The key to connecting with an audience is early and frequent eye-contact (plus a warm smile from time to time).

According to TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking there are five core tools that speakers use:

  • Connection
  • Narration
  • Explanation
  • Persuasion
  • Revelation

Regarding connection, TED Head Chris Anderson insists that the most effective way to connect is to make eye-contact right from the start. That’s because humans have developed a sophisticated ability to read other people by looking at their eyes. “We can subconsciously detect the tiniest movement of eye muscles in someone’s face and use it to judge not just how they are feeling, but whether we can trust them.” Many of these judgments are made in the first few seconds of meeting or hearing someone.

Scientists have also found that due to mirror neuron activity, we tend to copy what expressions and feelings we see in other people. When we look at each other—especially at our eyes and our mouths—our minds and emotions sync. Anderson says:

Eye contact, backed by an occasional warm smile, is an amazing technology that can transform how a talk is received. At TED, our number-one advice to speakers on the day of their talk is to make regular eye contact with members of the audience. Be warm. Be real. Be you. It opens the door to them trusting you, liking you, and beginning to share your passion.

Now, we’re not wanting to create a bunch of Joel Osteen clones. But, if there’s one area that most preachers could improve upon, it’s increasing the amount of eye-contact they make throughout their sermons, and especially in the first few minutes of introduction. Maybe the reason we’re not connecting with our hearers is because they’re only seeing our hair (or lack thereof).

The key to connecting with an audience is early and frequent eye-contact (plus a warm smile from time to time).

More articles in the Preaching Lessons from TED Talks series.

  • Craig Hadden

    You might like this review I did of a public-speaking video, where 2 of the points I focused on were the speaker’s use of eye contact, and her smile. (The post also links to a Nancy Duarte clip about eye contact, and other useful resources.)