The eyes are indeed the window to the soul, and the secret to emotionally capturing and moving an audience.
In this episode, John discusses how to use your eyes to impact an audience and to help raise your vocal performances to new heights.
Episode 126 – Using Your Eyes
Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another edition of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me and I do so appreciate getting through that sentence. That just took me like four tries. I have no idea why, but that’s not a particularly good omen for the rest of this episode, but let’s just see if I can keep my tongue and lips in control and actually communicate the words that are bouncing around in my brain. I am very happy. I just set off what I believe to be the final draft of my newest book to my editor. He’s going to give it a quick going over. I think I’ve stamped out all of the typos and the issues, clarified a few things. The feedback I’ve gotten back from the test readers is very, very encouraging. My favorite review so far is the teacher who told me, I feel like you wrote this book just for me.
And that was my goal. I actually had a particular person in mind, actually in an avatar, they call it, a fictional person I created. But I did create this person quite vividly and I wrote this book specifically for that person. And the avatar just very generally is a voice teacher who is very good at what they do, but their business and their studio and their earning potential is not at the level of their skill. And this is a book to help voice teachers really reach out, create more influence and authority and attract the students they want to work with and get their ideas out there, create passive income and all of these wonderful things that voice teachers often dream about and certainly have as goals but aren’t sure how to do. So the book is going to be called Voice Teacher Influencer.
It’s part two of my Voice Teacher Success series. My first book Teaching Contemporary Singing is now going to be called book number one in the series. And I’m super excited looking at, I was shooting for end of October, looking at the first or second week of November to get this out. The reason being is just my timing is not always perfect. My newest course is also nearing completion and both are battling for my attention. So now that the manuscript of the book is at the editor, I can really focus on pushing through the last part of my Boldly Belting course and I’m looking at getting that out as soon as next week. So before October ends, this course will be out. What I’m going to do is just initially release it, make it available for purchase to people on my mailing list.
So go to johnhenny.com and sign up for my email list if you’d like to be among the first to be able to try this course. I’m really excited, especially the original songs I’ve created to help guide you into a balance and using specific melodic vowel and consonant combinations to get the voice into the right spot so you can experience what a nice full healthy belt feels like. So that will be coming very, very soon. I still got some work to push through, but I’m very excited to get this done and get this out there as well. All right. Today I want to talk about one of your most powerful performance tools. And it’s not your voice, it’s your eyes. They say the eyes are the window to the soul. That is absolutely true.
And I want to talk about how to use your eyes in specific circumstances. First I want to talk about auditions. And this could also be for smaller rooms or performance venues. You don’t want to stare directly into the auditioners’ eyes. Being an audience member is a voyeuristic event. We are sitting in the dark and we are watching you and we’re getting a peek into your emotional world and your soul, your feelings, and then we are vicariously experiencing emotions through you. But we need to feel safe. We need to feel that we can watch you without being overexposed or found out in a way. And certainly we don’t want to be made to feel uncomfortable, and if you are auditioning, the auditioner needs to be able to look at you and assess your abilities and they have a very hard time doing that if you’re just desperately staring at them and looking into their eyes and you’re just going to get this awkward smile back at you.
So what do you do? Well, I suggest that you set a point just above their heads on the back wall, and that’s where your eye level is going to be, so that your energy is forward, your energy is towards them. You will even see them in your peripheral vision, but you’re not staring right at them. And in a smaller venue, you can make quick momentary eye contact with people, but it very quickly becomes uncomfortable because now you’re staring at them and they feel that they need to now respond. It’s as if they’re on stage suddenly and you’re just going to get this awkward smile back. The audience needs to feel very free and protected to observe you. So again, I would just have the eyes just above their head and you look over, they’ll be in your peripheral vision and they will be within your energy and you will encompass them without staring directly at them.
Now as a side note, don’t keep your eyes closed. If you do have your eyes closed, have a reason for it. Maybe it’s a particularly intimate moment and you’re going to withdraw into your own world. But what you are doing when you close your eyes is you are shutting out your audience and now they are isolated from you and you are closing that very, very effective emotional window. You want that window to be open. Now the other thing that you want is you want your eyes not just to be available, but very alive, very emotionally engaged. Now you may be wondering, how do I do that? Well, I’m going to give you a my favorite tip, which was given to me by a great acting teacher, Carole D’Andrea. I’ve talked about her before on the podcast. She was in the original cast of West Side Story and she was also in the movie and I attended her class I think for a couple of years in Hollywood every week and there would just be fantastic people in the class. I remember the first one I went to, Marisa Tomei was in the class.
It’s like how often do you get to sit in a class with an Oscar winner and people coming off of national tours of musicals, it was just absolutely fantastic. And if you’re ever in the Los Angeles area, I highly recommend taking her acting through song class. Just fantastic. I will leave or I’ll put a link in the show notes. Just go to johnhenny.com/126, but Carole gave me this great tool which I pass onto my students or which I use if I’m performing. And that is as if you’re singing, have your eyes watch a movie on the back wall so that whoever you’re singing the song to, or an event that you connect to this song, create that movie in your mind and broadcast it on the back wall and watch the movie. Really engage yourself. And what will happen is your eyes will light up, your eyes will have a sparkle.
