Make Eye Contact Your Secret Weapon

By Briohny Williams | Body Language

Mar 30

Why is public speaking so terrifying?

The nerves, not knowing what to do with (undoubtedly sweaty) hands, and not knowing where to look when you’re are in the spotlight. Trust me, it’s not staring at your notes or at the projector screen behind you!

If any of this sounds familiar, chances are you could improve your presentations, and start to use the opportunity to have a conversation with your audience and really land your message.

Eye contact is one of the most powerful, and totally within your control, weapons you have at your disposal.

Not only will you be able to “read the room”, you can also use eye contact to connect with your audience and boost your credibility and authenticity through the roof.

So, how to complete this terrifying task? Let’s split it into two; preparation and showtime.


Prepare your presentation and once you have pulled together your content, which may include slides, it’s time to create your notes and rehearse. Not only will you be able to hear how your words are coming together, you can ensure your notes are going to work for you on the day, and also practice the all-important eye contact.

Try this eye contact exercise

  1. Find a space to rehearse your presentation. Ideally, you should have a mirror, plus 2 post-it notes that you can place at least one meter on either side of your mirror to give you a few reference points for your “audience”. Place the notes at a height that will replicate the audience eye level (or just not really high or really low if you’re not sure where the audience will be).
  2. Try to replicate the presentation environment; if you will be standing on stage, rehearse standing up. If you’re on a panel or presenting a webinar, you may be sitting down.
  3. Set up your smart phone camera to record your presentation, ideally next to the mirror so it captures your full body from the front on.
  4. Time to present! Scan your eyes to the mirror and notes you’ve set up during the presentation. Preferably, move your eyes in a controlled but natural scan around the room. If you continuously move your eyes from point 1, to 2, to 3, it will likely look staged and unnatural. Do a full run through your presentation, including the introduction, middle and conclusion.
  5. Watch your video. Yup, it will initially be the most horrible thing you’ve done all week. But tell me, once you get past seeing yourself on camera, what do you see?

When you review your video

  • Are your notes clear and summarized to a point that you are not reading them?
  • Do you need to practice your content more to refer to your notes less?
  • Are you feeling confident and interested in your topic? If you don’t have conviction in your topic, why should other people care? Perhaps you need a stronger introduction or think about the structure of the presentation.

If you’re happy(ish) with how you did first time, up the ante a little by asking one or two colleagues, family members or your dog to listen to your next presentation rehearsal.

  • Be sure to record the presentation again, and when you review your latest rehearsal also watch your first rehearsal again. Have you made progress, what else could you tweak?
  • Ask for feedback. Let your reviewers know that you are open to any feedback (structure, content, body language), however you are specifically looking to improve your eye contact so you will definitely want to hear about that. Your dog will find a way to let you know what she thinks!

Next, it’s showtime! Now that you’ve prepared with extra focus on eye contact, you’re feeling good, right?

Check back here tomorrow to read all about to put this all into action!