Combating Stage Fright
Nearly everyone experiences some degree of stage fright when
speaking before a group. “If you hear someone say he or she
isn’t nervous before a speech, you’re talking either to a liar or a
very boring speaker,” says corporate speech consultant Dianna
Booher. Being afraid is quite natural and results from actual
physiological changes occurring in your body. Faced with a
frightening situation, your body responds with the fight-orflight response, discussed more fully in the
accompanying Career Coach box. You can learn to control and
reduce stage fright, as well as to incorporate techniques for
effective speaking, by using the following strategies and
techniques before, during, and after your presentation.
How to Avoid Stage Fright
Ever get nervous before making a presentation? Everyone does! And it’s not all in
your head, either. When you face something threatening or challenging, your
body reacts in what psychologists call the fight-or-flight response. This physical
reflex provides your body with increased energy to deal with threatening
situations. It also creates those sensations—dry mouth, sweaty hands, increased
heartbeat, and stomach butterflies—that we associate with stage fright. The
fight-or-flight response arouses your body for action—in this case, making a
Because everyone feels some form of apprehension before speaking, it’s
impossible to eliminate the physiological symptoms altogether. However, you
can reduce their effects with the following techniques:
Breathe deeply. Use deep breathing to ease your fight-or-flight symptoms.
Inhale to a count of ten, hold this breath to a count of ten, and exhale to a count of
ten. Concentrate on your counting and your breathing; both activities reduce
Convert your fear. Don’t view your sweaty palms and dry mouth as evidence of
fear. Interpret them as symptoms of exuberance, excitement, and enthusiasm to
share your ideas.
Know your topic and come prepared. Feel confident about your topic. Select a
topic that you know well and that is relevant to your audience. Prepare
thoroughly and practice extensively.
Use positive self-talk. Remind yourself that you know your topic and are
prepared. Tell yourself that the audience is on your side—because it is!
Moreover, most speakers appear to be more confident than they feel. Make this
apparent confidence work for you.
Take a sip of water. Drink some water to alleviate your dry mouth and
constricted voice box, especially if you’re talking for more than 15 minutes.
Shift the spotlight to your visuals. At least some of the time the audience will
be focusing on your slides, transparencies, handouts, or whatever you have
prepared—and not totally on you.
Ignore any stumbles. Realize that it is okay to make an occasional mistake.
Don’t apologize or confess your nervousness. If you make a mistake, ignore the
stumble and keep going. The audience will forget any mistakes quickly.
Feel proud when you finish. You will be surprised at how good you feel when
you finish. Take pride in what you have accomplished, and your audience will
reward you with applause and congratulations. Your body, of course, will call off
the fight-or-flight response and return to normal!
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