Most people, even the most inexperienced speakers, know that, when face to face with a group of human beings, you should make eye contact with them. When asked why, the answers will be about inclusion, trust, credibility. All true. But, as I learned in the training room recently, there’s another, more important reason why eye contact is vital – it affects our intonation.
I worked with someone who, in ‘real life’, had a naturally musical tone and rhythm to his voice but who had suffered a loss of confidence because of bad feedback from audiences. They complained that his delivery was flat and monotone. He assumed that this was a vocal problem.
What transpired during our session together was both surprising and fascinating. Mindful of the need to do ‘good eye contact’ but riven with nerves and anxiety, my trainee was skimming tops of heads all around the room instead of looking into people’s eyes. He appeared to be engaging with the audience but was doing nothing of the sort.
The impact on his delivery was to flatten his intonation and increase his pace. He was delivering a presentation rather than telling people something. As soon as he started coming eye to eye with individuals in the audience his pace slowed, his intonation brightened and his pauses lengthened. He made a genuine connection with those in front of him. The transformation was astounding. Confidence was restored.