a thought. Don’t worry, those won’t get you thrown into speakers jail. However, the felonious eye offenses are a different story. They jeopardize your most precious asset, trust.
Avoid these two eye offenses at all cost:
1. Shifty Eyes:
Here, your eyes quickly dart nonstop from side to side as if you’re about to rob the joint. The nonverbal message you send to your audience is that you’re anxious, unsure or possibly intimidated by their presence. Their confidence in you begins to wane (as they clutch their purses and wallets tighter). Who wants to follow a leader that’s unsure? By the end of your speech, your shifty eyes and seemingly nervous disposition have earned you the label of imposter and your very important message fails to connect.
2. Batty Eyes:
Calm down people! We’re not talking about the flirty, seductive, slow blinking eyes that you wish were talking about. In fact, it’s the exact opposite. Here, your eyes lock on an audience member as if you were staring down the barrel of a bat about to smack the cover off a baseball. The nonverbal message you send your audience is one of dominance and overconfidence. This puts them on the defensive and they rightfully label you with the Scarlett letter A, for ARROGANT. Side note: Staring at people is creepy!
OK, enough with the eye crimes! The optimal eye discipline for every speaker is that of a bird watcher.
Bird watchers gracefully gaze across the tree line in search of a cheerful, brightly colored bird to temporarily arrest their attention. In the same way, you should deliberately scan your audience using a simple pattern like left to right or front to back. Stop and speak directly to those bright and cheerful faces, making them feel as if you are having an individual conversation with them.
The most expressive form of nonverbal communication is eye contact. The key to successful eye discipline is wise discrimination. Remember, what your audience sees can be just as important as what they hear. There’s no doubt your eyes are talking. The question is, what are they saying?