Last weekend I hosted a portion of an evening’s gala fundraiser for a wonderful local arts organization. It was festive, artistic and fun. There were about 175 attendees gathered as I took the stage.

Side Note: I no longer deny my own pre-presentation nerves. What has shifted dramatically in my own speaker practice is my attitude toward them. No matter how prepared, practiced, excited, and connected I am to my talk, I understand that a certain nervous edge will always accompany me. I no longer fight these feelings nor try to figure them out.  I notice them, welcome them and let them do their important energizing work.

Back to the gala. As I began my ever so comedic(!) welcome, I became aware of how scattered I was feeling, as if a movie reel I was watching of the crowd in front of me was pulsing and not streaming. I focused on my breathing immediately and in that split second realized that an old nervous habit was upon me…instead of making meaningful eye contact with individuals in the crowd, I was actually scanning over the tops of all their heads, implying a kind of “fake” looking at people. It was keying me up, disconnecting me, and not allowing me to settle in.

I immediately focused on a few faces for a few seconds (the three second rule) and felt myself relax. The movie stopped pulsing and the live, present reel was established. This rapid cognition took place in a few seconds or less.

It’s funny how the very things that we fear (looking at actual people when we speak) are the very things that will ground us. Remembering the fundamentals of your physical connection and body language will make a huge difference in your speaker practice.

Next time your nerves start getting the best of you, try focusing on eye contact and see if it helps calm you down.  If you land on one friendly face, you’ve won.