They will have an emotional intensity and people feel that we are very in tune to what other people are feeling and the eyes, we specifically will focus on the eyes to see what people are doing. If you think about all the years of evolution of us as a species, being able to see where somebody is at emotionally is extremely important because if that person is starting to lean towards the anger, we need to know that. If they’re moving towards violence, we need to know that. If they’re welcoming us to come to them and be friendly, partake in food, we needed to know that. We still need to know that. And we do that not just with the language, we pick up on body language and specifically the eyes. So when your eyes are full of emotion and your eyes are engaged, watching this movie, if you will, the audience will be engaged with you.
Now don’t leave the movie just fixed in one position because it gets a little dull as you’re just staring into one place. Move this film around. So maybe on the verse of the song you’re looking to your left and it’s over towards the corner and then you come to the chorus and the movie has moved to the center. And then maybe halfway through the chorus as you start a new thought, it moves a bit to the right, move the movie around. And you don’t have to be stuck just staring at the movie. Then you can break that. You can look at the audience, you can make brief contact with some people, quick eye contact. You can even close your eyes if it makes sense and then open and look at the movie.
You watch the movie. As Carole told me, if you feel it, if you think it, we will get it. The audience will get it. We will be in tune. The beautiful thing is we’ll never know what it is that you’re watching nor do we need to, but we will sense the emotional connection and that is all important and it works great in larger venues. And then you can certainly push your film to different reaches of the venue, push your energy out to the far reaches of the venue. One thing that I will do is, just as a mental exercise, is if I’m going into a space and I’m going to be– used to be when I was singing and performing and now it’ll be for masterclasses– I will just make a quick mental note of all the corners of the room, the corners behind me, and then to the far end of the room. And as I look at those corners, I then think about filling the entire space to all of those corners with my energy. And I just think about projecting my energy. And then as I’m doing that, keeping my eyes open and being really available, emotionally open and available. And I do this not just singing, but again, when I’m doing a masterclass. When I’m doing a masterclass, I want people to feel as I truly feel, I mean I’m sincere in this, but I want people to feel that I am there to help them. I am available to them. My energy is there for them. It’s completely about them and it’s whatever I can do to help educate and assist them. And when I do that, I can feel more of the energy back.
Just even the act of being conscious is rather mysterious. What is this energy, your awareness? I mean you may be looking at a wall, but the you that’s looking is a deep, deep mystery and these energies that emanate from all of us. I don’t know, I don’t think science can really get in there and tap into that. These energies exist in another place. Even the idea of consciousness, they call that the difficult problem. They don’t know what it is. And so projecting energy into that consciousness I think is very, very effective. Especially as a performer. You will have been at shows where you just feel this fierce energy emanating from the stage and you are just completely pulled into it. It is magic when it happens.
Probably the best concert I ever saw in my life and I’ve seen some good concerts– I mean, I saw Queen with Freddie Mercury when I was a kid. I’ve seen Paul McCartney and Elton John many years back. I saw Pink Floyd’s The Wall tour. But Peter Gabriel’s So tour back in 1986, 1987 I think was just profound. The energy and the way that he captivated that entire arena was something that I had never experienced before. And that power and the way that he used his eyes and the way that he controlled the energy of the room was profound. And every song, you really felt the emotion. So when you are getting up to perform, don’t just sing the song. This is why I talk about vocal technique because I want technique to have been handled before you get on stage. When you are singing for people, it is now about you emotionally communicating.
And this beautiful exchange of energy, and for you, being completely emotionally open and available, and your eyes open, available and alive, is magic. And you allow the audience to watch you, to perceive these emotional shifts, to feel your energy. And the singing is just the vehicle to do this, to be able to communicate with people on a higher level than just speaking. It’s a wonderful, wonderful gift. So open up your eyes, expand your energy through the entire room. Watch that movie. Don’t be just staring at people, set a point above their heads, encompass them within your peripheral vision, within your view, within your energy. But then create that movie, create that vivid movie and feel it, live it, really see it, and you will give a memorable performance.
Hey, if you want to know more about me, please visit my website, johnhenny.com and sign up for that email list. I’ve got all kinds of cool stuff coming out. You’ll always know when there’s a new podcast and if you want to get my free straw warmup course, costs you nothing, and I’ll show you the magic of warming up with a straw because it really is a thing. These days voice teachers are all about straws. Just go to courses in the menu. Click on that. You can find my straw warm up course. I told you I was tongue tied today. And if you are interested in becoming a voice teacher, check out my Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy. Just click on teacher training up in the menu. And I will not only teach you to be a voice teacher, but there is part of the course that you will get where I will personally coach you to grow your business. Special email address where you can go back and forth with me, whatever projects you have or however you want to grow your business, I will help you. So please check that out as well. And until next time, to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye.