You might think of stage fright as something only theatre actors have to deal with, clad all in Elizabethan getup, worried that they’ll forget to say ‘ye gads’ or ‘forsooth’ at the right time. However, stage fright can affect absolutely everybody who has to speak in front of an audience, from giving a sales presentation to just your boss, to hosting the Oscars.
Many people assume that stage fright is a form of social anxiety that can never be overcome, resulting in a blow to self-confidence and self-esteem. The truth is that we all feel stress and fear about speaking in public at some point in our lives, and even seasoned performers may occasionally freeze in terror at the thought of being centre stage.
If you find yourself having to give a presentation where all eyes will be on you, fret ye not dear friends: we’re here to offer some solid advice about how you can learn to overcome stage fright.
Kill the fear
Ask yourself: what are you afraid of? The answer from most people who have to speak publicly will usually be that they fear looking stupid. This could be the result of forgetting what you need to say, being unable to use what technology you’ve employed to facilitate your presentation, or even falling flat on your face as you take to the stage.
These are all legitimate fears, but they are also things you can control. If you fear forgetting your lines, make sure you know your notes and script off by heart. Learn it like you’d learn your lines in a play so the sequence of the presentation is second nature. Then rehearse.
Seriously, rehearse what you need to say over and over again. Rehearse in front of a mirror to see how you look as you speak, and even film yourself to watch it back later. Howard Mosley-Chalk, Buffalo 7’s Digital Content Creator, used this technique when practicing for stand-up comedy gigs.
“I still possess hours and hours of footage of myself, standing in my bedroom, talking to an imaginary group of people. It’s weird to watch, but filming myself rehearsing my comedy routine actually helped me a huge deal. I could watch the clips back to see my performance from the audience’s point of view, which allowed me to see what worked and what didn’t. If I didn’t find something funny, or if I thought something could be delivered better, I’d change it.
“It also served as a great memory aid. Watching back what I had first written and then performed helped to drill into my head the flow and sequence of the sets, increasing my confidence and killing off the fear that I would forget my lines. Do it: set up your phone and film yourself giving your presentation before you show it to anyone else. No, thank you.”
The same applies to your tech. If you’re using PowerPoint to show slides, rehearse along with it so you know exactly what image is coming up next, and how you can cycle through your slides smoothly. Also get to know your laptop, screen and/or projector. Do you know what to do if you accidentally press that one weird little button on the side an everything goes black
Conquer the anxiety
So you know exactly what you’re saying and now have an increased confidence in yourself, but there is still a niggling anxiety. Even if you can recite all 4042 of Hamlet’s lines in your sleep, the expectant stares of your audience can unnerve even the most confident of speakers. It’s the pressure. ARGH, THE PRESSURE!
However, it isn’t actually your audience who are laying on the pressure… it’s you. Here our advice turns away from the simple ‘rehearse, rehearse, rehearse, idiot’ line, and drifts more into emotional territory. Hold on tight.
Conquering the anxiety of public speaking and performance begins by accepting the worst piece of advice ever: relax.
Seriously, who has ever relaxed when told to relax? It’s like politely asking fire to stop burning; ain’t gonna happen. That’s why you have to say it to yourself, but a long time prior to your presentation starting (so if you’re desperately reading this while panicking before a hugely important sales pitch you have in five minutes… erm, best of luck).
Keeping your cool takes time and effort. Eating healthily, exercising regularly, and even getting involved with the likes of yoga and meditation can all help to reduce your overall stress levels. And, the less stressed you are, the better you can handle anxiety-inducing situations like public speaking.
So limit your caffeine intake, ease off on the alcohol, reduce the amount of sugar you consume, and by all the gods make sure you get a good night’s sleep each night. The healthier your body and mind, the better a person you’ll be, and speaking in front of an audience won’t seem like so big a deal as it once did.
Sell the crap out of yourself
Now comes the performance. You might internally feel like a presentation titan, sent down from Mount Olympus to teach all mere mortals how it’s damn-well done, but can you sell that to your audience? After all, we all know of bad actors who can remember their lines, have no problem getting up in front of an audience, but end up coming across as… well, failures*.
Therefore you need to sell your new-found confidence to make sure your audience can see that you mean business, that you know your stuff, and are there to take charge – at least for the duration of the presentation.
Start by greeting people as they file in and engage with them on a human level. If the audience is mostly comprised of friends and colleagues from work, chat and joke with them as you would normally to put them at ease. If you’re presenting to a group of strangers, be it as part of a sales pitch or possible job opportunity, get them talking before you start to pick up on a few pointers, namely what is it they or their organisation wants and needs. If you can seamlessly transition from a casual chat into your rehearsed and amazing presentation script, you’ll come across as smooth and as slick as the bonnet of a freshly washed Porsche.
When speaking, be sure to sit or stand in a confident manner, with your head held high and your arms to the sides. People will listen more to you if you establish eye contact more frequently, so don’t be tempted to simply point at your PowerPoint slides and read them out loud. After all, these people have come to see what you have to say, not how well you can turn your head from them and point at a screen.
Tackle these three issues head on and stage fright will quickly become something that other people fear. Be a sport and forward this post to them, will ya?
*Nicolas Cage. Discuss.