How to overcome Stage Fright? 18 steps to conquer your fear of public performance.

Stage fright, what is it?

Stage fright is defined as the anxiety and panic caused by the fear of performing. Everyone has a fear of stage. If we believe statistics for most people, the fear of public speaking is even greater than the fear of death.

This stage fright can limit your growth and ability to communicate with other people and that might be the biggest loss of opportunity in your lives. Why do I say that?

It’s because any amount of success only comes with communicating your ideas. One person can only reach heights if they can provide value to society. For that, you will have to bring your craft in front of many people.

Apart from this, public speaking has played a much bigger role in our way of life than we all realize. The Overton window of our society has been moved by speeches over the course of human history.

It can be Abraham Lincoln against slavery or Martin Luther King for civil rights, Mandela for peace. These speeches have changed the world. No one can deny their impact on the way society has evolved over the years.

stage fright

If you want to feel the power of speeches first-hand, watch this powerful speech by Mr. Charlie Chaplin from the movie ‘The great dictator

Why do we have stage fright?

In ancient times human beings survived in groups of 100-150 people. If you were rejected by the group, it meant being left to fend for your own survival in the jungle.

Humans are a social species and thus they worry about their reputation in society the most.

When that reputation comes into question our brain takes us into the fight or flight response and thus we can’t think clearly. Not able to speak, palms sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy. (#eminem)

Thus the people feel that they will be embarrassed if they screw up. They might be judged or ridiculed and rejected.

Thus, what you are really scared of is the fear of seclusion. It’s what our instincts want us to avoid. That fear of being in isolation is the cause of stage fright.

18 Steps to conquer stage fright

  1. Nervous vs excited,
  2. Have a clear intention of what you want to achieve
  3. Speak to provide value
  4. The audience is your friend
  5. Talk the way you talk to your closest friends
  6. Talk to one person at a time
  7. Understand stress and anxiety for what they are
  8. Visualize success
  9. Be aware of your internal critic
  10. Try to be less judgemental of everyone else
  11. Seek uncomfortable situations
  12. Embrace failure
  13. Meditate and release muscle tension
  14. Break your performance in parts and only focus on one part at a time
  15. Don’t aim for perfection
  16. Be more authentic
  17. Go with the flow
  18. Practice, practice, practice

1. Nervous vs excited, Embrace stage fright

Have you ever noticed that when you are nervous about something the reactions that your body has are almost identical to when you get excited? It is because they both take the body in a fight or flight response.

You feel both of those emotions. When you are about to jump off a plane to skydive, you feel nervous. However, you also feel excited. Focus on that excitement and most of your fears will immediately lose their power over you.

You will be able to perform much better if your focus is on being excited about your performance and the stage fright you feel won’t be as frightening anymore.

2. Have a clear intention of what you want to achieve

Most times we are confused about the goals that we have from our performance. Focus clearly on the goal of what you want to be accomplished. If your goal is to persuade the audience about your point of view then it becomes much easier to direct your energy there.

If your goal is to show how your presentation is beneficial to the people listening it will be much easier to accomplish. Even if it’s a dance or a song you are performing, focus on what you want to audience to feel. You won’t experience a lot of stage fright if you have clear intentions in mind.

3. Speak to provide value

Stage Fright

As Simon Sinek explained in his famous ted talk we should focus on the why when we perform. You can watch the entire talk here. He says that our focus should be on what we can give rather than what we get.

Therefore if your focus is on what you can do for your audience you will be able to perform much better. You will be calmer and composed on stage serving a higher purpose.

Your focus won’t be about getting applause from the audience which is outside your control. Instead, your focus would be on what you can do for them which is in your control.

4. The audience is your friend

Have you ever noticed that when you are in the audience and someone stumbles you feel bad for them? When someone is having a terrible performance you feel sad about them.

Most of the audience isn’t much different from you. The audience wants you to succeed. The more you perform better, the more they have a good time too.

Therefore you should view your audience as your friends that want you to succeed.

5. Talk the way you talk to your closest friends

We realized that the audience is your friend so shouldn’t they be treated as such. You feel the most comfortable when you talk to your friends. When you talk to your closest friends you aren’t worried about being judged or criticized.

