How to Crush Your Stage Fright
“Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it...that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear.”
Many studies show that public speaking is the No. 1 fear. However, most people will be called upon to speak at some point in their life—whether it’s to hundreds or thousands or in the boardroom or other business setting. If you don’t overcome this common phobia, it can hurt your career and ultimately affect your self-confidence, which is a key to getting ahead in any field—and in life.
When it comes to public speaking, most people are afraid of fumbling over their words, saying too many ums or ahs, or experiencing flat-out embarrassment, especially in the public eye. But one important thing to remember as you begin to conquer this all-too-common fear: No one is perfect.
There’s a great example of how to harness your nerves—two different stars, two different responses. Barbra Streisand is well known for having stage fright. She gets very nervous when she performs in front of a live audience—her stomach is all knotted up, she feels nauseous, her heart is pounding, she’s getting clammy and even sweaty. She dreads performances and often thinks she can’t go on.
On the other hand, there’s one of my all-time favorites: Bruce Springsteen. Same symptoms. He gets nervous before he performs in front of a live audience—his stomach is all knotted up, he feels nauseous, his heart is pounding, he’s getting clammy and even sweaty. And that’s when he knows he’s ready to go on. He’s ready to give his audience his best show ever!
Just like Barbra or Bruce, it’s up to you how you want to let those butterflies control you. Do you want to let them hold you back or do you want to harness them to propel you forward?
Here are some tips to both excel at your public speaking skills and crush stage fright.
Often the reason anxiety wells up, your voice gets shaky, or you start to feel the nerves intensify is because your breathing is shallow. So take some deep breaths. Find a quiet place before your speech to collect your thoughts. Taking a series of deep breaths, or even taking a moment for mindful meditation, can help soothe your nerves if you suffer from stage fright. You also can flex muscles, tighten your fists, or even stretch ahead of time.
But also remember to breathe while you’re talking. Slow down. When nerves rise up, we tend to speak more quickly. So take a moment and slow your speaking pattern and keep breathing.
More importantly, get out of your own head and focus on your commitment to the people you are serving—your audience! They are giving you the honor and privilege of their time and attention. Which, in this day and age, is a rare commodity.
Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Some of the best Ted Talks—which are approximately 18 minutes in length—can take 50 to 100 hours to prepare, from organizing the content of the talk to slide creation to multiple rehearsals. When it comes to your speech or presentation, make sure it is organized in a logical manner with a beginning, middle, and end. The old adage—“Tell them what you’re going to tell them, tell them, tell them what you told them”—is a good rule of thumb. Practice your delivery with a mentor or friend or even in front of a mirror. And practice it multiple times.
I don’t recommend reading from a script or depending upon your slides, or worse, memorizing your speech. The audience can tell, and it comes across as insincere. The best talks are the ones that are conversational in tone and delivered with heart and passion for your subject matter.
And you must prepare physically, as well as mentally. That means being well hydrated several days in advance and having ample sleep ahead of time. Don’t hit a cocktail hour or try exotic foods the night before your event. Try some vocal exercises to warm up your voice. It’s also wise to do a walk-through of the venue ahead of time, much like athletes do before a game.
But nothing can match putting yourself in a state of confidence right before you hit the stage. Meditate, visualize, jump up and down—whatever you need to do to shine from stage!
The Audience Wants You to Succeed!
Here’s a little secret: Your audience doesn’t want you to suck. They want you to succeed! And if you’re given the opportunity to speak publicly, it is an honor. Your audience…the individuals you’re spending time with…have come for your wisdom, your knowledge, and your gifts, and they are there for a reason. They want to hear you at your absolute best.
I once heard that BB King was asked how he became such an amazing blues guitarist. He said for years and years he practiced the basics religiously—finger-placement, different chords, the separation between hands…“and then one day I just let all that go and I started wailing.”
So take heart from the above information: Even those with the harshest streaks of stage fright can overcome their phobias and deliver outstanding presentations with confidence and clarity. Remember to breathe, prep like hell, and then let it all go and wail.
Joe Williams is an internationally recognized speaker, strategist, entrepreneur, and consultant who has spoken to hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. Through his decades of experience training, more than 250,000 people have been able to maximize their personal potential to help grow their businesses, while allowing Williams to develop a global reputation for his ability to electrify audiences and move them to action. To learn more, visit: www.joewilliamsonline.com.