Surviving Stage Fright
Who am I to give tips on how to survive stage fright? Oh, just a little old southern girl who has been surviving this monster all her life. Yes, I'm "surviving." It's been hanging around in my life for three decades now. I can't tell you this stubborn intruder will go away, but what I can tell you is you can learn to manage it. You can't simply ignore it, acting as if it's not there, because it will inevitably stick it's ugly head out when you least expect it...like during an important speech or right before a performance.
My profession calls for me to get up in front of my peers, teens, superiors, and parents constantly. Each and every time I do, I feel nerves. I am also an author, so on occasion I have to attend speaking engagements, give interviews, and sometimes read my books. Now-a-days, I teach theatre to hundreds of middle schoolers, stepping out of my comfort zone even more. Through it all, I still find myself getting a little nervous when something new comes along. Because I am naturally an introvert, speaking and being in big crowds isn't necessarily my happy place.
My students are my inspiration for writing this blog. I have found that this generation of middle schoolers are having a tougher time with stage fright because of the technological advancements such as social media, video games, and now they hide behind the dreaded masks we wear to during this pandemic. Our young people have become so disconnected from human contact and face to face interaction that some would rather fail a class than to get up to present a project.
Okay...okay...I will get down off my soap box. I'm here to help and share some tips that I use and share with my students, but I believe these tips will help anyone battling this monster.
Here are seven tips to help you calm yourself and begin learning to manage this thing we call "stage fright."
Practice- I hate memorizing speeches or what I want to say. To me, it just sounds so unauthentic. What I do make sure of is that I plan what I am going to say. I go over my plan in my head, and I make sure to say it out loud beforehand. If you practice before your big day, you will feel more prepared. Being unprepared makes the fear of being on stage all the more intense.
Posture is Key- I read a book once called, The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor. In the book, he spoke of something called the "Superhero Stance." It was said that if before a major interview, performance or speech, taking a confident posture/stance will help you to fool your brain that you are confident (even though you are far from it). This sets you up for success because with a good posture, you are not only appearing confident, but your blood is flowing evenly which in turn helps with your breathing. I've been doing this for years and guess what? It works.
Positive Self-talk- If you find yourself saying, "I can't do this." "I'm going to mess this up." "What if I'm awful?" Shut those thoughts down IMMEDIATELY. Replace those thoughts with, "I can do this." "There's nothing to be afraid of." "I am here for a reason." "I CANNOT fail." This tip also helps to boost your confidence.
Breathe- Most times, when we are nervous, we don't breathe normally. Make sure to breathe deeply just before a performance or speech otherwise your breathing will become abnormal at the most inconvenient time; this my friends will make you even more nervous. No one wants to hyperventilate while on stage, so BREATHE. The next tip will help tremendously with that.
Don't Rush It- Take your time. When you rough, you will most definitely leave something out you didn't intend to leave out. Also, rushing causes your breathing to become irregular which, as you know, will make you more nervous. I cannot stress this enough...TAKE YOUR TIME.
Find a Reason to Laugh- Have you ever heard the proverb, "Laughter is like medicine." If you haven't, I am here to tell you...it is!! I can't tell you how many times I have strategically planned something funny at the beginning of a speech/talk, simply to calm myself beforehand. Laughter relieves stress and sucks all of the tension out of a room. Find a reason to laugh right before you go on and watch how relaxed you become.
Do it Afraid- Don't say no. Take every opportunity that is given to you, no matter how afraid you are. The more you get up in front of people, the easier it will become. Remember, you cannot get rid of stage fright, you can only learn to manage it.
To this day, getting on stage is still a big to do for me, but I have learned how to get through these moments with ease just by using these strategies. What I have come to realize is that what we are destined to do in life sometimes gives us the biggest challenge. Like I said in my last blog, hard times come to those who need pruning, or polishing, so don't let stage fright keep you in the audience. It is obvious you were meant to be in the spotlight. ;-)