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Public Speaking Training:

Stage Fright Strategies

I teach in my public speaking training that stage fright is not as bad as you think. It can sharpen you and make you a better presenter if dealt with in the right way.

There is no cure for stage fright so you must learn to control it if you want to be a good public speaker. The term stage fright isn't the most accurate description for the nervousness that occurs when considering getting up in front of people. In fact, most of the fear occurs before you step out on to the stage. Once you're up there and talking, it usually goes away pretty quickly.

In my public speaking training we try to think of stage fright in new positive ways, instead of focusing on the negative. Fear is your friend. It makes your reflexes sharper, heightens your energy, adds a sparkle to your eye, and color to your cheeks.

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

Even some of the top performers in the world still get stage fright so don't think your the only one. Stage fright may come and go or diminish over time, 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 training.

Remember nobody ever died from stage fright or speaking to an audience. 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 your stage fright under control. Realize that you may never overcome stage fright completely, but you can learn to control it, and use it to your advantage.

Symptoms of Stage Fright
  • Cold hands.
  • Shaky hands.
  • Nausea ("Butterflies" in your stomach).
  • Dry mouth.
  • Tight throat.
  • Sweaty hands.
  • Fast pulse. (internal, as opposed to external, fast pace)
  • Shaky knees. 
  • Trembling lips. 

These are just a few common symptoms of stage fright. Basically stage fright is any out-of-the-ordinary, outward or inward feeling, occurring before or during the beginning of your presentation.

Not everyone reacts the same to stage fright and there is no universal fix for everyone. Don't try to use all these fixes at once, just pick out items from this list and try them out until you find one that works for you.

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

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

Strategies in advance of program.

  • Be extremely well prepared.
  • you have to. (Advance preparation...)
  • Get individual or group public speaking coaching. (Remember professionals have coaches.)
  • Listen to music.
  • Read a poem.
  • Join or start a Toastmasters club for extra practice.
  • Organize your speaking notes. (Advance preparation...)
  • Absolutely memorize your opening statement so you can recite it on autopilot if 
  • Anticipate hard and easy questions.
  • Practice, practice, practice. (we do this a lot in my public speaking course)
  • 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.

  • Be in the room at least an hour early if possible to triple check the public address system and everything else on your checklist.
  • You can also mingle with participants that arrive early.
    (That allows you to "connect" and gather intelligence about the current state of mind of the people and see if they are "in fun".)
  • 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 "mingling" with audience members.)
  • Get into conversation with people near you. Be very intent on what they are saying.
  • Yawn to relax your throat.
    (Not in front of someone, unless you cover your mouth so your not rude)
  • Doodle.
  • Draw sketches of a new car you would like to have.
  • Look at your notes. 
  • Put pictures of your kids/grandkids, dog, etc., in your notes. 
  • Concentrate on your audience.
  • Listen to music to calm your nerves.
  • Read a poem to inspire your performance.
  • 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.
  • Build a cushion of time in the day so you are not rushed. (Being late can create unnecessary stress leading to stage fright.)
  • Concentrate on your speaking ideas. 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.
  • Go somewhere private and warm up your voice, muscles, etc, so your voice doesn't crack.
  • Use eye contact.
  • Go to a mirror and check out how you look.
  • Breathe deeply, evenly, and slowly for several minutes.
  • 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.
  • Take a quick walk and practice your opening.
  • 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..
  • 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 after your presentation 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. Remember from your public speaking training, plan ahead to control the environment, the experience of the audience, and most importantly, to control yourself.


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