Where do you look?

Many new instructors are as nervous as a lambs going to slaughter when they’re asked to stand up and instruct a class. Thoughts start racing through their heads like…

“What if I forget what to say?”

“What if I forget what do do?”

“What if I freeze up?”

“What if…. [insert favorite fear here]?”

Truth is all of those things happen to every new teacher at some point…just the same way as you’ve frozen in front of the class when doing your kata. And one of the most unnerving things for new instructors is when their students stare back at them like the snake-haired Medusa of Greek Mythology turning them to stone right there in their gi.

To avoid freezing up the most common reaction to the “death stare” is to avert the eyes and look away, or at the ground.

However these two options don’t really instill confidence in your students that you’re a self assured instructor if you can’t maintain eye contact when addressing your class.

Fortunately after teaching a few thousand classes, I’ve been able to try a few different things over the years that help with avoiding direct eye contact (if that freaks you out, like it used to do for me) but allows you to look confident even when you’re not. Here are some options…

Method # 1 – Look at the back wall at head height 

I used to do this when I first started teaching and this was a helpful start. When using this method it’s important to move your gaze from side to side as you instruct, so as you don’t appear to be zoning out and disengaging from your class. Do it right and it won’t look like you’re lacking confidence. However if you’re looking in the same spot every class, your students will pick up on this and wonder what’s so interesting behind them. 

Method #2 – Look at your student’s mouths

Body language experts like Allan Pease (The Definitive Book of Body Language – excellent book by the way), have revealed that most people tend to look at each other mouths when engaging in conversation, and not the eyes. Yet I’m sure you’re parents said to you as a kid, “Look at me when I speak to you!

It’s kind of ironic that speach/hearing have far more to do with using the mouth and ears than looking someone in the eyes don’t you think?  

Nevertheless confidence is often associated with making eye contact when talking. So if you have trouble looking at someone in the eyes when you talk, look at their mouth instead. Apply this method and it’ll appear that you’re displaying confidence and making eye contact, even if you’re doing neither. 

Try these ideas next time you teach and you’ll notice your students will be more attentive and receptive to you. You’ll appear more confident and through the process will gain more natural confidence over time, until nervousness in front of the class will be a thing of past…

– Jason

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