“Perhaps the most important physical act onstage is making eye contact.”
– Chris Anderson, TED Conference curator, from his article, How to Give a Killer Presentation, Harvard Business Review (June 2013)
So, where the heck do we get a chance to practice making eye contact, anyway? We can’t wait until we’re in front of an audience. We need a way to practice making good eye contact ahead of time. Here’s how I do it:
- Practice making eye contact (one-on-one): Look directly into the eyes of people that are paid to look right at you: cashiers, baristas, food servers, gas station attendants, car valets, doormen, taxi cab drivers, front desk hotel personnel, hair stylists. Since these people are paid to look directly at you they won’t feel uneasy being looked at. And you’ll get a chance to practice in broad daylight.
- Practice making eye contact (room full of strangers): This step is a couple notches up from making eye contact with people that are paid to look at you. And it’s well worth the exercise. While at my local coffeehouse (which is perfect because it’s public and semi-social) I take the opportunity to look up and scan the faces of everybody in the room. This is more scary than looking directly into the eyes of people that are paid to look at me, but the circumstance – a room full of strangers – is one of the best places for me to practice looking directly into people’s faces. It’s very close to what it’s like to stand in front of an audience and give a speech.
- I don’t “stare” at people from across the coffeehouse. I casually glance, slowly, across the crowd.
- Sometimes people catch me looking at them. That’s okay! I just continue to glance around the room. I must get used to strangers looking back at me, especially if they think I’m being weird. Being comfortable with people thinking I’m weird is the biggest step toward being good at public speaking!
- Public speaking is being weird. That’s why good public speaking makes you a badass!