In a recent motivational speech to a group of business women, I encouraged the ladies to smile and laugh in their interactions with clients. I think it’s a good thing for us to remember as speakers, too.

Studies have shown that those who genuinely smile and laugh easily are more likely to be considered honest and friendly. An easy laugh, combined with gentle eye contact, will put a listener at ease and increase trust.

This may seem hard to do from the stage, but it isn’t.

The first step is to be well-prepared so we aren’t slaves to our notes. Each time we have to look down, we break that connection, that relationship we want to establish with the audience. Becoming completely familiar with sections of our notes will free us to engage with the audience at a more intimate level.

If you’re nervous when you speak, you may have been encouraged to look at the back wall or the exit signs as a way to calm the nerves and avoid eye contact. This actually defeats our goal as speakers. When we look out over the audience, we will connect better if we make real eye contact with members of the audience.

Of course, we can’t do that with every person out there, but by making a visual connection–a gentle eye contact with listeners scattered throughout the auditorium–we’ll create a more relaxed and friendly environment in the room. Those you’ve made eye contact with will feel as though you’ve personally noticed them, and others will feel that connection. And in the process you’ll likely find you’ve made new fans.

But be careful. Studies show that eye contact of more than 10 seconds is considered rude and challenging, whether it’s from the stage or in a one-on-one conversation. Those on the receiving end are made to feel intimidated and the starer is considered aggressive.

So learn to enjoy your time on the stage by sharing a sincere smile and a ready laugh, and you’ll be seen as an honest, trustworthy friend your audience needs to hear. Don’t think of the audience as a large mass of people. Instead, find those faces in the crowd that “friend” you, and then connect one-on-one. You’ll soon find you’re enjoying the moment, whether you’re speaking to 20 or 2,000.

I will speak of your statutes before kings
and will not be put to shame,
for I delight in your commands
because I love them. Psalm 119:46-47

Grace and peace be yours in abundance,

Vonda