Conquering Stage Fright: Get the Butterflies to Fly In FormationJune 22, 2016
If public speaking scares you, you’re not alone. Stage fright is a normal human response to stress. It’s part of the “fight or flight" response. This pumping adrenaline can actually help your presentation if you know how the channel it. The nervous energy can help you give a more animated and enthusiastic performance, and being a little on edge can help you focus.
Once you can understand and accept that you’ll naturally be nervous about speaking, you can begin acting on your fear in a positive way. Here’s how:
The better prepared you are, the more confident you’ll be as you face the audience. Plan and practice your entire presentation several times. Find out beforehand as much as you can about the audience and the environment you’ll be speaking in.
While I don’t suggest memorizing an entire presentation, having a very clear idea of how you’re going to open the speech will get you through the beginning — usually the scariest part for most people.
A teacher says to her student: “Think positive.” The student responds: “I am. I’m positive I’m going to fail.” It’s an old joke, but it shows how negative reactions to stress begin in the mind. They can also be stopped there. Begin by visualizing your success. Imagine yourself giving a smooth, confident performance. Your gestures, body language and voice are powerful. The audience hangs on your every word as you deliver pearls of wisdom.
While you’re visualizing your success, you also have to stop the self-defeating dialogue inside your head. Some experts estimate that 80 to 90 percent of what that little voice in our head tells us is negative: “You’re not good enough; the audience knows more than you do; you’re going to screw up.” Turning that dialogue around will give you a positive outlook and much more confidence.
Much of the stress you feel is often fear of the unknown. Is the room set up right? Did they give me the correct AV equipment? Will anyone show up? Getting to the location early helps relieve most of those questions and gives you time to fix any problems. You can also begin building rapport and making friends with audience members as they arrive. That will put you at ease.
Breathing is one of the oldest and best techniques for relieving stress. When we’re nervous we tend to breathe shallow chest breaths — or we stop breathing altogether. Make yourself take deep diaphragm breaths before and during the presentation to get plenty of oxygen to the brain.
Aside from breathing exercises, stretching helps relieve muscle tension quickly. Do some head rolls, arm lifts and other stretches before you speak.
Usually, people who are nervous about speaking want to avoid presentations at all costs. But that only makes things worse. The skills used in speaking are like muscles — the more you work them, the stronger they get. If you don’t use them they weaken and atrophy. Once we face our fear, we realize that we imagined the situation to be worse than it really is.