One of the most common fears is stage fright. I was so nervous before giving my school report on coral in fifth grade that I remember it vividly, to this day.
I still get nervous before speaking in public, but not nearly as much. I’ve made a list of tips that have helped me get more comfortable with the process.
Unfortunately, the most effective tip is the one that people with stage fright will least to want to follow: do more public speaking! It truly does get easier with practice.
One interesting thing I’ve noticed is that people feel stage fright in different situations. One friend of mine feels perfectly comfortable speaking to 500 people, but dreads speaking to twenty. I love speaking to twenty, but the bigger the group, the more intimidated I feel. One friend of mine quails at the thought of TV, another friend thinks that TV is much easier than talking to a live audience.
Here are seventeen tips for overcoming stagefright (and I needed every one of them):
– Prepare. I don’t write out a talk word-for-word, but I use a lot of notes, and I practice it word for word, many times. That works for me. Some people do better with a more ad-lib approach. But either way, the more prepared you feel, the more relaxed you’ll feel.
– Mental practice. It sounds odd, but mentally rehearsing and imagining yourelf giving a relaxed, accomplished performance really does help prepare you. In order to make that mental rehearsal as close to the real situation as possible…
– Try to visit the scene. Checking out the room where you’ll be presenting will make you feel far more comfortable. Pay special attention to amplification devices: will you be wired up? use a stationary mike attached to a podium? Hold a wireless mike?
Earlier that day:
– Don’t do anything unusual. Don’t take a nap if you don’t usually take a nap. Don’t skip a meal; because of nerves, you might not feel hungry, but you need the energy. Don’t get a facial—I remember a friend of mine got a facial the day of her wedding, because she thought it would give her a lovely glow. Instead, it make her skin red and blotchy.
– Exercise. Exercise helps make you feel relaxed, energized, and focused. It’s a good outlet for feelings of stress and jitteriness. Also, if you’re really nervous, you probably won’t be able to concentrate on anything very well, so exercise is a good way to occupy your waiting time.
– Check your notes and equipment — make sure you’ve brought every page of the right set! I number each page of my notes and check to make sure they’re all there. I once went to see a friend moderate a panel. She took out her notes and said, “Oh dear, I picked up the wrong set of papers.” She was able to wing it beautifully, but I NEED my notes. Along the same lines, if you’re doing any A/V fanciness, make sure you have what you need so that it works properly!
What to wear:
– You’ll probably perspire much more than usual, so dress appropriately.
– If you don’t know about the sound system, or if you know you’ll be wearing a mike, be sure to wear a jacket or shirt or something on to which a mike can be clipped. A turtleneck sweater won’t work well.
– For women: wear low heels or flats. One symptom is stage fright is wobbly knees, and wearing high heels amplifies that feeling to the point that I feel like I’m going to topple right over.
– Act the way you want to feel. This is my Third Commandment, and it really works. ACT deliberately calm, lighthearted, and enthusiastic. This will help make you feel this way. In particular…
– Focus on raising your energy level. It’s more interesting to listen to a person with more energy, and yet many of us lower our energy level when we’re nervous. So make an effort to pump yourself up.
– Lower your shoulders and your eyebrows. When you’re feeling stressed, these tend to rise, which makes you look and feel tense.
– Take deep breaths.
– Stretch your arms above your head and swing them around. This will help you feel loose and relaxed.
– Take your time at the beginning. My tendency is to rush through the preliminaries to get started. I’ve found, though, that I feel and seem more relaxed when I take a moment to get settled. As an audience member, it never bothers me when a speaker adjusts the mike, organizes papers, takes a drink of water, or whatever. Again, act the way you want to feel: relaxed.
– If you’re standing, remember to keep your weight balanced on both feet. Otherwise, it’s easy to start rocking from one foot to another, which is very distracting both for you and the audience.
– If you’re sitting, don’t lean back in your chair. This drains your energy and immobilizes you. Sit near the edge of the chair (but not so near that you might teeter off). If you cross your legs, cross them so that the knee farther from the audience is on top. This orients your body toward the audience.
Remember, even if you screw up, it’s not a catastrophe. As I learned when writing Forty Ways to Look at Winston Churchill, early in his career, Winston Churchill was humiliated when he blanked out during a speech, and from that point on, he wrote his speeches out word for word, right down to notes to himself like “Pause; grope for word” “Stammer; correct self” that were meant to give the impression that he was extemporizing. And he managed to have a pretty decent career, nevertheless.
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