Almost anyone who’s ever spoken in front of a large group of people has experienced stage fright. It often sets in several days before the big presentation, stressing you both mentally and physically. Even people who have to make a big impression on a daily basis for their careers complain about the fear of appearing on stage. After all, it’s never a familiar situation: you’re thrust into the spotlight, forced to speak in front of strangers and fulfill people’s high expectations of you. However, if you want to spread your more interesting and innovative ideas, you’ve no choice but to get your stage fright under control. There are a number of different ways in which stage fight can be expressed, all of which are quite common.
Slight shaking, hoarseness, a dry mouth or sweating can be clear indicators of stage fright for some people, yet the effects on others can be much more pronounced. Sleeplessness, circulatory problems, vomiting, stuttering, severe dizziness and pain – especially in the back and stomach – are all unpleasant symptoms that can be traced back to a bad case of stage fright. If you’ve ever experienced the more severe effects of stage fright, there’s every chance that you’ll get it twice as bad next time you need to speak. Fortunately though, it needn’t take long to break the cycle as stage fright can be brought under control with carefully targeted exercises.
Often heard and yet still as true as ever: practice makes perfect. Especially on big occasions, following a routine is an effective strategy against stage fright. The most effective preparation is practicing your presentation in front of friends or colleagues. Recording yourself on video is another tried and tested technique, followed by analysis to work out where there are still flaws in your delivery and what needs to be improved.
Conscious breathing techniques don’t just help you to achieve a more relaxed delivery style; they can also help beforehand, allowing you to start the presentation in a more relaxed frame of mind and reduce your stage fright. The 4-7-8 technique is simple and has a very calming effect. It involves breathing in for four units, holding your breath for seven units, and breathing out for eight units. This method doesn’t just work wonderfully well before speaking, helping you to reduce tension by shutting down your body; it also works the night before, helping you to fall asleep more quickly. The tense-release relaxation method is equally effective; tensing the muscles for a few seconds before releasing them helps the body to become more relaxed and to stay calmer in stressful situations.
Movement helps you rest after excitement. As the body tends to tense up when it is anxious, you should always actively counteract this tendency. By moving effectively, excess adrenaline can be broken down so that strong tremors can be brought under control, for example. Similarly, don’t stay rooted to the spot on stage, but move around and use the space. Move from one side of the stage to another and use gestures to support what you have to say. Be careful, however, as excessive movement will unsettle the audience. If, despite all these exercises, your hands continue to shake, you should ensure that your notes aren’t written on large A4 sheets, but on small cards; this makes the shaking less noticeable. Movement can also help combat stage fright beforehand: yoga, preferably in combination with autogenic training, is a good technique to act in a calmer, more settled manner.
Vocal cord exercises
If you’re not used to speaking to an audience, and don’t yet have your own speaking technique fully under control, you’ll quickly note that your voice suffers after speaking loudly for a long time without a break. It’s therefore hardly surprising that one of the most common fears that cause stage fright is that the voice will give out. Vocal cord exercises can however truly work wonders and serve as ideal preparations for a presentation. Try gargling regularly with a sip of water and “singing” a song – that makes the vocal cords more supple, and drink a glass of warm tap water directly before going on stage to guard against a raspy voice.
Build rapport with your audience
Stepping onto the stage and looking at hundreds of unfamiliar faces can be an upsetting experience as, for most of us at least, it’s not an everyday situation. Finding anchor points in the audience can help you to keep a cool head in this scenario. Familiar faces, such as people with whom you’ve already spoken briefly before the presentation, are best suited to this. However, you should also try to build rapport with your audience – a welcoming smile and eye contact are generally all it takes to achieve this. If you’re especially tense, you can drop this into conversation with the audience, so that asking a question like “What must you all think of me, being so nervous?” is a natural step that helps get the audience on your side.
People who easily break out in a sweat when speaking to an audience don’t have it easy on stage. The fear that the public could notice the sweat, and react negatively to it, creates additional pressure, reducing the speaker’s confidence even further. That’s why it’s recommended to choose several layers of clothing, made from light materials, which means that you can easily take off a layer without any difficulty if needed. In addition, you should opt for dark colors, as these don’t show sweat as quickly. In addition, small handkerchief to dab the forehead should always be available in reach if needed.
Accepting stage fright
Probably the most important method against stage fright is to accept it and deal with it. If you see adrenaline not as a disruption but as an energy boost, your whole demeanor will change. Before going on stage, ask yourself: what’s the worst that could happen? Then turn the idea on its head and ask what the best that could happen is. Positive autosuggestion quickly allows you to recognize that although fear of public speaking is completely normal, it’s not a reason to allow yourself to be paralyzed by that fear. Similarly, memories of past presentations that went well will help increase your self-confidence, and mantras such as “I can do it” will give you courage immediately beforehand. If you then prepare your introduction carefully to break the tension and create the first positive reactions from the audience, you can be sure of making a good impression on the big day, regardless of any stage fright. Image Source: