I’ve been thinking lately about stage fright. Mainly because I’ve spent the last several weeks rehearsing and performing in a play at a local professional theatre. It’s the reason why I haven’t written in awhile.
When I first began speaking and acting in my early teens I experienced terrific stage fright. Almost crippling. Dry mouth. Sweaty palms. Near panic attacks.
Sound familiar? Do you get nervous like that when you speak or perform? If so, you’re not alone.
Research from late last year shows that public speaking still ranks as the top fear among Americans. We fear it more than spiders or snakes or even zombies. (The fact that zombies finally made the list is my favorite statistic in life. Thank you, The Walking Dead.)
Are you nervous about an upcoming presentation or speech? Here are three proven ways to overcome stage fright so that you can have a thrilling and successful performance.
Three Keys to Overcoming Stage Fright
These days I don’t get nervous like I used to. After hundreds of speeches, presentations, and acting performances, I’ve learned three keys to overcoming crippling nerves.
Nothing beats practice. Famed football coach Vince Lombardi said, “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” So, how do you achieve perfect practice? I start by first running through my speech dozens of times by myself. Once I begin getting comfortable, I’ll give the speech to my wife or a close friend. Someone who has my best interest at heart and who can give me positive, constructive feedback. Then, on the day of the speech, I’ll run it through two or three more times before taking stage. Nothing beats practice in calming your nerves.
Don’t forget to breathe. When you get nervous, you tighten up. Your breathing becomes shallow. NPR reported that simple breathing exercises can lower blood pressure and dampen the production of harmful stress hormones. So, before you mount the stage, spend several minutes taking long, slow breaths. You’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll produce a sense of calm.
Shift your focus from your nerves to your audience. This is perhaps the best way to overcome stage fright. The human brain is lousy at multitasking. A study conducted by Stanford University concluded that the brain simply cannot focus on more than one thing at a time. Use that to your advantage. Shift your focus completely to the value that your material will bring to your audience. The deeper you focus on your material the more your fear will evaporate. As clinical psychologist Dr. David Carbonell said, “Most people with performance anxiety get tricked into focusing on themselves, struggling against anxiety in a vain effort to get rid of it… One of the keys to mastering stage fright is to become truly involved in, and focused on, your material. Not on yourself.”
My Biggest Failure as a Performer
Several years ago, I was asked to sing at the wedding of a prominent physician in Houston. He and his fiancée flew Dedee and me to Houston and put us up in a nice hotel.
The wedding was an extravagant affair. It had a high-society feel to it. Big church. Exquisite decorations. Large wedding party.
My first song went smoothly. My second one, not so much.
About a minute into the song, my mind went utterly and irretrievably blank. I forgot the lyrics, the guitar chords, the melody…everything.
I looked out to see Dedee’s head down. She was praying feverishly. My good friend Ed was grinning from ear-to-ear, already parsing the words he would use to eviscerate me at the reception.
Now, I’d been singing at weddings for years, so I knew I couldn’t just stop. So, I began improvising. And by improvising I mean I pulled lyrics from the third verse and mixed them together with parts of the first. Then I repeated the mess again. The song became a hodge-podge of disjointed lyrics played over an indiscernible chord progression. A medley of one song.
A total disaster.
But here’s the point….I’m still here. I still perform. I still sing. Granted, the couple edited my song out of their wedding video, but the point remains…I’m OK. Life has gone on.
The upside of the Houston fiasco is that a new phrase has been added to my family’s lexicon: “Pulling a Houston.”
“It went horrible today! I really pulled a Houston.”
“Hey, good luck with your presentation. Don’t pull a Houston.”
“How’d the piano recital go? You didn’t pull a Houston, did you?”
The advantage of a poor performance is that it gives you a really great story to tell later. Remember the equation I shared in another post: Tragedy + Time = Comedy.
So, relax. Breathe deeply and go make magic happen.
And take comfort in the fact that even if you pull a Houston, tomorrow is a new day.
Questions: How do you overcome stage fright? How do you prepare so that nerves don’t get the best of you? Leave your thoughts below in the comments.