Six Tricks for Combatting Stage Fright

Stage Fright

Leadership is communication. Sometimes that communication is one-to-one, and sometimes it's one-to-many. Depending how many, "communication" can begin to feel a lot like "public speaking."

Wait a minute... Is leadership synonymous with public speaking?
At GatherRound, we strongly believe the answer is no. With our clients, we consider public speaking, but don't always resort to it, especially if their skills don't align with that activity. But let's be frank. Sometimes we've gotta take the stage, and sometimes just the phrase "public speaking" gives us the willies.

Are We Afraid for the Wrong Reasons?

On his famously prolific blog, Seth Godin advises his audience "Fear isn't the enemy. Paralysis is the enemy." Pretty sharp, Seth. And applicable here. It's a careful and meticulous distinction between the symptom and the virus, but it reveals something inarguably true about the way we feeble humans are inclined to approach public speaking. Instead of simply trying to alleviate the fear, Seth suggests learning to "dance" with it. It's a powerful image  – dancing with fear – and it's one which often helps GatherRound's clients get over the willies.

How Can We Dance with Fear if the Music Doesn't Start?

Flash forward to your next speaking gig. Imagine you've cleared some of your mental hurdles and you've committed to take the spotlight to represent your idea proudly. But in the minutes before, that pesky adrenaline kicks in again, and next thing you know you're in survival mode – sweaty, shaky and nauseous. What could you possibly tell yourself to get out of this? Here are six quick mind tricks that have helped our clients find their "rhythm" and start dancing:

  1. You have a secret advantage. Nobody else in the room knows what you're "supposed" to say. Keep this in mind as you kick off your content, and be okay with going off-road. Especially if...
  2. You are prepared. You've rehearsed this content for many hours before getting up there. Your transitions are as graceful as your story is powerful. You have a firm understanding of all four Campfire Method criteria, and if you have slides, they're solid and thought-provoking images that complement your delivery. You've got this.
  3. You are grateful for, not granted, this opportunity. It can seem counter-intuitive, but a simple reminder of gratitude can disarm nerves in a powerful way. Introducing oxytocin to neutralize your adrenaline... It's like sugar on a grapefruit. Remember the audience has invested its time in you, and think about how that makes you feel. Appreciated? Liked? Probably not as nauseous.
  4. You know people out there. You've hopefully been mingling with some of them before your time to start. Invite participation and socialization by telling a story or joke about (or even a simple wave toward) someone you know. It'll show the audience you're on their plane, and reinforce the lines of empathy you've already established.
  5. You are a superhero. Did you know that simply standing with confidence can combat insecurity? Yes, with your head high and your chest out, hands on your hips, there's very little that can get through your armor. Are you a bird? A plane? No, but you're about to crush this thing and return to your fortress.
  6. You can use your nerves to make you better. This takes practice, but it's the most powerful trick in the book. Our ability to overcome nervousness is directly related to our ability to understand it. When we've grasped the chemical changes that happen in our body, we can more successfully identify symptoms of fear and beat them at their own game by harnessing them and putting them to good use. This might entail some simple, physical hacks, like listening to music or taking deep breaths to focus the energy into positive momentum. Or, it might involve a more complicated change in your state of mind, envisioning yourself as an athlete or otherwise endurance performer who needs the adrenaline.

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

When's the last time you saw an audience throw tomatoes at a presenter? Or boo them off stage (present political climate excluded)? Yes, it's a competitive environment out there, but for the most part, your audience wants you to succeed. In a Forbes article on the subject, public speaking coach Lucas Mattiello says to remind yourself of the value your audience already expects to receive from you. He recommends literally saying to yourself, "I'm presenting to an audience that is here to learn from my expertise," which should alleviate some of the insecurity.

On your journey embracing The Campfire Method, you will undoubtedly face your fears. Every hero does in one way or another. If your fears involve public speaking, please remember these simple tricks and you just might surprise yourself.

But more importantly, remember to bow or curtsey to your partner. It's polite.