Want to overcome stage fright for good? Do you experience dry mouth, rapid breathing, and sweaty palms when you present in front of a crowd? If so, these five practical tips can help you lower that level of anxiety in less than a week.
Whether or not it’s your first time preparing for a speech performance in front of an audience, it’s best not to “wing it.” People experience the most stage fright when they feel unprepared. You prepare for a speech to feel more comfortable with your content, stretch your leadership skills and give you a sense of ease for the day of the performance. Each tip below provides a bit of wisdom with an actionable tip to help you overcome stage fright and reduce performance anxiety.
1) Realize that a Lot of the Symptoms of Stage Fright Is an Illusion Generated by False Evidence.
F.E.A.R. = False Evidence Appearing Real. A mentor shared this acronym with me when my mind was taking me down a spiral of worry. Fear is the result of anxious and worried thoughts. These types of thoughts come from future-oriented thinking, a.k.a, something that hasn’t happened yet. Think about it.
As a human, it’s inevitable for you to feel slight nervousness when stepping outside of your comfort zone. You have what’s called a reptilian brain, which perceives anything unfamiliar as a threat. Yes, even if it’s good for you. This is why you hold yourself back from trying something new. In this case, the unfamiliarity is performing on a stage in front of a large audience. Your reptilian brain will still perceive unfamiliarity as a threat, even though it is good for your growth and career. It’s up to you to push past the fear and step outside of your comfort zone to grow.
TIP: As you’re preparing for your speech and you notice yourself feeling anxious and fearful thoughts creeping in, try this Fear-Journaling exercise. This is an excellent way to debunk the illusion of fear that may be getting in the way.
Step 1: Brag on Yourself.
Acknowledge what you’re proud of yourself for. Maybe it’s taking that first step toward professional speaking or presenting in front of a larger crowd.
Step 2: Write out your fear(s) in full sentences.
The fear(s) often float around in your mind all day long, unacknowledged, yet all-consuming. When you physically write out the fear and see it in full sentence, you bring a new awareness to it. The first step to change is awareness. And you may even see how untrue the fear actually is.
Step 3: Reframe the fear(s).
Ask yourself, what is actually true? Do I have evidence to support this fear? Instead of focusing on the worst case scenario, what is the best-case scenario? How do I want to feel on stage? If my best friend was giving me a pep talk, what would they say? Paint the picture for yourself of the best possible outcome.
2) Stage Fright Can Often Come from Not Realizing You Have a Pessimistic Attitude.
As you’re preparing for your speech, observe where your focal point is. Are you focused on your nervous energy, negative talk, and all the things that could go wrong? Are you complaining that you have to set aside time to prepare and practice?
Have you ever heard the saying, “Where attention goes, energy flows”? What this means is what you focus on expands; it becomes bigger..and bigger…and bigger! If you’re focused on cutting out sugar, what are you constantly thinking about? All of the cookies, brownies, chocolate, and candy you “can’t” have. It’s simple psychology. Re-direct your attention and focus on what could go right, what you want to happen, and how you want to feel. Be optimistic! When you attach a positive feeling to it, you’re more likely to experience that positive feeling as it’s familiar to your brain.
It’s totally normal to feel a little nervous. That just means you care and want to have a lasting impression on your audience.
TIP: Use a visualization technique. Imagine yourself feeling confident, comfortable, and happy at the actual speech performance. Where your attention goes, your speech delivery will flow. This is an easy way to reduce stage fear.
3) Trust Yourself (Take a Leap of Faith) to Give Yourself an Opportunity to Grow. Basically… Overcome Stage Fright by Feeling Stage Fright.
“There’s no growth in a comfort zone and no comfort in a growth zone.” The commencement speaker at my college graduation shared this quote and it has stuck with me ever since.
Faith is this idea of leaping before the net is there. It is the combination of action and trust toward what is best for yourself and those around you. According to The National Institute of Mental Health, fear of public speaking affects 73% of the world’s population (Montopoli, 2017). Underlying that is the fear of failure and fear of judgment. So you’re already doing something that 73% of the world fears. You overcome fear by having the courage and faith to step outside of your comfort zone to grow.
Ask yourself, what does “having faith” mean to you? And how can it help you as you prepare for your speech? Working your “faith muscle” can be a positive distraction from the stage fear. And remember, you’re allowed to be human! Your stage fright won’t always feel this abundant. With practice and time, you’ll start to overcome that feeling.
TIP: Make a list with two columns. In the first column, write down what you DO have control over. In the second column, make a list of what you DON’T have control over. Let go of focusing on the things listed in the second column. With the things listed in the first column, write down actionable steps you can take for each.
4) Organize Your Thoughts so You Feel Better Prepared.
In preparation for your big moment in front of a live audience, create a simple framework for your speech. Keyword: Simple! Don’t over-complicate it or try to memorize your speech word-for-word. It’s important to be adaptable when you lose your train of thought or become slightly distracted. Having a framework in mind will ease stage fright. It gives you a roadmap to follow. Roadmaps and GPS give us a sense of relief to trust the route we are traveling. Having a framework will allow you to relax, feel confident and take comfortable, long pauses to let your key points sink in, while knowing where you’re heading.
TIP: As you’re preparing for your speech, notice what happens to your body when you start to feel anxious. Do you feel constricted, short and shallow breaths? It’s normal to experience pre-performance jitters, like increased heart rate, shallow breathing, and speech anxiety. Slow down, imagine the best-case scenario and practice calm, deep belly breathing. Your breath is your most powerful tool in the instance of fear and anxiety.
5) Get Your Reps In. Practice Delivering the Content to Increase Your Comfort and Overcome Stage Fright.
Ever heard of the phrase, “Practice makes perfect!”? I used to believe that phrase until an 11-year-old girl I used to babysit in college boldly corrected me. “Practice makes progress,” she said. I was taken back at first, but soon realized the wisdom. She is right. Don’t practice to get it perfect. Practice to make progress in feeling more comfortable with your speech.
Practicing for a speech is like weekly goal setting. If you try to do it all in one day, you’ll feel overwhelmed, burnt out and anxious. It’s an unsustainable approach. Create a plan for your practice. Time block and be specific on what you’re going to practice, each day and for how long. This will make it less overwhelming.
Here’s an example of a one-week time frame:
- Friday: First, create the framework of the speech (<1 hour). You can use our free speech creator to create a simple outline.
- Saturday: Take a break
- Sunday: Then, practice the intro (10-20 minutes). See 7 ways to Start a Speech for help.
- Monday: Take a break.
- Tuesday: Next, practice the intro + the key points (<1 hours) See How to Create a Speech in 3 Steps for help.
- Wednesday: Finally, practice the closing (10-20 minutes). See End Your Speech with a Bang.
- Thursday: Now that you have all the components, practice entire speech (2 hours).
- Friday: Present speech.
Kelsey Greenwood is a consultant and instructor for The Leaders Institute ®. She is based in Atlanta, GA but teaches classes and events all over the US.