5 Ways to Unlearn Stage Fright

 In Presence
Man getting ready to go on stage, but getting scared when peeking through the curtain at the audience

Stage fright is a very real issue for many speakers and singers. For those people, just when they need clarity and focus, the mind is scattered and their head is filled with critical self-talk that can be immobilizing, or at least distracting at the very least. The internet is full of ideas for dealing with this situation. Some involve drugs, some meditation, and some perseverance. The latter two are my preference over the drugs, but I won’t rule that out for those who choose to explore that path. The problem with drugs is that they do also seem to take the edge off of a performance, so my advice is to pursue them only when all else fails.

But what are the other choices? Since you have to be able to observe and learn (and grow) as well as “perform” you don’t want to simply ignore the voices in your head. They might be useful. Instead, you need to develop the ability to both observe and talk at the same time. That’s hard to do when the voices are so loud!! So let’s try to understand what’s going on with stage fright to better understand how to deal with it.

What makes me lose control when I need it most?

The feelings of panic or lack of clarity you experience are probably due to the increase of adrenaline that is released in your body when you get in front of people. The effect of this chemical is so strong that in 2007, The Royal Society of Chemistry gave out the Olivier Stage Fright award to honor the power of adrenaline to get us through tough situations!

Some studies indicate that both the audience and the performer’s psychological makeup have a lot to do with stage fright. The size of the audience seems to matter, with stage fright increasing when faced with a large crowd. In addition, a high need for approval can intensify the demands felt by a speaker. I didn’t have stage fright until being on stage meant a paycheck!

Where can I go when there’s no place to hide?

However, what I found most appropriate was the work at New York University Medical Center that suggests stage fright is a learned behavior which can be unlearned. How? Through a clinical process of desensitization. Not everyone has to go through a clinical treatment program, though. Through systematic desensitization or repeat opportunities for public speaking or singing in public, you can desensitize yourself to the fear of doing what makes you fearful.

As you desensitize yourself, you turn your fear into your teacher. A new book by Paul Sullivan tells stories of some remarkable people who did NOT let fear get the best of them. The book is called Clutch: Why Some People Excel Under Pressure and Others Don’t. The author outlines lessons learned about dealing with fear as an asset rather than an enemy. The lesson on stage fright has to do with learning to be present. If you remember what you are supposed to do and stay focused on the work and intention, you will spend far less time fearful of what will happen or what others will think. That’s a lesson learned by actor Larry Clarke on the first day on the set of Law and Order. He completely clammed up until he remembered to “be here now.”

5 Tips to Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway

  1. Make sure you have eaten before you speak so that low blood sugar doesn’t make the adrenaline rush turn into nausea, dizziness, or out-of-control trembling.
  2. Instead of thinking that you are fearful, try to see the anxiety as anticipation and excitement. It probably is!!
  3. Be prepared. Get to know as much about your audience ahead of time as possible. Then when you arrive, shake hands and mingle so that you have a more personal feeling about them. In addition, practice your presentation or song over and over until you are sure you know it well!
  4. Breathe.  Deeply. Oxygen will help to calm you down and focus. When you feel nervous, breathe!! This will also help to remind you that you are in your body which is another way of keeping you present and in the moment.
  5. Instead of waiting to be asked, take more opportunities to speak in situations where you have control. Be prepared to speak at family gatherings. Volunteer to give presentations at non-profits you support. Then, take the plunge and give an impromptu speech at a luncheon you are attending. Go to networking meetings and talk to everyone there.

Do you have suggestions for unlearning stage fright?  Share them with us in the comments below.

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