Thursday, August 11 2022

Stage fright in public speaking is real and universal.

Knowing that throughout history some of the world’s most famous people struggled with stage fright doesn’t help much.

A partner or coworker telling you, “Everything will be fine” or “Everything will be fine, don’t worry” doesn’t help much either.

What would you say:

“Imagine your naked audience”

“Imagine your audience applauding”

“Just pull yourself together”

How does it work for you?

Anyone who has ever suffered from stage fright will know that its symptoms are real and punitive:

Beating heart

Sweaty hands

Nausea

Shaking legs

Headache

Confusion

Stuttering

The desire to escape

Did I mention the shaking hands and voice, dry mouth, or tightness in the throat?

What about endless worry, sleepless nights and fear?

I would like to tell you that “Everything will be fine if you believe in yourself”, but I know that is not the solution to the jitters.

The truth

You have very good reason to be nervous.

First, it is a normal reaction to a stressful situation. The truth is, we have primordial roots.

We may be living in modern times, but we are still faced with situations that can seem dangerous and threatening. Unfortunately, public speaking is one of them.

The moment we get up to speak, the reptilian brain wakes up. Once upon a time, we lived in tribes and as our ancestors were vulnerable to large prehistoric animals, surviving each other was often a challenge as well. Being rejected from the group for any reason threatened our survival.

Fast forwarding to today and presenting to an audience, whether we know it or not, can leave us feeling vulnerable to rejection.

Second, we are now living in an information age where everyone is inundated with data. We are all so busy and yet we still have to go through terrible presentations. We’ve all been the target of speakers boring us with bullets and irrelevant information. Armed with this knowledge, we know how difficult it can be to capture and maintain the interest and curiosity of an audience.

Third, in an increasingly difficult and demanding world of work, many people are perfectionists. This means that if they cannot be sure that their presentation will be perfect, they will be affected by stage fright.

If it’s not perfectionism, it can be:

– Unrealistic outlook of what is expected of them

– Limited or unhealthy beliefs about their abilities

– Give a lot of importance and value to the opinions of others

– Inexperience

– Low self-confidence

– A difficult or overwhelming past experience

– Poor preparation and practice

– Lack of knowledge

– Fear of failure or rejection

– An overflowing imagination that catastrophizes

– A habit of comparing oneself to others

– Criticism or past judgment

Stage fright does not discriminate. It doesn’t matter your age, position, experience or status. Stage fright affects all kinds of people in all kinds of situations.

The solution

The truth is, there is no quick fix. It takes vigilance, commitment and effort to overcome stage fright, but it is possible.

Here is another truth; what works for one person may not work for another. It behooves us to explore all possibilities and opportunities to see what works. Often times, you will find that it is a combination or techniques that will work best for you.

Here are some of my favorites:

Define an intention

The clearer you are about what you are trying to accomplish, the less fear, doubt, and confusion there will be.

Be absolutely clear on how you can help your audience and how you want them to feel. Don’t focus on the data, idea, or message to begin with. Start with the clarity of your intention. In other words, how does what you have to say help your audience.

Stage fright can be triggered and greatly exacerbated by focusing on what you have to say rather than what your audience needs to hear.

I wrote an article on The Seven Faces of Intention by the late Dr. Wayne Dyers and Public Speaking; “Powerful Public Speaking Lessons: Inspired by Dr. Wayne W. Dyer”

Instead of asking yourself how you can impress your audience, ask them how you can help them.

Define an intention.

Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness can help us focus our attention on the present moment. Stage fright often involves a lot of energy, projecting thoughts into the future. The ability to place our awareness without judgment in the moment can be very liberating.

Rather than judging, worrying, anticipating, and assuming, mindfulness practice helps you regulate stress and anxiety.

Practice mindfulness

Slow down your breath

Practicing relaxation techniques is another great way to deal with stage fright. Some streams include breathing and meditation exercises.

We naturally breathe faster when we are feeling anxious. Adopting a practice of slowing down our breathing sends a message to our mind and body that we are not in danger and can relax. Practice taking long, slow, deep breaths through your nose while exhaling longer through your mouth. Make your exhale twice as long as your inhale.

Slow down your breath

Talk to Nancy

The stage fright often takes the form of an unnecessary and annoying voice in your mind.

You know this one, he says things like:

“I am a very bad speaker”

‘I just know I’m going to freeze’

“What if they don’t like me”

Are you aware of your own inner voice?

Do you talk to him or do you just let him tell you what he wants?

Many of us let our inner voice tell us horrible things that we don’t dream of letting our best friends tell us. Don’t ignore this inner voice, give it a name and talk to it.

I wrote about this voice in a previous article; ‘The Presenters Inner Critic – 3 steps to tame it’.

In this article, I share the following tips:

“A lot of times I listen intently and then tell her what I’m thinking. I’ll tell him he’s exaggerating or even lying to me. Sometimes I tell him what he says doesn’t make sense. Most of the time, I just tell him to leave me alone because I’m not in the mood for his antics.

Sometimes I thank him for his opinion and for keeping me on my toes. I now know it’s just his weird way of reminding me to be the best I can be. I always, always end our conversation by reminding her that I’m the boss. We now understand that he must do what I tell him and not the other way around.

I recently ran into another writer who named her voice and spoke to her.

Talk to Nancy

do not be selfish

We all want to look good.

Often times, in our enthusiasm for doing it, we get a little selfish and do our presentation or speech all around us.

It is one of the most important and harmful triggers of stage fright. The truth is, your presentation is not for you and is not about you; it’s for your audience.

Focusing exclusively on your audience is a stimulating and anxiety-relieving solution to stage fright.

The brilliant actor Jonathan Pryce explains it beautifully in this short 4-minute lecture.

Talk often

The most common solution to stage fright is to avoid putting yourself in the situation in the first place.

It has been suggested that up to 77% of the population has some level of anxiety regarding public speaking and presentation.

Stage fright causes many people to shy away from public speaking altogether. Many will go out of their way to find an excuse to decline the offer. The return on investment is often instant relief. The problem is, the cycle of avoidance continues every time they are asked to speak.

As you can imagine, this is not a useful strategy. While it seems counterintuitive, the solution is to seek out opportunities to speak.

Start by looking for opportunities to present at short, short, and low risk. As you do so, you will begin to realize that it was not as bad as you had imagined. You may even feel greater relief and greater pride in putting yourself forward.

The truth is: “We suffer more often in our imagination than in reality. Seneca

TEDx speaker Anwesha Banerjee explains it well in this short TED talk:

Stop presenting

At Mindful Presenter, we meet very few people who enjoy presenting. We meet even fewer who like to attend presentations.

I wrote about this some time ago when I suggested that:

“When it comes to presenting and communicating with each other in meetings, business professionals around the world are crying out for a revolution.

Yes, they want the information.

They want the facts.

Your knowledge is important to them.

Yes, they want ideas.

That will never change, but the time has come when they want it all wrapped up in something that very few presenters are offering right now.

They want you to help them feel something. They want to connect with you on a human, emotional and personal level.

It’s time for us to stop presenting and start connecting.

Everyone gets nervous

The truth is everyone gets nervous:

Photo by Siavash Ghanbari on Unsplash




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