Monday, April 26, 2010

Look Me in the Eye

How did “Look your audience members in the eyes” come to be a public-speaking maxim? If you’re visiting Manhattan for the first time, you’ll be warned never to make eye contact with other subway riders. People on trial for assaulting a stranger describe a sense of terror “because he looked at me.” If a public speaker makes direct eye contact with an audience member, that person feels uncomfortable and everyone else feels excluded and resentful. An attorney who wants to intimidate an unwilling witness will look her directly in the eye. So why would novice public speakers, who want to develop rapport with their audiences, be taught to use a device that frightens, intimidates, or alienates them? Tis a mystery.

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