Stage fright is a phenomenon that many people deal with, and for plenty of folks, it’s something that feels scarier than death. Also known as performance anxiety, stage fright is the fear of performing in front of an audience.
You might be scared of messing up or making a fool of yourself, and the fear can manifest in real life — you sweat, tremble, or feel a sudden onset of stress. You might try putting off public speaking as much as possible: by making up white lies to avoid the stage (“I’m sick!”) or somehow, dodging most (if not all) opportunities for it.
But running away from it isn’t always a possibility. Whether work requires you to speak publicly, or a dear friend asks you to say a few words at their wedding, you’ll probably find yourself in the spotlight on one occasion or another. While bolting might be your first instinct, it isn’t the only or best solution. Fortunately, you can fight stage fright face-to-face. It will be a challenging process, but practice is key to adapting to your fears. At the very least, you will be able to shrink the fear into something less daunting.
The science of stage fright
There is a science behind stage fright, as public speaking can activate our fight-or-flight response. In order to shed the fear we associate with speaking publicly, we must outsmart our primitive response to danger. In short, we must adapt to it — and one way to do this is to practice. Practice your speech in front of anyone who is willing to listen, be it a two-legged or four-legged friend. As long as you are pushing yourself to rehearse regularly, your stress response will lessen over time.
Practicing your speech or your presentation before the big moment also serves as reassurance in and of itself. With practice (and lots of it), you’ll know that messing up your speech is less likely to occur. And if a mishap does take place, you’ll know you were as prepared as you could be, and that you put your best foot forward.
Practices to overcome the fear of public speaking
Below are four habits to upstage your fear of public speaking:
1. Prepare before you practice
If practicing is the muscle you must flex to tackle stage fright, preparation is the strategy. Proper preparation involves knowing what you’re going to say, even in the simplest of terms. Write down your speech or presentation notes, even if it’s just a couple of bullet points!
2. Get feedback
While there’s a reason why you were asked to speak publicly (you’re worthy!), it might boost your bravery if you get someone else's opinion on your speech.
Ask a trusted friend, family member, or workmate, who is willing to listen sincerely and offer their constructive opinions. They might be able to point out blindspots in your talking points, see the strengths in your speech that you can build upon, or simply, make sense of what you want to say and tell you if it’s understandable. Getting high-quality feedback can elevate your presentation and boost your confidence in the process.
3. Reframe the situation
While it may be impossible to avoid stage fright (or the speech that lies ahead), reframing the situation will allow you to approach the impending deadline with less dread and more positivity. For instance, think of every speech as an opportunity to improve your public speaking skills, regardless of your experience level. Look for your point of motivation and work towards it.
Alternatively, it might work to accept that fear is part of public speaking — and once you accept it, you might be able to move past it and focus your attention on more productive things.
When the time arrives and you’re ready to step onto the stage, the fear might still be present — and that’s okay! You’ve practiced and honed your speech, so the only thing to do now is to remember to breathe. One way to do this is to raise both arms overhead and breathe slowly and deeply.
Breathing triggers your relaxation response, signaling to your body that things are okay and you will be okay, too. Since stage fright is strongest right before a presentation, take the last minute to breathe and breathe some more. You’ll kill it!
Although it may be impossible to overcome stage fright altogether, with practice and the right frame of mind, it’s possible to set it aside and deliver a well-crafted and memorable speech or presentation..
Ready to fight your stage fright? Check out TED Masterclass for more information. There, you’ll find more on how to master the art of public speaking.