You’ve written a perfect speech with elaborate, coherent structure. You’ve done a painstaking research, selected the most interesting information, described them in great detail.
You have even prepared some side-splitting jokes.
You’ve practised. You’ve practised a lot. In front of a mirror, in front of your husband and your mum. Even in front of your cats. And they loved it.
The day of your speech finally comes. You feel prepared as never before. You enter the stage, look at the audience, and then…
It hits you! It hits you hard and right in your stomach. The Queen of all the problems you might face when performing in public – your STAGE FRIGHT. She’s right there, putting obstacles in the way of your perfect speech. You hear yourself mumbling your own name. You forget the opening line. You ruin the point of your joke. And then it’s getting worse and worse…
Sounds familiar? Sounds distinctly familiar to me! Even though I’ve spent hundreds of hours teaching, giving lectures, doing workshops, it still happens to me to feel extremely anxious when speaking in public. But as a psychologist and a researcher, I know that there are at least a few effective and simple ways to tool up before the battle against your stage fright.
1.Know your enemy
The first thing you need to do is to analyze what exactly happens to your body and mind when you experience stage fright. But! You need to analyse what happens to YOUR body and YOUR mind. How YOU experience your stage fright! Everyone is different! Some people have brain wave and keep talking without control over their words, whereas others feel like their mind’s gone blank. Some people feel hot and feverish, whereas others shiver with cold. You need to know your own specific reaction to stress. Only then are you able to strike back!
After your next speech at Toastmasters, take a piece of paper and write down everything you felt that you attribute to stage fright. Think of all the thoughts you had, emotions you felt, everything you felt in your body (somatically) as well as gestures, ticks, and other behaviors you did out of stress. Write down everything that comes to your mind!
2. Be the first one to at tack
Find solutions to your own problems with stage fright and be prepared to prevent them from disturbing you. Having the list of your symptoms, think of any methods of getting rid of them! One by one! But remember to do it BEFORE the moment of truth and the day of your speech. For instance, try to think of at least 2-3 ideas to fight each of the most disturbing symptoms of stage fright you have. Be specific and focus only on those symptoms that bother YOU. Need some ideas?
- If under stress you have problems with memory and you’re afraid you will forget what you wanted to say – be prepared! Learn some memory techniques, for example the Roman Room Technique used by ancient speakers to remember their speeches. Also, take notes with you! It’s not a shame to use them if you don’t feel secure! But remember to write down only short bullet points, not the whole speech.
- If you know that you tend to have difficulty concentrating, practise mindfulness and focusing on the moment for a few weeks before the presentation. Try meditating everyday for at least ten minutes a day to strengthen your concentration.
- If you struggle with trembling hands or legs, practise your body language to make logical use of your hands during the speech -if that doesn’t help, just practise hiding them behind your back in a natural way. If your hands keep shaking just before the speech, use the time left before the presentation to run up and down the stairs or do a few jumping jacks to “use the adrenaline up”.
These are just the simplest tricks and tips, but if you sit down with a piece of paper and a pen you can think of many more ideas how to make your stage fright less visible! The idea is to work on what really happens to YOU!
3.Find peace in your everyday life
When you feel anxious and stressed on a daily basis, it’s no surprise you feel panicked when you need to face an extra challenge. When you keep the guard up all the time, you will be too tired to hit when the danger comes, as Jo Nesbo wrote in one of his books.
Try to find balance in your everyday life. Take care of yourself, eat healthy, sleep well. Above all, learn how to deal with stress and develop a habit of everyday relax. You can start meditating (google some mindfulness meditation videos on YouTube), go for a walk or take a long relaxing bath. But make it a ritual. Do it everyday to release the tension that grows in your mind and your body during the day. Only everyday practice can make you reduce the stress.
4. Adopt a positive attitude
Did you know that fear and excitement manifest in your body and mind in a similar way? All the symptoms of stage fright result from physiological arousal associated with thefight or flight reaction of your organism. The good news is, your body can’t assess the emotions related to these symptoms. In other words, physiological arousal is neither positive nor negative to your mind. What makes it positive or negative is your interpretation! Think of the occurring symptoms as the signs that your body and mind are just in the optimal state to help you focus and face the challenge! Realize that they occur…to help you! It turns out that, in a way, our body really hears our thoughts. If you keep repeating to yourself that it’s all going to motivate you and help you find the good energy, then it is exactly what is going to happen! No matter how clichédit seems – think positive!
5. Practise, practise, practise.
There’s no better way to get rid of stage fright than getting used to this feeling.
You know what they say: Practise makes perfect!
Author: Aleksandra Jacukowicz, VPE, Łódź Toastmasters