Stage-fright? Stop Being Cruel To Yourself.

Rapid heartbeat, sweaty palms, squeaky voice and racing thoughts. Those are the common symptoms of stage-fright. I am sure you know what I am talking about. They say around 75% of the population suffer from pre-performance anxiety. Here is what you can do to stop feeling like a nervous wreck.

stage-fright and stage-anxiety
This picture is a nightmare for those who suffer from stage-fright.

Stage anxiety: what`s at stake?

Why do competent speakers suddenly start acting awkward, getting lost in their own presentation? Well, basically, the answer is quite simple. It is all about social anxiety. We all hate being stared at and do not want to lose control.  We feel that our reputation is at stake and suffer painfully because we yearn for being liked and do not want to fail, being rejected. So, our mind senses danger and reacts instinctively: It is the old fight or flight mechanism, kicking off the production of adrenaline. Blame it on the Neanderthals. Yes, sure, this is understandable, just Biology, but we have not covered the crucial issue yet:  What can we do against it?

Step one: What do you want to say?

Some people think a presentation is all about memorizing witty remarks on stage that have been prepared at home beforehand. But that is not true. You are a speaker, not an answering machine. Please do not get caught in the trap to write down complete sentences, learning them by heart. This approach is far from being advisable to people with stage-fright. It just might make things worse because it has two effects.

  • One: Your audience falls asleep due to your monotonous voice. (Do you hear them snore?)
  • Two: You start to panic because you are trying so hard to impress your audience by referring to some elaborate statistics and a handful of sophisticated quotes that you end up getting stuck. Your mind goes blank. Paralyzed, you are unable to find your notes … (Welcome to your nightmare)

I know people suffering from stage-fright tend to be ambitious and perfectionist but please, this attitude does not help. Let go! Preparing in a more flexible way is better for you. Try to focus on the gist of what you want to say and forget about insignificant details. Find your central idea, add some keywords that are easy to memorize and figure out a convincing way of how to organize your ideas. Try to be open-minded. Ideas can be expressed in many ways.

Step two: A safe place to practice

Delivering a speech feels a bit like being an actor. And actors need to rehearse. So, why don`t you? Doing well on stage has to with verbal and non-verbal ways of communicating. Using body language is a great way to build confidence and get rid of the tension: Take a stable stand, speak slowly and loudly and try to make eye-contact. If possible, ask an honest but kind friend of yours to watch your presentation and give feed-back. If this cannot be done use a mirror instead and take a good look at yourself. Do you appear to be open-minded, friendly and confident? Even if you just pretend to be relaxed, your body will take this message for granted and will start loosening up. So, fake it till you make it.

Step three: Showtime

Try to reduce stress around you the best you can.  Stay away from drowning in too much coffee and alcohol. Be good to your body instead and use physical relaxation to calm down.

  • When your body is about to tense up, stretch before you enter the stage
  • Do not get overwhelmed by thoughts of self-doubt and low confidence but try to visualize a positive outcome,
  • Use deep belly breathing to uplift your spirits. As a side-effect your voice will sound more voluminous
  • Arrange your material before you start to talk
  • Start small: Look at your audience, smile and say “hello”
  • Focus on your topic, speak passionately about it and ignore distractions

Congratulation: You made it!  Probably you could not enjoy your performance on stage too much right now. But keep up the good work. Some day you will get to that point.

Stop being cruel to yourself

As you could see there are quite a lot of strategies to overcome stage-fright. I am very sorry, however, to have to tell you that the most effective strategy is the hardest one of them all: You will not be surprised to hear that overcoming stage-fright is all about a certain mind-set.

Being nervous is a natural temporary state of mind. You do not need to fight it but should rather try to accept it or even start to appreciate it. I know this sounds crazy, but the best approach to stage anxiety is to try to turn fear into excitement.  Thus stage-fright might even be helpful if you know how to manage it. Take that energy and channel it into something positive. Use it to provide your performance with vitality and enthusiasm. Do not focus on yourself, but on the message you want to convey to the audience. Believe in what you say. Good luck!

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Für meine deutschen Leser*innen: Wenn Ihnen dieser Beitrag gefallen hat, könnten Sie auch folgenden Blogpost interessant finden: Rhetoriktraining: 13 Tipps, die jede Präsentation ruinieren