That’s why you must talk to your audience as if you are talking to your friend. When you do that you will speak much more confidently. The audience will also view the genuineness in your performance and engage with you more.

6. Talk to one person at a time

When public speakers aren’t performing well they tend to do this. They focus on the few people in the crowd that are enjoying their performance.

By making eye contact with the people sitting next to them they involve them in the performance too. This way they can focus on a row and eventually the entire audience.

Also, it is much easier to talk to one person at a time. If you feel nervous just think of it as talking to one person in the audience at a time and you will be able to calm your nerves and have a grip on your stage fright.

7. Understand stress and anxiety for what they are

Your mind is the biggest culprit for your fear of the stage. This is because instead of acting we are only thinking about the worst possible things that might happen.

You feel that it’s better to just give up and escape the circumstance. “It’s alright someone else can take part in the play” or “my friend can give the presentation much better than me anyway.”

“The brave man is not the one who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

-Nelson Mandela

If you don’t try to conquer your fears, you leave yourself to the fate of being trapped in the endless cycle of stage fright whenever an opportunity arises in the future. A fate of being forever trapped by fear.

You can read more about anxiety and stress in our blog here.

8. Visualize success to deal with stage fright

Often times our brain thinks of a situation that’s much worse than what generally happens. We keep on imagining the worst possible outcomes even though deep down we know they will never come.

Whenever that happens, try and visualize the opposite. Go take a look at the place you will be performing on. Visualize yourself on that stage performing to the audience and being applauded.

This will also familiarise you with the place and you will feel much less anxious about your performance.

9. Be aware of your internal critic

The internal critic is the judgemental negative self-talk that you have with yourself. It wants to keep you in your comfort zone away from the stress and anxiety that you might have to face when you try to conquer your fear of the stage.

Whenever you have that negative self -talk understand that it’s not true and it’s just your internal critic that’s trying to manipulate you into giving up. We discuss it much more in-depth in our blog post here.

When you realize that it’s just the critic you can snap back to working on the things within your control rather than being stuck in the endless cycle of negativity and pessimism.

10. Try to be less judgemental of everyone else

It’s a fundamental truth. The more we are judgemental towards everyone else the more we become critical of ourselves.

If you keep judging everything about the performance of a girl dancing, do you think you will be able to follow up after her and perform a dance? Critical thinking and fault finding takes us away from spontaneousness and we keep overthinking, hesitating in taking action.

The moment we begin to take action all of those fears and hesitation begin to vanish. One can’t keep thinking and act consciously at the same time. Thus by being more in tune with our actions, we start to overcome fear.

Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy”

Dale Carnegie

11. Seek uncomfortable situations

Go and initiate a conversation with a stranger. Try lying down on the floor of a mall saying that you are exhausted. Ask something ridiculous to someone you meet like go to a coffee shop and ask if you can have today’s coffee for free.

What the other person says doesn’t matter. If you hear music on a busy street just dance to it. If you do these things you will feel much less anxious about the decisions you make. You will start being more comfortable being spontaneous.

You don’t have to try them all but some small steps that you voluntarily take to get out of your comfort zone will have a huge positive impact on your ability to be calm and composed under new situations. A few years ago my friend I removed all our hair and went completely bald in class. We were met with the laughter of the entire class but guess what, they got used to it pretty quickly.

12. Embrace failure

There is a saying that if a dog comes to bite you. You should be willing to be bitten. Once you are prepared for the outcome then you can use the proper technique to avoid it happening.

The correct course of action might still be to run. However, in accepting the possibility you have already overcome fear. Now all that remains is action. All the steps you take from then on are focussed to prepare yourself for the worst possible outcome.

To deal with the fear of public speaking at first imagine everything that can go wrong does go wrong. You realize that even if it were to happen you are still okay. Now you can begin to overprepare on the things where you think you might go wrong.

13. Meditate and release muscle tension to deal with stage fright

Take a deep breath and hold for a little while. Now let go completely. If you let go of your breath completely you will breathe in deeply again by reflex. So every time you let go of your breath do that in a way where you don’t hold the breath inside.

Now keep your focus on the breath while you inhale and notice where you have tension and stiffness in the body. After a few breaths, you will feel that stiffness vanishing.

When you go into panic or have stress or anxiety, your body takes itself in a stiff and tense state. Your breathing becomes quick and your heartbeat gets faster.

