How to Get Over Your Stage Fright
Stage Fright Can Happen to Anyone
I remember once reading that most people fear speaking in front of a crowd more than they fear death. As an actress, I know what it's like to get the pre-performance jitters, the feeling of anxiety that can seem to swallow you whole if you let it. I also know what it's like to rise above that, to channel that nervous energy into a good, lively time and soon forget the fear while riding a high of connecting with a large group of people, whether in laughter over jokes or in other, more serious and deep emotions.
Actors have to deal with their fear somehow, or else it'll prevent them from performing well. But everyone can benefit from learning the change in attitude that leads to a releasing of the feelings of stage fright. That way, no matter the occasion, one can rise above the personal inner crisis and feel the value of helping, connecting, and engaging with others. This leads to a healthy confidence and a feeling of inner security in one's ability to deal with life. Dealing with stage fright is thus a life skill, and one that anyone can learn to master and excel in.
Things to Remember
- Stage fright happens to everyone.
- Toastmasters groups are a great help to getting over stage fright
- Practice and repetition makes performance "old hat"
- Remember to practice being Loud, Clear, Pausing, and take out the "ums"
- Concentrate on engaging the audience with the content of the speech or the work of acting, not the inner stage fright feelings, and they will go away.
Keys to Remember
There are a number of things that can help you ease out of your stage fright. The first thing to know is that stage fright happens to many, many people. Do not feel alone if your knees shake or your tummy rumbles at the thought of facing a large crowd. You may notice your hands sweat, your voice shakes, and you have terrible feelings of inadequacy. Understand this is pretty normal for most people, because most people don't stand alone and speak in front of a crowd in their daily life. It is so out of the ordinary. Which means that if it were ordinary for you to speak in front of a large group regularly, it would be "old hat", a walk in the park, and No Big Deal. Think about it. The more you do something, the easier it gets.
This is why I recommend joining a Toastmasters group in your area. Toastmasters will help you work on speeches and presentations and the whole purpose is to help you perfect your large group presentation skills. Toastmasters will give you the practice you need to make performing or speaking in front of a group "old hat" and even a fun experience that you may grow to love.
Another thing to think about regarding stage fright is that when you concentrate on the content of what you are saying and the effect you want to have on the audience, you'll forget yourself and the effect the audience has on you. So hopefully what you are presenting to the group is something you care about or can find a way to care about.
For me, I was able to get over my stage fright when acting because my mind was always occupied with what my "actions" were on stage, the effect I was trying to have on the other person (character), going after my (character's) inner goals, and of course, a part of me watches for cues, blocking, and makes sure I don't start talking when the audience is laughing loudly and thus will drown out the line. So the number of things that occupy my mind takes care of my stage fright easily, and honestly, since I have "tasted success" with my acting, and enjoy entertaining a large group, I rarely feel any stage fright any more except possibly a feeling of amped up energy before I go on stage. Since I don't view this feeling as stage fright, but instead see it as excitement, I'm able to harness it for my creative work on stage. I use it to be completely in-the-moment, to sharpen my awareness and listening powers, to live on stage in a very real, pure sense which is what I believe makes acting so exciting and addicting ~ the feeling of being alive is very lovely.
All of this brings me to my next point ~ preparation. Preparation is everything regarding getting over stage fright. If you over-prepare you stage fright will be much less than if you decide to wing it. This of course depends on your personality, but by being prepared your subconscious confidence in yourself is much higher because the idea that you'll be in front of a large group mumbling and jumbling about, hemming and hawing, and not knowing what you're going to be saying; well, let's put it this way ~ the idea just won't be bothering you because you'll know what you have to do and you can just concentrate on that.
How should you prepare?
If you will be presenting a speech, have the speech written long before you must go up. Perfect the speech on paper and then practice it over and over and over again. Practice in a tape recorder and then listen to the speech afterwards. Did you remember to pause? Did you hold your pauses long enough?
The good thing about practicing your speech well ahead of time to the point that you're sick of it is you will get the speech memorized. Then you will only have to refer to main notes on a few index cards rather than reading your speech out right. If you have the opportunity to use a teleprompter, try to get practice with it by reading your speech with breaks and pauses from the teleprompter so you can get used to the timing and how it flows. If you don't have a teleprompter ahead of time, you can still practice your speech ahead of time which will ease your stage fright.
When you practice, speak clearly and imagine a room full of people. If possible, practice at the same venue where you'll be giving the speech. What the mind visualizes and imagines well is just as real to the brain as the actual happening. This means you give your brain the opportunity to get bored with public speaking each time you imagine yourself talking to a large group of people while practicing your speech.
Do not underestimate the power of performing your speech in front of friends and family ahead of time. Although one thing I find funny about myself is that I am less nervous when I don't know anyone in the audience than when my own friends and family are out there. Regardless, practicing in front of anyone takes bravery and you should be proud of yourself for attempting to do what most people fear more than death! You don't need to take their critiques of your speech too seriously, especially if you find you did less well than you wanted. It's just practice.
Having a strong handle on memorization will help you prepare and practice for your speech or role.
Check out my articles below which cover memorization and acting.
How to Memorize Quickly and Easily Learn about the cutting-edge method of memorization that is enabling students to rise to the top of their classes and teaches you how to even memorize entire books!
How to Memorize Lines for a Script or Play An examination of various ways to memorize lines for a script or play.
How to Get the Part My simple little guide for thespians interested in securing the role in a play or movie.
Now Do It Again
That's right, that's what friends are for. You go out and bore your family and friends again with another attempt. Or, try it with some different friends. Your friends and family will understand and should support you if they are worth their salt. Just tell them you need the practice of going in front of a large group. Again, this is why Toastmasters is so helpful. It gets you out there and gets you practicing.
So you have practiced your speech over and over again, you have breathed in and out, you have tried calming techniques like imagining yourself on a beach, regardless of this all, you're going up soon and your a nervous wreck!
But are you really? This is why it's important to change your attitude. All along with all this practicing I want you to be doing, it's important to keep your attitude constructive. Don't let negative thoughts inside tear you down. Just don't allow it. Keep humbly committed to the message and context of what you have to share with the world. After all, it's just a speech. If you're in a play or acting in a role ~ it's just a show.
The power of a brilliant performance comes when the actor is so devoted to the part that the story and meaning of the playwright's message can be seen, heard, and felt by the audience. It's not about the actor. There are so many beautiful, funny, heart-felt, loving, snarky, and everything-in-between feelings that writers share with the world to entertain and enlighten. Concentrate on giving your speech good content that you care about and keep your attitude on that content; if you're acting, keep your attitude on the work the playwright has given your character.
When I am on stage I hardly think about the audience at all. I'm busy up there, even if I don't have a line. I'm listening to what's going on and involved in the storyline of the play. If you have a speech, keep busy with the storyline of your content. And use the audience's energy to connect with them.
Humor is the great connector, but other emotions work well also. When an audience is engaged with you (which is really all they want from you, for you to engage them) you can take them places ~ stir their hearts, make them care, teach them, laugh with them, excite them, get them motivated. An audience wants to be engaged. When you work on that you will not have time to worry about your own feelings of fright. And guess what? Those stage fright feelings will go away. There's no need to be scared if you're so busy making an audience laugh with a spontaneous joke or causing them to feel so deeply they cry because you connected them to something precious and deep inside.
What is it you have to say?
There are a number of reasons you might one day find yourself in front of a large group of quiet eyes looking at you, waiting for you to step up. For instance, if you are just worried over a boring spreadsheet presentation and just want to do well, try to make it fun, know your stuff, and practice ahead of time. Concentrate on being clear and easy to understand. Making a valedictorian speech? Get some jokes in there, find the most entertaining mentor you know of and have them give it a good once-over. Then make sure the speech connects and does what you hope it will ~ inspires others. If you are giving a best man speech, prepare it ahead of time and put a lot of thought and heart into it.
Don't worry if you must read the speech. Just keep concentrated on the content. Do it justice. The best best-man speech I ever heard was read from a wrinkly paper. But it was read clearly, there were pauses, and I heard every word. I remember it to this day because the content was so good. It brought tears to my eyes and made me laugh.
Besides content, there are other things to concentrate on other than your own nervous feelings manifesting as sweatiness, knocking knees, nervous tummy, etc. Focus on being clear. Project your voice and be loud. Speak slowly because when we are nervous, we talk faster. So make sure you speak slower than you think sounds right. Don't worry, that's why we practice with a tape recorder. You can find that slower speed that feels right. Also remember that by slowing it down, you give the audience time to digest your ideas. Another reason to practice with the tape recorder is that you can notice all your "ums" and "ers" and delicately remove them with practice out of your brilliant speech. Actors also need to focus on projection, unless they are being recorded with a lavaliere microphone for instance.
Ready, Set, Action!
With time and repetition, your stage fright will go down just because you'll know how to handle it. You'll be able to transmute it into a better performance and a more lively speech. I wish you well in your public performances.
Please feel free to leave a comment if you think this article has helped you, or if you have any tips for others to help them get over stage fright.
Best wishes for opening night! :)