Chris Petersilge

“Why would I want to embarrass myself in front of an audience, especially one full of attractive women?” I’d ask myself.

Turns out I wasn’t alone in that question.  It’s said people fear public speaking more than they do death.

At the same time, the ability to present effectively is a marker – and a maker – of success today’s society.  It doesn’t matter which profession you’re in – banker or creative – there’s a good chance the ability to speak confidently will directly impact your ability to persuade and achieve your objectives.

So I resigned myself to the fact that there was no way out of it. I had to figure out a way to hack my way through this. The only problem was, I wasn’t the charming, confident speaker I saw in these TED talks. I wanted to get on stage and wow people—but I was lost.

Then a mentor introduced me to the concept of ‘non-verbal indicators’. My TED talk-aspiring self instantly realised, “Hey, I can fake most of this stuff.”

Non-verbal indicators are small ways to control physical actions to make one appear to be more confident. They’re unnoticeable to the untrained eye, yet have a profound impact on the credibility and confidence of pitches, talks, and speeches.

There are some advanced, sexy non-verbal indicators that I could teach you, but I won’t.

Why? Because I can teach you just as much in this post with something deceptively simple: making meaningful eye contact.

Why meaningful eye contact? Simply, because it works–and it’s ridiculously easy to learn. Let me show you the three steps to meaningful eye contact: length, angle, and body position.

1) Eye Contact Length

Have you ever listened to a speaker and remarked at the end “Wow, they were speaking right to me”?

Most of us have a tendency to scan, but unfortunately, it destroys the confident impression we want to give off. But when we make three seconds of eye contact, we instantly connect with the audience.

At first, practicing three seconds of eye contact with an audience member may seem unnatural, especially with adrenaline running through you.

But that audience member will experience a speaker who is confident and personal, as if they are speaking just to them.

2) Eye Contact Angle

Remember the old driving rule: put you hands at 10 and 2? This applies to speaking as well.

Imagine a clock placed in front of you, with 12 noon facing forward. Then look out in the direction of the 10 o’clock and the 2 o’clock. Those are the sweet spots.

When I first introduce this to my students, many are worried that other audience members will feel neglected if they only face people at their 10 and 2.

But while you are making meaningful eye contact with one individual, audience members around that individual will all receive that personal connection, too.

So you don’t need to engage everyone in the audience for three seconds, just focus on those at your 10 and 2.

3) Body Position

You don’t want to look like a coy model turning on the catwalk when you speak. Well, maybe you do, but in that case, I’m not the right instructor for you. If you’re like my students, you want to look confident when you’re speaking.

That’s why it’s crucial to face the people you are speaking to.

While you don’t want to focus on individuals at the exclusion of the rest of the group (back-turners, I’m looking at you), facing someone will build that appearance of confidence.

So how you do actually learn this stuff?

Like any new skill, the best way to learn is by doing it! Grab your friends (or teddy bears, if you don’t have any friends) and practice.

Just by improving your eye contact length, angle, and body position, you can trick everyone into thinking you’re a confident speaker—until you do it enough times to actually become one.

About our contributor // Chris Petersilge is a professional communication skills coach based in Sydney who has personally tested his material at Fortune 1000 companies and startups in Silicon Valley. Learn more on the Sydney Speakers Facebook