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The Number One Secret for 
Giving a Great Presentation

By Sheri Jeavons

Have you ever given a presentation and afterwards not remembered what you’ve said? You know you were looking at the people in the audience, but somehow you felt you were not connecting. You heard yourself talking too fast and felt yourself fidgeting, but weren’t sure how to correct this behavior.

You’ve reached the point where you are frustrated and anxious each time you have to present. As a result, you avoid giving presentations because you don’t know what to do to relax. You seek out advice and are told to slow down your speaking pace, breathe more, use more gestures etc. These intentions are good, but not very helpful when trying to improve your skills. Too many suggestions without any “how-to” instructions can actually cause more stress.

The solution is learning to implement one very important element of communicating. Once you understand what this element is, and how to properly incorporate it into your style, you will have a completely different experience with your audience. While you may feel you are making eye contact with your audience, what’s really happening is that you are quickly scanning the audience, not really connecting with them.

The number one secret for giving a great presentation is sustained eye contact!  It’s not just looking at people, but focusing on one person for 3 to 5 seconds to truly connect. Sustained eye contact with the individuals in the room is the number one skill any presenter needs in order to connect with an audience. When done properly, you will look and sound more dynamic as you communicate your message.

You know you are doing it right when you receive nonverbal cues of acknowledgment such as audience members nodding their head or smiling.  When you learn the techniques of sustained eye contact and can properly implement them, you will feel better and look more confident in a matter of minutes.

Enhance your presentations in the blink of an eye. The following techniques will increase your confidence every time you communicate!

1. Slowly connect with individuals: Look at an individual in the room for the length of a complete thought. A complete thought means looking at one person from the beginning of a sentence until there is punctuation, a comma or a period. When you complete a sentence or key thought, slowly move your eyes to another person and repeat the process. Select the next person in close proximity to the first person. This process will seem slow and sometimes even feel like you are excluding others in the room.

2. Permission to ignore others: To properly implement sustained eye contact you will need to get comfortable with focusing longer on individuals, which means you will ignore others for a short period of time. This is ok!  The audience will observe that you are really looking at people. This will motivate your audience to pay closer attention, realizing that soon you will connect with each one of them.

3. Pick pockets of people: For a large group, you’ll need to divide the room into small “pockets” of people. Here is how you determine a pocket. Before you speak, analyze the setup of the room. Stand facing a section of the room and extend your arms straight out in front of you. (You may need to do this in your mind.)  A pocket is all of the people who would fit into that space between your arms, usually about 8 to 20 people. If you have a room with round tables, each table becomes a pocket. If you have a very deep room you may need to divide pockets in the front of the room and in the back. Once you begin communicating, avoid scanning the room by selecting a pocket of people for 3 to 4 sentences, then move on to a new pocket.

4. Respond to the group: As you’re connecting with your audience, you may notice individuals who look confused or frustrated. You will want to respond to this information. Stop speaking and ask the group if they need further explanation, have comments, or would like to ask questions. Then remain completely silent for five seconds. This will strengthen your connection to the people in the room by indicating that you’ve noticed their needs and are willing to respond to them.

5. Get the timing down: Eye contact is not a perfect science. If you were to time how long you should look at someone, it would vary between 3 to 6 seconds. Some people like lots of eye contact and feel very comfortable with people looking at them for sustained periods. You will notice these people giving you positive nonverbal responses, such as smiling, nodding, or raising a hand to ask a question. You’ll naturally tend to give more attention to those who are very nonverbally responsive. Others may feel uncomfortable with sustained eye contact. They will express this discomfort nonverbally by looking down or away. They may physically move back if they feel you are too “close” or are staring at them. Don’t let this reaction throw you off. If you are picking up on nonverbal signals of discomfort, show respect by simply moving on to someone else.

When you use these simple techniques for sustained eye contact you will feel more relaxed and look more confident! In turn, audiences of all sizes will find you and your presentations more dynamic and will feel as if you’re personally involved with them and responsive to their needs.

Read other articles and learn more about Sheri Jeavons.

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