Ever feel you’re not ready for the spotlight? Master your fears using these six steps to knock your performance outta the park! Stage fright (also known as performance anxiety) is not so difficult to overcome if you follow a few easy steps. These will work for any type of public speaking, from the board meeting presentation to Broadway. Follow the first three steps to get yourself ready, and the next three for the big night itself.
1. Preparation is key.
Do everything you can to prepare for your moment to shine. Memorize, rehearse, practice your presentation in front of your trusted friends: there’ll be less performance anxiety that way. If it’s a singing engagement, try practicing your song at a busy Karaoke bar. You’ll get all the crowd, without all of the pressure.
To overcome your stage fright, be sure to come up with performance goals for yourself. If you know you tend to sing louder at the end of your set, try singing louder at the start. If you want to slow down the pace of your presentation, then use a stopwatch while you practice. Performance goals can give you something to hone in on during rehearsal, and you can focus on your goals in your actual performance.
Have everything together when you practice, all of the materials you might need, notes, microphone, stool, musical instruments, and of course, bottled water. (You’ve got to stay hydrated!) And dress up when you rehearse! Nothing prepares you for the real deal like looking the part.
2. Calm yourself.
In order to ease your mind in preparing for public speaking, find effective ways to calm yourself. A lot can be said about taking time to relax. Honestly, even a worst-case-scenario of your performance wouldn’t involve a literal train wreck. Take it easy. Meditate. If you believe in a god, pray to her or him. Or just ask the muses to keep you inspired. Do anything you can to calm yourself down both offstage and just before you go onstage.
3. Alter your perception of the audience.
I’ve heard it said before if you picture an audience naked it can help you to perform. Now I can see how that might help you feel more confident, but it might also make you uncomfortable or give you the giggles. Here are a number of ways you can perceive the audience that will definitely help you to perform.
This is a biggie. This is probably the number one reason you experience stage fright. If you are afraid of a big audience, there are a number of things you can do. First, try to think of the whole audience as a unit. Or try to pick out a single member of the audience and deliver a good deal of your speech to that person. If there’s only one, it might be easier for you to perform to him or her.
Second, picture the whole audience is made up of only your friends and family. By thinking of people who love you and want the best for you, it will make the whole experience easier to swallow. Also, if you are performing for a low-lit room of people – use the darkness to your advantage! No need for eye contact.
A friend of mine had a very different suggestion: “If you have to perform for a large audience, picture them as a bunch of cattle. At any event, there will be people who don’t even want to be there: some preoccupied with themselves, others on their phones. You don’t have to perform for them. And you can’t please everyone, so don’t worry about stage fright.” By depersonalizing the audience, you can compartmentalize them. If your performance isn’t such an extravaganza, it may be easier for you to overcome your performance anxiety. Remember to do these next few steps as you perform.
4. You are in control.
Right before the show starts, you may be nervous, but remember you have all the control. You can get ready for it and ultimately, the pacing is up to you. And you can do the entire show just for yourself if you want to. Maybe the audience isn’t even there. (In that case, no need to have stage fright at all.)
You can pray again, or meditate before everything starts. Some actors sit in their trailers and do acting exercises before they begin. All of your preparedness will kick in again here. Be sure to have all of your materials at hand again: your costumes, your instruments, your water. These can be your last minute comforts before you grace the stage with your presence. Remember the scout motto: Be prepared.
5. The show must go on.
Once the show starts, you have to go through with it. This might not sound comforting at first, but it’s as helpful as it is true. You will have less and less stage fright as the show goes on, because you know it’s coming to a close. Therefore, once it’s underway you’ve only got to wait it out. So embrace it — Dive right in!
Also, a mistake is only a bad thing if you make it that way. Many performers practice a technique called “railroading.” When you make a mistake, don’t draw any attention to it. An acting teacher once told me: “The audience is pretty clueless. They’re not going to notice your mistakes unless you make them a big deal. You will notice your mistakes because you have the script memorized and you’ve rehearsed it perfectly a hundred times. But they don’t know your lines. And they won’t see you walked the wrong way, instead of the way you rehearsed it. So, if you make a mistake, just keep on going.”
As the show goes on, keep focused on the performance goals you practiced. And remember to tell the story: if you get caught up in the story, you might forget you were nervous in the first place!
6. Just don’t think about it!
Sure, it’s easier said than done. Why not distract yourself a little in the hours before you go onstage? Or, you can just focus on the work. You only have to perform exactly what you rehearse. You only have to do what you’ve done before. It’s not brain surgery.
Sometimes all you have to do is give it a try to gain confidence. You could try pretending you aren’t really nervous. Sometimes the act of pretending can have a placebo effect on you — and suddenly you’re no longer nervous at all. Maybe you could imagine you are an alien with a secret message for all of humankind. Hey, it worked for Ziggy Stardust…
Even the greatest public speakers still experience stage fright, but they’ve been able to minimize it using techniques just like these. Just remember the more shows you do, the simpler it gets. You will gain confidence as you go, and you will have memories to draw upon, reminding you performance anxiety really is no big deal. Let experience be your performance teacher, and it will get easier and easier.
Featured photo credit: Public_speaking/ProjectManhattan via upload.wikimedia.org
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