That Friendly Face
When Public Speakers Can’t Stop Looking At You
I’m respectful when people are talking. I give eye contact. I nod to reassure them that I’m present. I smile, squint my eyebrows, and make all sorts of reactionary faces. If you’re talking to me, just know that I am there. I’m listening. I’m engaged. Because of this, my daily interactions with people are an earful. Public speakers, especially zone in on my face when they’re giving a lecture, presentation, or speech. I never knew that listening would turn into an unexpected job. Let me explain.
You know those corporate training classes that many of us are required to take? Well, one day I had one of those trainings. I was greeted by a very happy corporate trainer. She smiled. I smiled back. I grabbed my name tag and placed it on my thick, long beige cardigan. Usually, when I'm in some sort of training, I like to look at the room for a few seconds to figure out exactly where I want to sit. If I sit in the back I’ll dose off, if I sit in the front they may call on me.
“ — You can sit right here Star,” the corporate trainer said noticing my name tag while pointing at the front row seat.
No lady, I will not sit in the front, is what I wanted to say, but I sat exactly where she wanted me to sit. Huge mistake.
I skimmed through the materials in front of me. The first 15 minutes of the training was promising, upbeat, informative, and entertaining. Initially, the whole class was engaged, we were eating snacks, providing examples, joking, and taking notes.
As time progressed the participants became quieter and quieter. You could hear the white noise. The room suddenly felt colder, breaths became heavier, and of course, there’s always that one co-worker that falls asleep HARD. Like dude, where is the professionalism? Then there’s the co-worker that I thought was dumb, but actually impressed me with his commentary and excellent questions, noted. Then there’s me, the public speaker's safe place. The friendly face.
Public speakers are taught to be engaging and to know the material that they’re presenting. Public speakers are often told to make eye contact and to find a friendly face in the audience.
I noticed early on that the speaker continued to look at me when she was speaking. Remember, I’m engaged. I’m smiling and nodding, I’m paying attention, but then I start having internal conversations like, “Why does she keep looking at me?”
Eventually, a break came. I stepped out, went to the restroom, made small talk with co-workers, grabbed a new snack, and returned to my seat. Those training classes are brutal after 2:00 PM. I was somewhat rejuvenated. I looked at my watch. Only one more hour to go. I got this!
There were new handouts on our desks, so I’m skimming through the new material while the presenter spoke. I look up and BAAM! SHE’S LOOKING DIRECTLY INTO MY EYES.
I heard a giggle. It was my co-worker, who is also my friend. I mentioned to her during the break that I felt like the presenter was staring at me. I asked her if she noticed, well apparently she did because every time the speaker looked at me I heard her muffled laughter.
No one talks about this, but when you’re the friendly face, there’s pressure to be the friendly face. You have to be present. You’re the speakers go to, their comfort. While everyone else is dosing off or checking their phones, we the people with the friendly faces, well we have a job. We have to pay attention.
The speaker continued to look at me as she spoke, it was really out of hand. Ok, this has got to end I told myself. I grabbed my pen, then pretended to take notes. I wrote a few words, did some doddles and then it happened. I let out a big long yawn.
“Don’t worry we’re going to finish up in a few,” she said smiling at me nervously.
Can I freaking yawn in peace? My word! I felt a little violated. Was she watching me? I continued to take notes. How dare she interrupt my yawn. At this point I refused to look up, but the longer my head was down taking those notes the heavier my eyelids fell. I yawned again. WAKE UP! My inner voice said. I was serious this time. I took a sip of my drink and adjusted my posture.
That training class was the first time I noticed a guest speaker that relentlessly focused their eyes on me. However, the more I thought about it, this always happened to me. During new hire orientations, college lectures, the gathering over a friends that turned out to be a pyramid scheme. When I was a teacher and those darn consultants that came to the school with the new reading programs — I was always the freaking go-to friendly face.
Not only do public speakers have a thing for this warm friendly face, but if I lock eyes with a stranger it’s on and popping. They want my opinion on a jacket, a recipe, a lipstick color, a hair product, or they just want to talk. I recently told myself that instead of complaining, I need to accept this attribute about myself. People find some sort of comfort in me, that’s not a bad thing.
As my training class came to a close, the speaker revealed that she was extremely nervous and that she appreciated our participation. There she was AGAIN looking directly at me and there I was smiling back with my friendly face.