A discerning speech mentor recently pointed out that when I give a speech, I look towards the audience, but I don’t really look at them. My gaze scans the audience, but never really make eye contact with anyone.
Why do I avoid eye contact?
Speaking to a crowd, launching words into the air, is safe (it might not look like it, but it is). Speaking to an actual person, making a human connection, is incredibly vulnerable. Making eye contact lets your audience see through the facade, past the show, and see who you really are.
The thought scares me senseless.
In The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin shares about the vulnerability of forgetting his suit jacket before one speech:
“The suit is a form of armor for me, like the slides, the clicker, and the edge of the stage. It protects me from intimacy. The suit labels me as the speaker, the other, the guy who is insulated from you, even if only by an eighth of an inch of fabric.”
Most people avoid vulnerability, on the stage or otherwise. It’s too frightening. That’s why when you meet someone who actually seeks to make a connection with you, it’s remarkable.
Whenever you give a speech you have a choice: you can choose to give a good, safe speech. No one will blame you for protecting yourself.
Or you can choose to take off your suit jacket, make real eye contact, and make a connection. It’s risky, but that’s what makes it magical.