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Stage Fright Strategies

Stage fright can be good and might just make you better looking!

When learning from your public speaking course, it is more vital that you be ready to speak in public, before you actually need to learn how to speak in public.

Stage fright is a phenomenon that you must learn to control if you want to be good at presenting. Actually, stage fright isn't the most accurate term for the sometimes extreme nervousness that occurs when considering getting up in front of people. In fact, most of the fear occurs before you step on-stage. Once you're up there, it usually goes away.

Try to think of stage fright in a positive way.

Fear is your friend. It makes your reflexes sharper. It heightens your energy, adds a sparkle to your eye, and color to your cheeks.

Now tell me truly, is that an "artful" way of speaking about "fear"? Is that positive view consistent with what you have learned in your public speaking skills?

When you are nervous about speaking, you are more conscious of your posture and breathing. With all those good side effects you will actually look healthier and more physically attractive.

When making public performances, many of the top performers in the world get stage fright so you are in good company. Stage fright may come and go or diminish, but it usually does not vanish permanently. You must concentrate on getting the feeling out in the open, into perspective and under control. That too is part of your preparation from your public speaking course.

Remember nobody ever died from stage fright or speaking to an audience (well maybe a few who were stoned for telling the truth too boldly).

But, according to surveys, many people would rather die than speak in public. If that applies to you, try out some of the strategies in this section to help get yourself under control. Realize that you may never overcome stage fright, but you can learn to control it, and use it to your advantage.

"Symptoms of Stage Fright":
Dry mouth.
Tight throat.
Sweaty hands.
Cold hands.
Shaky hands.
Shake my hand?
Give me a hand...? (Oops, I couldn't resist).
Nausea ("Butterflies" in your stomach).
Fast pulse. (internal, as opposed to external, fast pace)
Shaky knees. (other than intentionally on the dance floor...)
Trembling lips. (other than after shaking on the dance floor...)

Any out-of-the-ordinary, outward or inward, feeling or manifestation of a feeling, occurring before or during, the beginning of a public speaking engagement. (Wow! What a dry mouthful! My lips are trembling just trying to say it at a fast pace without shaking...).

Here are some easy strategies from my public speaking course to help reduce stage fright.

Not everyone reacts the same and there is no universal fix for everyone.

Don't try to use all these fixes at once. Pick out items from this list and try them out until you find the right combination for you.

  • Visualization strategies that can be used anytime
  • Concentrate on how good you are at your art of public speaking.
  • Pretend you are just chatting with a group of friends.
  • Close your eyes and imagine the audience listening, laughing, and applauding.
  • Remember happy moments from your past public speaking engagements.
  • Think about your love for and desire to help the audience.
  • Picture the audience in their underwear (OK, that's just to get you to lighten up, but could create "toxic shock"!) .

Strategies in advance of program.

  • Be extremely well prepared. (Almost the motto for good public speaking skills, beyond the Boy Scout motto, "Be Prepared.")
  • Join or start a Toastmasters club for extra practice. (However, see my articles elsewhere about my love-hate relationship with Toastmasters.)
  • Get individual or group public speaking coaching. (Remember professionals have coaches.)
  • Listen to music.
  • Read a poem.
  • Anticipate hard and easy questions.
  • Organize your speaking notes. (Advance preparation...)
  • Absolutely memorize your opening statement so you can recite it on autopilot if you have to. (Advance preparation...)
  • Practice, practice, practice. (This could be the daily slogan from my public speaking course you will learn, Boy Scout's is "Do a Good Deed Daily".)
  • Especially practice bits (or sections of your speech) so you can spit out a few minutes of your program no matter how nervous you are.
  • Get in shape. Exercise. Exercise your heart, body, and soul. I don't know why it helps stage fright, but it does.

Strategies just before the program.
(Remember Stage fright usually goes away after you start. The tricky time is before you start.)

  • Be in the room at least an hour early if possible to triple check the public address system and everything else on your checklist.
    (That contributes to your assurance that nothing is going to jump up and "bite you" or embarrass you in front of your audience.)
  • You can also schmooze with participants arriving early.
    (That allows you to "connect" and gather intelligence about the current state of mind of the people on whose mind you will be "painting".)
  •  Notice and think about things around you.
    (Knowing the environment allows you to control it, and being in control reduces the potential for stage fright.)
  • Concentrate on searching for current and immediate things that are happening at the event that you can mention during your speech. (Especially in the opening of your public speaking presentation, you search for this information while "smoozing" with folks. )
  • Get into conversation with people near you. Be very intent on what they are saying.
    (Connect with the audience members, one by one, let them know you care about each of them.)
  • Yawn to relax your throat.
    (Not in front of someone, or at least, not without covering you mouth with your hand and turning aside your head.)
  • Doodle.
    (If you are a Yankee, "drawl" if you are Southern.)
  • Draw sketches of a new car you would like to have.
    (or of a NASCAR you want to win if you are Southern...)
  • Look at your notes. 
  • Put pictures of your kids/grandkids, dog, etc., in your notes. ("Don't worry, be happy!")
  • Build a cushion of time in the day so you are not rushed. (Being late can create incredible stress leading to stage fright.)
  • But do not schedule too much time. You don't want to have extra time to worry.
  • If your legs are trembling, lean on a table, sit down, or shift your legs.
    (Maybe even dance a step or two, practice "3 Steps, mister..." for your presentation skills on stage movements.)
  • Take a quick walk. (Walk the Talk, or talk while you walk, practice, practice, practice, and exercise, exercise, exercise.)
  • Take quick drinks of tepid water.
  • Don't drink alcohol or coffee or tea with caffeine.
  • Double check your A/V equipment including the public address system, projectors, etc..
  • Concentrate on your speaking ideas. (Remember your PaPa said, "Think before you speak." ?)
  • Hide speaking notes around the stage area so you know you have a backup if you happen to draw a blank.
  • Concentrate on your audience.
  • Listen to music ("Music can sooth the soul and tame the angry beast...").
  • Read a poem. ("Be still my heart...").
  • Do isometric exercises that tighten and release muscles.
  • Shake hands and smile with attendees before the program. (Connect with people, show that you care.)
  • Say something to someone to make sure your voice is ready to go.
  • Go somewhere private and warm up your voice, muscles, etc.
  • Use eye contact.
  • Go to a mirror and check out how you look.
  • Breathe deeply, evenly, and slowly for several minutes.
  • Don't eat if you don't want to and never take tranquilizers or other such drugs.
    (You may think you will do better if you eat, or take a drug, but you will probably do worse and not know it.)

Strategies to use when your public speaking program begins

  • If legs are trembling, lean on lectern /table or shift legs or move.
  • Try not to hold the microphone by hand in the first minute.
  • Don't hold notes. The audience can see them shake. Use three-by-five cards instead.
  • Take quick drinks of tepid water.
  • Use eye contact. (It will allow you to "connect" and make you feel less isolated.)
  • Look at the friendliest faces in the audience. (Talk to them, but don't fixate on one area, find them throughout the room.)
  • Joke about your nervousness. (What's the right wine to go with fingernails? Anyone have leg braces I can borrow?)

Remember nervousness doesn't show one-tenth as much as it feels. Being prepared from taking a public speaking course means you plan ahead to control it.

Before each speaking engagement make a short list of the items you think will make you feel better.

Don't be afraid to experiment with different combinations. You never know which ones will work best until you try.

Rewrite them on a separate sheet and keep the sheet with you at all times so you can refer to it quickly when the need arises.

When speaking in public use these steps to control stage fright so it doesn't control you.

You plan ahead to control the environment, the experience of the audience, and most importantly, to control yourself.

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