Conquering Stage Fright

by Speaking Tips | February 9, 2004

If you experience stage fright during speaking or presentation assignments then take heart because you are not alone. Actors, singer, musicians, dancers, and athletes are frequently afflicted with the same syndrome. Biographies of well known celebrities often reveal continuing and acute stage fright even after decades of recognition and success.

You should also recognize that there are varying degrees of stage fright. At one end, there is simple excitement with adrenaline preparing the performer to excel. At the other, there is a near death experience. Somewhere in the middle is a cross over point at which your performance becomes impaired by the state of your nerves. If you are reading this article then chances are that you have crossed that point on more than one occasion. Read on!

In order to begin conquering your stage fright, you first need to recognize when you are approaching your crossover point. This will differ from individual to individual and may also be affected by the type of performance event. For example, some people find that facing an audience of thousands is nothing, but performing before a small group turns them into jelly. Others find an audience of friends more intimidating than strangers. Secondly, you must know how to take immediate remedial action.

Almost everyone experiences stage fright at some time. The polished speakers you see have learned to take control of the stage fright experience through a mixture of preparation, physical skills and positive attitude. Master these and you will be able to conquer your fear.

Preparation

Preparation is absolutely vital. This includes your material, audience/event analysis and the physical setting. You may know the subject, but do you know the audience and the significance of this occasion? Not knowing can be a significant cause of anxiety.

Practice by video or audio recording yourself which helps to visualize performance and to develop muscle memory. Researchers have confirmed that use of video tape in preparation for public speaking or singing reduces anxiety and improves performance.

Develop an inconspicuous personal relaxation ritual. Singers, musicians and dancers can often do this behind the scenes but presenters are usually on the stage before their performance and would look a bit odd doing tai chi, yoga or standing on their head.

Improvise a prompt so that you are not anxious about forgetting the sequence of your material. You can use prepared flip charts, pictures on the wall, slides or presentation software.

Physical skills

Public speaking is a physical activity. Stage fright is an emotional reaction which restricts physical abilities. To unlearn the unwanted physical reactions associated with stage fright, you must practice performance before an audience. Once is not enough. Mastery requires distributed and incremental learning. One possibility to obtain regular speaking experience in a less threatening envivronment is to engage a professional coach or enroll in a class or seminar. You could also consider joining a local Toastmasters club. With practice you can access other kinds of intelligence and appear physically relaxed, enthusiastic and confident even though you are not.

Positive attitude

Mold your attitude around all your successes. Remember what success feels like, what it looks like. Even when you perform in a less than stellar fashion, remember the parts you did that were outstanding. People overwhelmed with stage fright have negative attitudes. They imagine everything that could go wrong or develop a litany of other negatives. Replace negative attitudes with positive ones. A positive attitude will lead you to seek any help you may need to improve. A negative attitude shackles your personal and professional life.

Think about all the things you have to share with this audience and how it will benefit them. Decide beforehand that it will be a fun experience. Performance is an act of faith. You have to believe your body will perform what it has practiced whether it is a speech, a song, a dance or an athletic competition.

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