Looking Over People's Heads
I’ve been told that when I’m nervous I should look over my audience’s heads. Is that true?
No. You have been given some terrible advice. We hear this sort of thing all the time.
One of the things that triggers nervousness is the notion that your presentation should be a performance played to a faceless group of people. If it were a performance, this idea might make sense.
But a presentation is a conversation. You cannot converse with a faceless group of people. Instead, you need to converse with living/breathing/thinking individuals. This requires that you look people in the eye and actually SEE them. You need to recognize their reactions and how they’re responding to you. When you do that, you can respond back. When you see their smiles and nods, you know you’re on the right track. When you see looks of confusion, you know you need to explain something a little differently or go into more detail. This is what you automatically do in normal, everyday, low-stakes conversations. This same level of engagement needs to apply to presentations.
So, look people in the eye, connect with them. This will reduce your nervousness and you’ll feel and look comfortable and in control of the conversation. It also takes the pressure off of having to be perfect. Conversations are messy by nature. Embrace that thought. Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t prepare for your presentations. I’m saying that once they begin, they need to feel structured AND conversational. Looking people in the eye and settling into the conversation is how to do it.
But that seems counter-intuitive, you’re probably thinking.
Yes, it does. After all, the people in the room are the things that are making you nervous. What you have to realize is that they are not passive viewers whose sole responsibility is to judge your performance. Instead they want to be active participants in the conversation. They may not speak as much as you, but they’re still participating in the dialogue. The only way to engage them in it is to look them in the eye and respond to their contributions.
What thoughts do you have?
Written by Greg Owen-Boger
Greg Owen-Boger has been with Turpin Communication since 1995, first as a cameraman, then instructor, account manager, and now vice president. Schooled in management and the performing arts, Greg brings a diverse set of skills and experiences to the organization. Greg is one of Turpin’s facilitators and coaches. When he’s not with clients, he manages the day-to-day operations of the company. Greg is an active member of the Association for Talent Development (ATD) and was the 2015 President of ATD, Chicagoland Chapter. He is a popular speaker, frequent blogger, and the co-author of the book The Orderly Conversation: Business Presentations Redefined. His latest book, also co-authored by Dale Ludwig, launched in 2017 and is entitled Effective SMEs: A Trainer’s Guide for Helping Subject Matter Experts Facilitate Learning.