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VIEWPOINT: A conversation with many

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“A vast majority of professionals do not use eye contact correctly when speaking in public.”

In this article we are going to bust those eye contact myths.

You will never do on stage what you will not do in person. A presentation to a group of people is essentially a conversation with many people.

I often see people act in one way on the stage and in person they are a totally different character.

It is almost as if they have put on a “theatrical stage performance” and for the duration of their talk they were someone else.

It is partly this mentality that creates stress to speak as we try to be something that we are not. So the first rule is to be yourself – both on and off stage.

In business etiquette we learn that when we have a conversation with individuals we should maintain eye contact. Steady eye contact displays confidence and trust; whilst speaking to someone and looking at the floor or avoiding eye contact entirely creates very awkward conversations.

Some people are taught that if they are scared to speak in public, that they should “speak and look over people’s heads as you speak”.

This is ludicrous! In person, if I were to speak to you, I would not “speak and look at your head”, so why should I do that when I am on the stage and speaking to you?

The second rule then is to maintain steady eye contact – both on and off stage.

Have you ever been to a zoo and watched (sadly) how a caged animal paces from one side of the cage to the other whilst at all times keeping its gaze on you?

It’s a bit freaky! In one-to-one conversations, important points are delivered whilst standing in one spot and we would only move around to demonstrate an action to make a point.

The third rule then is to avoid pacing on the stage and speaking. More impactful is to have eye contact with individuals and deliver impactful lines whilst standing still.

In individual conversations, we would generally only break eye contact if we need to pause and think – this, however, breaks the state of what is being said.

The same holds true with maintaining eye contact on the stage. The moment you break off eye contact and look to the floor or at the ceiling, you break the state.

So the rule is to maintain eye contact with one person until the end of a pause or the end of your sentence, then shift your gaze to someone else.

Maintain eye contact whilst thinking – your audience will assume it’s a deliberate pause! ❐

Author: Dineshrie Pillay CA(SA) is a speaker, trainer and workshop facilitator specialising in leadership