Five Tips for Overcoming Stage Fright

Someone I love had an important audition a few weeks ago.  She was paralyzed by her nervousness.  I watched her fall apart before she had even left the house for the audition.


I was crushed to see this happening.  She has worked for years on her art.  She practices daily.  She knows the technique.  She is good at what she does.


But advancement in her field depend on successful auditions.  To her, auditions are as fear-inducing as a dumpster full of snakes would be to me.


Do you feel anxiety when it comes time to “show your stuff”?



Five Tips for Overcoming Stage Fright



Humanize the audience.


You’ve likely heard the recommendation to picture your audience in their underwear, but that’s not necessarily what the experts recommend.  Probably because it’s weird and inappropriate in a business setting.


In lieu of potential sexual harassment complaints, talk to members of your audience beforehand.  This practice will help you remember that they are people, too.  They are there to learn or to enjoy what you are doing, not to send you to the 7th Circle of Inferno.  Think of them as friends, not enemies.



Create a Pre-Performance Ritual


Did you notice Michael Phelps’ pre-swim ritual in the 2016 games?  My son is a swimmer, so we watch the Olympics with rapt attention.  Phelps enters the aquatic center wearing headphones and talks to no one.  When it is time to swim, he gets on the block and leans forward.  He slaps his back three times with those long paddles of his.  He adjusts his goggles and puts his hands on the front of the block.


Why?  Because rituals reduce anxiety and improve performance.  Rituals offer you a feeling of control over the performance.



Work WITH, not AGAINST Your Anxiety


I have given hundreds of presentations.  Even so, I get nervous before each and every one – stomach-clenching, dry-mouth nervous.  The only way I have been able to push past this over the years is to view my nerves as fuel for my body.  I am a very animated and engaging presenter because of, not in spite of, the nervous energy that I have.


I read on that the goal of many treatments for anxiety-based phobias is to feel, not avoid, the anxiety.  Go there.  Be in the anxiety and it will dissipate naturally.  Your body wants to achieve equilibrium.  Trying to fight the anxiety is like throwing gasoline on the fire.


I can totally relate to this.  Several minutes into each presentation, I calm down and just enjoy my audience.  Anxiety is totally normal – beating yourself up for having it is an unproductive, and cruel, thing to do.



Focus on the Material, not Yourself


Prepare thoroughly.  If you haven’t studied or learned your material, you likely will not perform it well.  Your audience deserves your prep time.


Once prepared, your focus should be on contributing something of value to your audience.  If you are obsessively focused on yourself, your presentation will suffer.  Focus on the information, the song, the monologue, the dance, whatever it is.


It’s not about you, your outfit, or your hair.  It’s about the performance.  You are merely the vessel.  Your audience is not obsessed with your every voice crack or gesture.  Get over yourself and focus on what you are giving to others.



Begin with the End in Mind


Stephen Covey gave this sage advice in his classic book entitled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, which should be required reading for every adult.


For every moment on stage, there is an overarching reason why you want to do it.  What is it for you?  Clearly define that goal.  Focus on that purpose.  Say nice things to yourself in the mirror (also known as affirmations) about your ability to do well.  Visualize success.



Bonus Tip


One of my biggest pet peeves is when a speaker tells me when they messed up or mentions that they are nervous.  As an audience member, I think “Great, this guy just wants to share his pain, and I just want to leave because now I’m uncomfortable as well.”


Experts in the field of anxiety management say not to share your mistakes or apologize for being nervous.  It doesn’t help reduce your nerves, anyway.  Most of the time, your audience doesn’t know you’ve messed up, so don’t tell them.  Fake it ‘til you make it.



And, because I’m the one writing this article, I’ll get back to my story.


My daughter (yes, she gave me permission to tell you it was her) almost didn’t walk into the building where her audition was taking place.  She sat in the car and asked to be taken home.


We didn’t go home.


She forced herself to get out of the car, wait 90 minutes in an auditorium, and sing in front of strangers.


The audition went well.  She achieved her goal.  She was accepted at one of the best high schools in the state.



And, now that I’ve put my lovely daughter “out there” for scrutiny, it’s my turn.


Recently, a business consultant I met told me that I was “hiding my light under a bush.”  He felt that I could (should?) be publishing book after book and speaking to thousands upon thousands of people every month.




I don’t have a cogent response to this comment yet, even after weeks of thinking about it.  But, I suppose I must question if fear is holding me back.  Do I have stage fright when it comes to taking myself up to this level?  Or, do I just desire a simpler life?  Dunno.


Maybe I should picture the audience in their underwear.



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Dr. Melissa GratiasMelissa Gratias (pronounced “Gracious”) used to think that productivity was a result of working long hours. And, she worked a lot of hours. Then, she learned that productivity is a skill set, not a personality trait. Now, Melissa is a productivity expert who coaches and trains other businesspeople to be more focused, balanced, and effective. She is a prolific writer and speaker who travels the world helping people change how they work and improve how they live. Contact her at or 912-417-2505. Sign up to receive her productivity tips via email.


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