Stage fright, can be a lot like those bullies from long ago. It can happen to anyone at anytime. Once it does, it can be hard to shake. I had been an actress since childhood. I had performed well and I had performed badly. I had lots of emotions tied up with acting but, I wasn't ever afraid to get up there and give it another whirl.
Not until my second year away at college. I had to take public speaking. An easy "A", I thought. The second week we had to prepare a 3 minute speech about ? about...wow I don't even remember what it was about but I remember everyone had done a lot of research and I figured I could "wing it". So, the night before I threw something together. (That was my first mistake)
The next day, when it became my turn to deliver my speech. I walked up to the podium confidently. I started to speak. All of the sudden, I realized that I had no idea of what I was talking about and I became completely consumed with a feeling of panic.(Hello bully) I couldn't look at the few index cards that I had written because my eyes wouldn't let me focus. I just sort of froze. I could hear people say "Do you think she's ok" and other things like that.(Now, I was humiliated and terrified) Finally, I managed to say. "I'm fine...I'm just having a bad day. Can I do this another time?" The teacher nodded. She knew I was completely unprepared. But, she was willing to give me another chance. I walked back to my seat feeling so much relief. As if I was on death row and the Governor had give me a pardon.
But, my relief was short lived. It was already too late. The stage fright bully had taken hold and I didn't know how to get rid of it.
Look, I'm not saying that I walked up there a totally carefree 19 year old girl and came back a wreck. There were plenty of other factors that lead to this bad experience taking such a toll on my life. I was extremely sleep deprived. I was in a very unhealthy relationship. I could go on. But, my speaking skills were one of the things I could always count on and boy oh boy did I feel let down.
The truth is, it took awhile to combat my stage fright and the fact that I had been a long time performer mattered little. I wound up learning so much about public speaking, and anxiety and panic and everything that went with it. This is not an area of study I wanted to pursue but what choice did I have? I was on the journey anyway. I became a pro and learned all the tricks on how to keep stage fright and all related anxiety under control.
Eventually, I recovered from this affliction and once again I was speaking to groups and belting songs out to large numbers with a sincere sense of happiness. I still get nervous here and there. But, I have the tools to get past it.
Now, working as a coach with aspiring and even seasoned performers. I find stage fright to be one of the most common reasons that people come to see me. They say "If I try really hard I can fake my way through it (whatever their "it" may be)
That is no way to live a life or have a career that you have worked so hard for. Faking your way through it while your tensely holding your muscles so tight hoping that you won't fall apart? NO! This is unacceptable. Nobody has to live like this. And nobody should have to give up their dream because of stage fright.
So, I am here with good news. Help and hope is available for anyone. There is a logical explanation to why you experience these feelings. An explanation as to what is really happening. AND... lots of ways to get over it.The best part is it doesn't matter how long or how intensely you have suffered with this you can completely overcome it. I'll be honest, it does take some work. But, aren't your dreams worth it?
Here are just a few simple things you can do to keep stage fright or fear of public speaking at bay
1. Be prepared- Practice, rehearse over and over again. Ask your friends and family for their opinion and practice more, Video tape yourself and get used to seeing yourself on video. Then, rehearse more and more. -This builds confidence. It is hard to shake someone when they truly know the material. When I put together shows with little kids, I love when they say "Miss Susan, I am so sick of this song" If they are sick of it, then they really know it.
2. Be organized- Make outlines, index cards, with things that will keep you where you are supposed to be. This will keep you grounded and stop you from forgetting where you are. You may think you can wing it. DON'T Professional speakers don't "wing it" you shouldn't. You need some kind of structure. If things naturally take a different turn- fine. But go in with a plan on paper! This also will build your confident and bullies HATE confidence.
3. Start small- Don't do an hour long lecture right off the bat. Do something small. Maybe just introduce someone who is doing an hour long lecture.
A few years back I hosted an acting workshop for adults. Everyone was real nervous about getting on stage and acting. So, I gave everyone an assignment to get up and tell a joke. The dumber the better. It was silly and fun. And...it worked.
4. Do not take yourself so seriously- Let yourself make mistakes...So what. If it's obvious to others that you are having a hard time...Try to make a joke about it. Tell them how happy you are that you aren't performing brain surgery the way you usually have to when you get nervous. Or whatever works for you. Because, the bottom line is, As long as you aren't performing brain surgery it doesn't have to be that important. It can be laughed at.
5. Educate yourself- Education is power. Learn what is really happening when you feel nervous due to stage fright. It actually is completely normal. It is just happening at an inconvenient time. Just knowing this has helped people so much that many of them forgot all about being nervous.
6. You are not alone. If you have a genuine fear of public speaking you are in very good company. If you don't believe me then, let this wise man tell you about it.