Millions of people suffer from performance anxiety, commonly called “stage fright.” In fact, most people would rather get the flu than perform. Athletes, musicians, actors, and public speakers often get performance anxiety. Performance anxiety can prevent you from doing what you enjoy and can affect your career.
When I was about 13 years old, I had to deliver the ‘Thought for the Day’ on stage in front of the whole school. Even though I had memorized my lines reasonably well, I shortly found myself running off the stage. I had only managed two lines!
Worse still, I burst into silent tears! Since the assembly had not ended, I had to endure standing in the same room with my persecutors (read fellow schoolmates). Of course, only my body was above ground. The rest of me was buried deep within the earth’s core never to re-surface!
Stage fright, or fear of ‘performing’ in front of an audience, had caught me in its ~vice~ -like grip. Does my ignominious story ring a bell in your life? If it does, we are not alone, you and I. Stage fright ranks high among the worst fears people go through. Public speaking is said to be the biggest fear reported by many American adults. It beats flying, financial ruin, illness, and even death. So, I never envy anyone who has to give speeches or presentations for a living. And, the question of how to overcome stage fright has always been close to my heart.
The truth about public speaking
The thing is that I managed to avoid participating in debates and speeches all my student life. So, I never learned how to get over stage fright in my youth. However, I realized early into my adult life that there was no avoiding it forever. Let’s say I didn’t strive to be a famous musician, revolutionary national leader or riotous stand-up comedian. All the same, almost all job interviews involved group discussions, and many jobs involved giving presentations. I would have to speak up in public at some time.
So, finally, my fear, like all of its kind, had caught up with me. Therefore, I was, inevitably, up against the question of how to overcome the fear of public-speaking. One fine day, I finally decided to face it head on and take it as it came.
Stage fright – a common condition
You will be surprised by how many great leaders had to struggle to get over stage fright. Mahatma Gandhi, Warren Buffet, Thomas Jefferson! Would you ever have suspected that these great visionaries also suffered like us at one time? Probably not. But they also struggled. Great people were not born great. Their actions made them so. So, when confronted with a difficulty, they overcame it with grit, hard work, and dedication. Just like you and I have to deal with the question of how to speak in public without fear. So, what causes so many great people to be afraid of the stage like school children in a play? Why are we so scared every time we are asked to speak in public? Well, no one wants to look foolish, in front of their friends or even acquaintances.
We all feel like we have a reputation to uphold. After all, better to keep your mouth shut and have everyone think you are a fool than open it and prove them right! Fear of public humiliation, therefore, is the primal fear. We all feel it. The good news is that it is not impossible to overcome. Let’s find out how.
How do you overcome the fear of public-speaking?
Tips on how to overcome stage fright
- Know your subject well. Knowledge is power. This will eliminate a lot of innate fear. You can’t overcome fright while you are covering up the fraud within. Don’t try to fool your audience. Respect them by being well-versed on the topic of your presentation or speech. This will also allow you to concentrate on delivering your pearls of wisdom, rather than wiping the beads of sweat escaping your brow!
- Memorize the first few sentences of your speech. More often than not, we struggle to begin. Well-begun is half done. Once you start the motor, the engine will be fired up for the journey. Similarly, once you are off with the first few lines, you will be pepped up to continue with confidence. With sufficient practice, you will learn how to speak in public with composure every time.
- Enjoy the attention. Enjoy your time on stage. Don’t try to finish your speech as soon as possible and scoot off stage. Think of the larger good that you can achieve. How will your audience benefit from your presentation? Your good intentions will send positivity through you. Say bye to your nerves as they hop off and leave your system!
- Stay in the present. Most of the time we are living in the past or the future. Our thoughts are almost never where our body is. We are constantly worrying or planning about the non-present. This increases anxiety. Try to avoid this. It is memories and thoughts that cause nervousness. Banish them, and you will find yourself ready to state your mind clearly and to the purpose. Meditation can help you stay in the present. It calms the jittery nerves and soothes the trembling vocal cords.
- Have a good sense of humor. We all mess up. There is no reason to crucify yourself for it. Laugh at yourself if you slip up somewhere in your speech. At the same time, don’t overdo it and make yourself the laughing stock. Accept your mistake and move on. Don’t expect to be perfect every moment. No one else does! Harmless flaws can even be endearing.
- Regularly practice yoga, meditation, and pranayama. Each one of these has a role to play. Yoga will teach you the correct postures to deliver your speech with confidence. It will also gift you balance – of body and mind. Pranayamas will help stabilize and regulate your voice tone and pitch. Meditation will help relax your mind and enable you to be centered and focussed. Renowned American comedian Jerry Seinfeld once said, “If you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy!” While this may be sound like an exaggeration, it does hit the nail on the head for many. Rather than endlessly working on how to overcome your stage fright, focus on the task at hand. The ostrich got it right here when it buries its head in the sand. If you don’t pay attention to the fear, it doesn’t exist!