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You never know when you’re making an impact.

Well, sometimes we set out to have real influence, and we probably do have a sense whether it worked or not.

Other times, though, it comes as a surprise when somebody mentions something you said way back whenever and tells you it stuck with them.

I had a moment like that the other day with a friend and fellow-speaker.

“I’ll always remember what you told us,” she said. “Your face is a spotlight. Shine it on the people in your audience.”

Well yes, I do say that. Every time I find myself teaching anybody about how important eye contact is and how to make it happen when they’re in front of a group. Her comment was a reminder that it’s a great way to learn one of the key skills for speakers; it’s worth sharing with you too.

So, what does “Your face is a spotlight” mean, exactly?

Imagine yourself in front of a roomful of people. Could be half a dozen around the conference table at work, 37 at a networking meeting, or 323 in a hotel ballroom. Or more—it doesn’t really matter.

You have a message to deliver, and you want to make sure they take it in … and take action.

Now, imagine your face as a spotlight. Picture a beam of bright light shining out from your face. That beam should land on somebody in your audience, so they’re bathed in the glow of your attention.

If you follow your beam of light and “see” it hitting the wall at the back of the room, you know you’re looking over the tops of people’s heads instead of really looking at them.

That means you’re missing an opportunity to connect with that young woman in the red sweater right there in front. And the bald guy in the third row. And the man toward the back who’s looking around as if he’s about to try to sneak out of the room.

If you picture your imaginary beam of light and it’s bouncing off the floor in front of you, that tells you you’re looking down instead of out at the people who want your attention as much as you want theirs.

You’re cheating them—and yourself—of the bond you could be building with your talk.

Notice it’s a spotlight, not a floodlight.

If your face were a floodlight, you could stand there at the front of the room, look out, and light up the whole room and everyone in it by gazing straight ahead.

Here’s the thing. You wouldn’t make a real connection with anybody.

Try as we might, we can’t make eye contact with a whole group. We can only connect that way with an individual. And then another one. And another one … and in the course of a talk, we’ve had those moments of genuine contact with each of the people sitting in front of us.

Eye contact is one of the most powerful tools a speaker has to command a room and connect with the individuals in that room. Speakers who use it well can have tremendous influence on the people listening.

What if your audience is virtual?

Your face is still a spotlight if you’re sitting in front of your laptop with a screenful of people meeting on a virtual platform like Zoom or Teams.

You shine that spotlight on them by looking through the camera.

The temptation, of course, is to look at a person’s face when you’re talking to them, or maybe to try looking at all those faces at once, your eyes darting around a bit to hit each one of the squares.

If you do that, the individuals in those squares will see your beam of light shining off to the right or left or down at the floor. Maybe bouncing around so you look a little shifty. Or nervous. Or both.

Instead, look right through the camera as you speak. And each one of those people on your screen will perceive you talking right to them.

Isn’t that what we all want?

We’re listening to you because, whatever your subject, we want you to talk right to us. We crave connection with our fellow-humans … especially now when there’s been so much disconnection in the world. And in business.

When you use eye contact well, you cement a bond with the people you talk to. You increase the chances they’ll be receptive to what you say. You lay the groundwork for a deeper relationship.

That’s a lot of benefit you get, from imagining your face as a spotlight.

Give it a try and let me know how it goes.