President Obama rarely speaks to an audience.
I’m not saying he doesn’t give many speeches. He does. Many, many speeches. Perhaps more than any president in US history. So what do I mean?
Watch him speak. These days (he did this much less while running for president), Obama keeps his gaze up during much of his speeches, as though he were talking to the stars — not to his audience. Sometimes I wonder where those teleprompters are. Built into the ceiling panels? And who’s he supposed to be talking to? The people in the auditorium with him? Astronauts working on the space station?
When you don’t make eye contact with your audience, it’s very hard to connect with them. In fact, you can’t do it.
Of course, Obama is president of the United States. He doesn’t have to care anymore.
But you’re not president. And I’m guessing that any public talk you have to give is more important to you than yet another fundraising speech is to Obama.
It’s a good idea to keep this in mind anytime you have to give a public talk of any kind — even simply standing up to share your department’s update at a staff meeting. Make eye contact. Let your gaze move around the room and spend a few seconds connecting with each person in your audience.
Speaking publicly is scary, no question. Which is why so many of us hide. That’s what we’re doing when we look down at our notes, or at the PowerPoint slide on the screen, or at some spot on the wall above our audience’s heads — anywhere but into the eyes of the people we’re supposed to be talking to.
If you don’t make eye contact with your audience — lots of it — you can’t give a good speech.