Importance of Winning a Staredown


The art of looking someone in the eye and not flinching. I am of the mind that Improv, public speaking and giving presentations are a form of a staredown.

When giving a speech, we are told to connect with the audience. Experts say to literally make eye contact. I have had my fair share of presentations and performances, but I must admit, I have not been very engaging with the audience.

In a recent improv warm up exercise, it dawned on me what all the fuss about re engaging with the audience. Let me explain. In this particular exercise, seven people and I were in a circle, performing a game that requires physical movement and talking at the same time. I asked the group to make eye contact with each other during the exercise…as I had been asked to do when I learned it.

As the leader and veteran of the exercise, I exuded confidence: 1- because I knew it well and 2- to help the others be more comfortable with doing it. I moved boldly, I spoke loudly and I engaged eye’s with others around the circle.

Even though this was no competition, I won the staredown with the group. At that moment, I understood what public speaking guru’s are talking about when they say to read and engage with the audience. You see, even though I was doing a silly exercise, I was authentically and organically engaging with others with all my confidence and good humor. I had no sense of shame, nerves or anxiety.

Imagine walking in front of a large audience and before you begin your presentation, you engage with them. You read them and take them in. You react to them. Accordingly, you loosen them up or you get their attention or whatever you feel is necessary to make them feel comfortable and receptive to the information you are about to share.

Imagine being more confident and certain than your audience of 200 people or the boardroom of 10. This is possible and powerful. And improv training can help you get there. How? Because you are asked to do dynamic games and exercises  in front of a peer group over and over and pretty soon, you become secure in doing anything in front of others while looking them straight in the eyes.

Join me every Saturday at the Electric Lodge for an Improv work-out. All levels welcome. – Matt Gaffney

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