How To Cure Stage Fright -- How To Perform In Front Of An Audience
All The World's A Stage -- Except For You
When I was six years old, I eagerly signed up to sing in my school's talent show. I was going to be singing "Maybe" from Annie, while my mom accompanied me on piano; we practiced for weeks until I had the act down. But when the big day arrived, I just couldn't do it. For whatever reason, I froze and couldn't make myself get up onto that stage. And you know what? I regretted it. Actually, I still regret it -- to this day, I can't hear that opening tune in "Annie" without wishing I'd gone through with the darn thing.
The good news is, I've since learned to overcome stage fright -- which works in my favor since you know, I'm a musician and people actually expect to hear notes come out of my flute when I take the stage. And though I still get nervous right before performances, I've even reached a point where I ENJOY entertaining people. I may be in the public eye, but when I'm on the stage, I'm in my own, little world.
The following are some tips for curing stage fright based on my experiences. Many will also work for those who wish to overcome public speaking anxiety. Of course, my suggestions won't benefit everyone who reads this, but hopefully you'll at least pick up some ideas which work for you. Now get ready because the curtain is rising...
All Eyes Upon You
The first exercise I'm going to suggest is very simple: the next time you speak with someone, make a point to look directly into her eyes. I'm not saying to stare without blinking and freak her out, but look deep into her eyes so she knows you're listening.
It's hard, isn't it? Many people have a tendency to look away or over a person when speaking with them. It's probably because our eyes are so vulnerable as they give away our emotions. But if you can get over the awkwardness of making eye contact, that's usually the first step in overcoming stage fright.
Practice, Practice, Practice
Everyone has heard the old saying, "Practice Makes Perfect." That comes into play here on two levels. First, you definitely want to practice whatever skill it is you're planning to perfect in public, whether it be singing a song in a show or giving a speech at a wedding. You want to make sure you know all of the lyrics or know the speech well enough so that you don't have your head buried in your notes while you deliver it.
However, what you also need to do is practice doing these things in front of an audience. This way, you won't go from being scared of taking the stage to suddenly having to face a large group. Instead, work up gradually. Start by having just one person listen to you. It helps if it's someone close to you like a good friend or a family member so he can give you constructive feedback. Next move on to a larger group. Go through your speech, peformance, etc. several times if you can before you go public. Get used to what it feels like to be up on a stage.
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Feel The Fear
For me, one of the most difficult aspects of being afraid of something is well, being afraid. For instance, I'm a nervous flyer despite the fact that I've traveled all over the world. But whenever I have a flight coming up, I still become uptight and sometimes downright frightened. The only way to deal with this, though, is to "pass through" the fear. No, it won't be easy, but if you force yourself to go through something, you'll often see that it's not as bad as you anticipated.
This is why I suggest practicing your act or speech in front of people. Allow yourself to experience the fear and use this time to understand what can help you deal with it. Honestly, it doesn't go away -- but it does get easier over time. Often the anticipation anxiety is the worst part. But if you never get it over with, you'll never get past that anxiety.
Think Before You Speak (Or Perform)
There's that old idea that you can overcome stage fright by imagining you audience in your underwear. This has personally never worked for me, but I do like to visualize my performance before I take to the stage. In my case, I play jazz so I often have to improvise solos -- no safety net for me there! But by listening to the music and then thinking of it in my head, I can go through the steps I need to put on a decent show. I picture myself up on the stage, holding my flute in my hands, then go through the emotions I'll probably feel: Excitement? Definitely. Fear? Usually. Nervousness? Absolutely. Pain? Probably not. I try to mentally conquer any negative emotions before going on. By the time I really do take to the stage, I feel as if I've already been through a few dress rehearsals!
What's The Worst That Can Happen?
For many, what they're most afraid of is rejection. They fear that they'll mess up a note or freeze during a speech, and then they'll be laughed at. But seriously, think about it -- what's the worse that can happen? A few jerks laugh at you? No, you don't want to mess up; it stinks, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not the end of the world. For the most part, people WANT you to do well. People won't pay money to see a performance if they want you to fall down. Nor would someone ask you to deliver a speech if they didn't value your words. Being forced to deliver a speech for a grade in school is of course, a different story. But even then, chances are your teacher doesn't want to see you fail.
A Little Fear Goes A Long Way
If you don't feel at least some nerves, then you're probably getting too complacent. I've found that being a little scared keeps me on my toes; it forces me to concentrate on the notes rather than coast by. It gets my adrenaline pumping and keeps me excited throughout a show. In this sense, I LIKE having a tiny bit of stage fright. It indicates that playing live is still exhillarating for me and hasn't yet lost its thrill. Without having to challenge something, what's left?
Stay Calm -- The Rest Will Follow
Once on the stage, here are a few things I like to do:
1. Breathe deeply; this not only calms me, but makes me sound better on the flute. Trust me, I wouldn't get a deep, rich tone if I were very tense.
2. Pick an object and concentrate on it. If you're on a large stage, chances are you're going to have lights in your face and won't even be able to see the audience. I always like to look toward the back of the room. If I can see the audience members, I might pick a familiar face to gaze at, like my husband's. Picking an object or direction gives me something to concentrate on and lets me focus my eyes. Remember my eye contact exercise? You don't want to be looking down, but looking at something that's at eye level is a great way to make it APPEAR that you're acknowledging the crowd.
3. Get energized. One of the best thing about performing is watching the crowd get into it and knowing that you're affecting them on some level. Enjoy it. Enjoy the moment. Rather than running from the stage, make it yours. You can always be in charge -- as long as YOU want to be!
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