If you direct your attention to your breath your muscles start to relax and eventually, your body returns to a calm and relaxed state as you keep meditating.

14. Break your performance in parts and only focus on one part at a time

The performance that you have to present on stage can be broken down into small parts. You should try to rehearse them in those separate parts and remember then in their order.

When you start to do that instead of worrying about the entire thing you will know where you are more confident and where you think you need to improve.

By doing enough practice on the places you need to improve on you will feel much more confident about yourself. Also when you start to give your presentation and the audience responds well to the first few parts it will keep you going smoothly in the latter parts.

15. Don’t aim for perfection.

Mistakes are a part of life and we are all bound to make some ever single day. The performance day is no different. Even though you prepare your heart out some things might go wrong. And it’s alright.

Your goal should not be to give a perfect performance. Because it doesn’t exist. Your goal should be to improve. By aiming for the perfect presentation, or a dance or a speech you are only focussing on the things that might go wrong when you have no way of figuring out what they might be.

Know that you will stumble somewhere or the other and the only way to get better is to keep trying and making newer mistakes.

16. Be more authentic

“the highest virtue is not conscious of itself as virtue, and therefore really is virtue. Lower virtue is so self-conscious that it’s not virtue. In other words, when you breath, you don’t congratulate yourself on being virtuous. But breathing is a great virtue. It’s a living.
When you come out with beautiful eyes, blue or brown or green as the case may be, you don’t congratulate yourself for having grown one of the most fabulous jewels on earth. Just eyes. And you don’t to count it a virtue to see, to entertain the miracles of color and form. But that’s real virtue, virtue in the sense of the old sense of the word as strength, as when we talk about the healing virtue of a plant. That’s real virtue.”

-Alan Watts

When we are authentic and say the things that we believe or perform with passion for our craft, that genuineness can be immediately recognized by the audience.

When however you are over-rehearsed or say things you don’t believe in or don’t perform from the heart, it shows as well. The more you are authentic in front of the audience, the more they will connect with you.

Alan watts in the same lecture goes on to say that a person can get in the way of his own existence. By being too aware of himself. He tries soo hard to be virtuous that he lacks his excellence.

17 Go with the flow to deal with stage fright

“What is highly virtuous is a virtue that is not conscious of itself as virtue. The moment it’s conscious of itself as such you see it it fails. So in this way, we love to see a child dancing all by itself. Lost in the dance and not performing for an audience, and we say oh oh if only I could dance like that. If only I could become like a child again: innocent.

But then soon, when parents notice how beautifully a child dances and they all approve of it and say to this child, ‘Dance for us,’ the child begins to lose this power. And it puts on as it knows its notice. And we don’t like that and say that’s affectation, that’s showing off, that’s phony. What we want you to do is to dance as if you had no audience. Not even yourself. Which of course puts the child in a double bind, because it says to the child we require you to do something that will be acceptable only if you do it as if it wasn’t required”

-Alan Watts

How do we get out of this double bind? How can we do something without being too conscious of it?

The answer lies in not forcing. There is a philosophy in the book, Tao Te Ching called Wu Wei. We explain it much deeper in our blog post here.

When you are in the flow your performance will become a way of expressing yourself. It will be the difference between being able to laugh at yourself when you forget your lines instead of panicking on stage because of it.

stage fright

18. Practice, practice, practice

Every time you go on stage you will feel more and more confident. Public speaking or performing on stage isn’t a skill anyone is born with. It is developed with practice over time.

Try to practice in front of your friends and family. Make a video of yourself and watch it over after you practice. When you do that you will know when you are getting better and where you need to work on.

When you feel happy with the video, you will be much more confident to perform on stage.

Try to grab every opportunity you come across to perform in front of 10-20 people. When you have performed 15-20 times your fear of the stage will be much less than what it is now.

In Conclusion

This week try to challenge yourself out of your comfort zone. Remember every professional was once a beginner. If you do get an opportunity, seize it and push through the anxiety and stress of stage fright you might come across.

We urge you to explore what your callings are. Do you possess the courage to chase them? We provide a free ebook called The perfect beginning that might help you in finding those callings.

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Well, that’s all for this post. Have a good day and a good life.