Declamation and the Value of Eye Contact

     Eye contact is vital with every event you do, but for each event the significance of eye contact alters.  In performance events, such as Duo or Humorous Interpretation, your eyes help with characterization and telling the story.  For example, making a choice to not look at anyone adds gravity to the moment you are in.  In speaking events, the use of your eyes serves as a direct connection between you and your audience.  There are no characters to hide behind or black binders to glance at.  It is you and your words.  Therefore, in Declamation maintaining eye contact is not an option.

     Confidence separates a seasoned Declamation speaker from a novice.  Public speaking can be a nerve-shattering experience if you let your fears grab your imagination.  Remember though, feeling anxious about performing is natural and desired to a degree.  In Declamation you must present the illusion that you are comfortable with speaking in front of an audience.  A quick fix is to know how to use your eyes.  Being able to scan the room, while holding the gaze of someone at critical moments in your speech, suggests that you are secure.  Many people look slightly above the audience towards pre-planned focal points on the wall.  This trick to avoid direct contact works, but it is not as effective as a good eye holding.

     Once you plunge into direct eye contact there will be no backward glances.  The power and control you will feel surging through you will give the boost in confidence you need to own the room.  The first look may be intimidating, but after a few seconds the fear will be gone.  It is this focusing of nervous energy into your performance that elevates an okay Declamation into a spectacular one.  Not only will you feel an inner strength, but your audience will see the passion in your eyes.  A direct gaze can pass that energy from you to your audience and help awaken your crowd.  Imagine! All that simply from looking into the eyes of your listeners!

     Another benefit of solid eye contact is gaining the ability to read your audience.  If you are glancing away and more focused on the pit in your stomach than those listening, you may not notice that you are losing them.  Declamation can be a hard event to capture interest because those watching have to sit through several informative, mainly serious speeches.  However, by keeping an eye on the ones looking towards you changes in attention can be seen.  Are people dozing because of you or the long day they are having?  Maybe your energy level has dropped?  Make an assessment and try to draw them in again.  Further, scanning the room and paying attention to your audience helps prevent disinterest.  Many people will give you the attention back which you gave them.  People like to feel they matter, and looking into a person's eyes shows you appreciate them.

     Yet another perk of eye contact is drawing people into the message of your speech.  Once you gained a person's attention to transfer your passion and love for your speech to them, suddenly people will begin to listen to the message you are delivering.  They may not agree with the viewpoint, but the possibility has been opened for them to ponder what your speech is saying.  Once people begin thinking about your speech, the chances increase of your performance being remembered.  And in Declamation, standing out and being remembered is a fantastic way to increase your rank.   

     One rule to eye contact one should be conscious of is that too much will frighten away your audience.  Reflect back on any conversation you have had recently--did either you or the one you conversed with stare into the other's eyes for an excessive amount of time?  Probably not.  Direct eye contact is an intimate experience.  As much as we like to show interest in what another has to say, as humans we look away periodically to avoid invading personal space.  Usually when one is stared at, uneasiness creeps over us.  This is what you want to avoid; being labeled creepy.

     In Declamation, eye contact is essential to a well-performed piece.  Watch videos of any famous orator and pay attention to their eyes.  You will see their love and enthusiasm for their speech highlighted in them.  You will also notice how they look to the crowd to inspire them to believe in what they say.  Words are powerful, but there is a distinction between reading a manifesto and watching one.  Take advantage that you are not only the voice of an idea but also a conduit for the emotion behind the text; emotions that are propelled to the audience through your eyes.