You walk to the front of the room and turn to face the audience. There is that superior force out there, staring back at you. Every instinct says you should scan the audience. Your eyes almost wander by themselves. That’s their job—to scan for news, to take the news value out of the room. Eighty-five percent of all information stored in the brain comes through our eyes. The eye is our primary sense. “Let me serve you,” says the eye, “let me scan.”
But scanning also exacerbates a feeling of nervousness. Your eye sends all that blurry audience information to your brain, and the brain doesn’t know what to do with it all. So it throws up an emergency flag and signals for an adrenaline fix. You already have that gnawing tension in your stomach, knowing you are going to have to speak. Then you get that extra jolt of adrenaline to really jazz you up. Your nervousness is increased. Your thoughts get all jumbled. Your mind can even go blank. Whoa, Nelly!!
As speakers, what do we tend to do to combat all this? We slide into some pretty weak defensive behaviors:
Looking away from the audience when searching for a word
Looking at people without really seeing them
Looking up, hoping for divine intervention
Closing our eyes, briefly, when thinking
Sweeping the room with our eyes
These are habits, or quirks. They are not personality traits. They are not an integral part of your psyche. You do them because you don’t know what else to do. None of it helps you think better or speak better. And the impact on an audience is negative.
Focus on one person, one pair of eyes. At Communispond, we call it “Eye-Brain Control.” You remain focused on one person in the audience until you complete a thought. A thought is not a paragraph, it’s a sentence or a phrase. It’s a place in your dialogue where you might naturally pause. Usually it’s more than five seconds but not as much as fifteen seconds in length. Then you move to another pair of eyes and complete another thought. You repeat the process over and over until you finish.
Does it work? Yes it does—better than any other remedy. Forget tranquilizers, alcohol, or hypnosis. The principle is simple, as are most great discoveries. When you focus on one person, you are reducing the audience to one individual. Your brain can handle that quite easily. Then you move to another individual. The situation becomes the same as what you face every day. You are used to speaking to one person at a time. You are good at it.
It’s so natural when you think of it. The eye can’t focus on more than one person at a time anyway. When you look at your boss, you can’t simultaneously look at his or her assistant. The second person goes out of focus. By using Eye-Brain Control, you are back to doing what you do best—talking one-to-one.
Benefits of this technique:
Gives you a way to control your nervousness
Helps you read your audience by seeing the reaction of individuals
Enables you to think better on your feet
Helps you control your rate of speech
Provides a way to cut back on non-words (“um, er,” etc.)
The eyes are only part of the solution, in cooperating with the great adrenaline rush we get when we stand in front of an audience. Our bodies are super-charged too. It’s more energy than we are used to. If we don’t know what to do with it, this physical energy can work to our disadvantage. It sort of leaks out all over the place. We fidget, clear our throats, put our hands in our pockets, move our feet from side to side, scratch our heads, play with a pencil, run an index finger across our noses, and cross our feet, among other things.
None of that helps. But the energy will have its way. You’ve got to do something. You can’t store energy. You’ve got to use it or it uses you. So what do you do?
The answer is to use your body to add a visual dimension to the content of your talk. Gesture for emphasis. Gesture for excitement. Show physically that you believe and are committed to what you are saying. Increase your volume to add inflection and vocal emphasis to your message. That way, you use the energy productively. Let’s examine this whole concept further.
Speaking to a group in its simplest form is . . .
Energy released (by the speaker) = Energy received (by the audience)
If we speak with low energy, the audience receives low energy, and our impact is reduced accordingly.