Have you ever felt sweaty, a strong nervousness, perhaps slightly nauseous before giving a presentation? Or even just when asked to speak in public? If you answered yes, don’t worry, you are not alone. You are one of the many people who suffer from stage fright. Few challenges rival the impact of stage fright, also known as performance anxiety, when it comes to public speaking. It can result in a thin, weak, and unstable voice, not to mention an overall lack of confidence/persuasion to your presentation.
Numerous studies have shown, that speaking in public is the most commonly reported fear in nearly 75% of us. For example, a study by the National Institute of Mental Health found that public speaking anxiety affects about 73% of the population and can lead to lower self-esteem, lower academic performance, and lower career opportunities.
But don’t worry, there is hope.
In this blog series, I will share with you some of the tools and strategies that I have learned from my own experience and research to help you overcome stage fright and become a more effective and persuasive communicator.
The intricacies of stage fright are fascinating and present in two separate but intertwined manifestations: Physiological and Psychological. The only remedy is conquering it by changing our mindset and mental narrative.
A simplified way to look at it is from the viewpoint of a childhood “monster in the closet”. It feeds on your fears and tries to stop you from achieving your goals. The more you think about it the stronger and more real the monster becomes. Facing that fear and most importantly, understanding its only in your mind, is the only way to tame it. It may still be there, but it becomes a monster that is much less scary and can actually help and protect us!
My journey with stage fright has been life long and complex. The initial encounter etched in my memory involves being thrust into the lead role of an original school play at the tender age of 14. With an hour and a half of dialogue, the only other character in the play had a mere ten lines. The stage was empty, relying on my imagination and fledgling acting ability to conjure an imaginary landscape… and the audience was comprised of my entire community—mostly farmers…in 1975…. long before the internet.
Oh yes, my sole costume was a loincloth.
Yes, stage fright was in full force. The unexpected nature of the play certainly didn’t help. But as the performance unfolded and the audience adapted, I managed to overcome the nervousness and get through the ordeal with flying colors. What an introduction to stage fright that was! After that, the subsequent situations I experienced, though not as extreme, helped me gain more and more control over the anxiety.
Performance anxiety is certainly not new. Cicero, the famous Roman orator, philosopher, and senator, aptly captured the essence of his experience with it in 45 BC when he wrote, “I turn pale at the outset of a speech and quake in every limb.” This fear has persisted through thousands of years, transcending cultures, and affecting individuals across the globe.
Understanding what stage fright or performance anxiety entails and learning how to navigate it is crucial for success in public speaking. Symptoms vary among individuals, encompassing physical manifestations such as:
- shallow breathing
- an elevated heart rate/ pounding heart
- excessive blushing
- dry mouth
- nausea or headaches
On the psychological front, one may experience:
- brain fog
- a scattered/racing mind
- an urge to flee
- acute embarrassment, and a pervasive belief that one isn’t cut out for presenting.
It can be quite a traumatic experience. Its one that I frequently help people overcome.
Over the years I’ve developed what I call “The Communication Toolkit” (refer to my previous blog for more details). In there are tools that empower you to take control, manage, and ultimately conquer stage fright. Even if you don’t currently experience it, learning these strategies is advisable. Life can throw unforeseen circumstances your way, and having a solid grasp of how to handle stage fright ensures you’re prepared.
While training for public speaking—working on projection, inflection, body language, and pacing—undoubtedly will help. But that alone is insufficient to conquer stage fright. Strategies for dealing with stage fright and public speaking training are distinct but complementary subjects.
I invite you to share in the comments, a memorable bout of stage fright and how you managed it!
Join me for Part 2 of the Stage Fright series, where I delve into five tools from The Communication Toolkit. Don’t miss out—follow for updates! 🌟 #PublicSpeaking #CommunicationSkills #StageFright #LinkedInBlog