Presentation anxiety? Look them in the eye!
After all the preparation, dry runs, cheat sheets and revisions, it’s finally show time and you can feel the sweat forming on your palms. Even seasoned people can feel a little jittery before taking the stage but if you’re an infrequent presenter the stress can feel almost overwhelming. There’s plenty of good advice out there for those yearning to overcome the fear of public speaking but I’d like to add one easily overlooked yet extremely effective tactic.
"Whether you are presenting in front of one person or hundreds, look them in the eye."
Sure, it might take a while to make eye contact with every person in the room if you’re presenting at a large event. You might not even get to everyone, maybe just some of them. It doesn’t matter how many people you make eye contact with as much as it matters to just do it to start with.
Two very wonderful things happen when you make eye contact with members of your audience. For starters, it will calm you down and give you the confidence to deliver your best performance. When you make eye contact with a person you get a very clear picture of how they are receiving the message and whether the material is engaging and informing them.
Knowing that your audience is receiving the message and indeed enjoying your presentation is the best feeling you can have as a presenter. Watch for visual cues as you hit on hot button topics and offer explanations. Pretend that the person you’re looking at is the only one in the room and speak as if you were addressing them individually.
The other benefit to looking your audience members in the eye is how it makes them feel. By looking at a person while presenting, you’re telling them that you care about what they are learning and want to ensure that they get the most out of the presentation. In a way it’s flattering to have the presenter address you directly while there’s a whole room full of other people there as well.
One more thing to keep in mind is that as nervous as you may be, your audience would likely be more nervous if they had to do the presentation. Making a visual connection reminds them of just how tough it can be to get in front of the crowd and tell your story. That reminder is sure to bring them on side and not only sympathize with you, but listen more intently at the same time.