Public Speaking: Talk To Your Audience, Not At Them
Forget trying to eliminate your nervousness. However, nervousness affects you be it that extra spurt of adrenaline (also known as the rush), your heart beating faster, those knots in your stomach let it work for you, not against you. All great performers, great actors, great athletes, and great public speakers experience nervousness. If you think they dont, then you are wrong. Their nervousness is one of the characteristics which helps make them great. The answer lies in learning how to control the nervousness, not eliminate it.
I teach what I refer to as the 5 characteristics of a dynamic public speaker and each one of those characteristics helps you control your nervousness as well. Making eye contact with your audience is one of those characteristics and it is invaluable because once you are able to look into the eyes of your listeners, you are then taking the first step in being conversational with your audience. Many people are under the mistaken belief that when they stand at the lectern, on the podium or at the boardroom table, they should be someone other than who they are. That is wrong. The person you are in your office or in your home, in a social situation or a business setting, is the person that should be giving that speech or that presentation. Dont try to be someone youre not. First and foremost, be yourself
What you will also discover when you make eye contact is that you have smilers. Every audience has its smilers. So the next step is to focus on those smilers: they make you feel good, they bolster your confidence. And, because they are smiling, you will think they are in agreement with you, again, bolstering your confidence, another means for you to take control of that nervousness. The smilers will be located throughout your audience so when you zero in on the person smiling on your left for example, everyone in that area will think you are looking them.
Remember too, that if you will have people on your left, in the center, and to your right. Do not focus just on one section. Move your gaze from the left to the center and to the right. Recently I heard a speaker who did move his head from one side to the other; however, his gaze was so very brief that I realized he wasnt making eye contact with anyone. It was quite disconcerting because I knew that he was just spitting out words he was not communicating.
Next you must prepare for your sleepers. Just as every audience has its smilers, so too, every audience has a sleeper or two. Sleepers may tell you that they listen with their eyes closed. That is fine. But truly you may have someone sound asleep. My very first paid speaking engagement was to a group of professional secretaries. A woman in the front row, a retired secretary who probably got out once a month for this meeting, fell soundly asleep within the first 10 minutes of my presentation. I was aghast, thinking I must have been terribly boring. (She was snoring to boot!) The moment I finished, however, a woman in the back of the room stood and asked me if I would agree to be their guest speaker at their yearly conference. Thats when I realized an occasional sleeper is okay! If, on the other hand, your entire audience is asleep, I suggest you change jobs!
Public speaking is a marvelous means of communicating with others. You may be giving a persuasive presentation, you may be talking about a harrowing experience, you may be there as the after-dinner entertainment. Whatever your reason to stand and speak in front of others, remember that when you learn to talk TO your audience and not AT them, you are then acknowledging that audience. By acknowledging them, you become more personal, more intimate, treating them just as if you were having a conversation in your living room. That is one of the secrets to become a dynamic public speaker.