Transforming Stage Fright into Stage Presence

Do you desire to conquer your nerves when you stand up to speak?  Do you dream of delivering your presentation with ease, poise and confidence?  Do you aspire to see your audience cheering and applauding you?

The reality is that fear of public speaking tops the list of common phobias.  This social anxiety triggers enough distress for some people that it causes them to feel like running away when faced with the task of speaking in front of a group.  There are some others who seem to take the stage at every chance they get.  Most of us fall somewhere in between, experiencing some level of unease and apprehension.  Sometimes the more we struggle, the more intense our dread.

There is an evolutionary reason why we feel this way.  When faced with a predator, human bodies engage in the fight-or-flight response, which creates an adrenaline and cortisol flush pumping through our systems.  In business, the threats to our well-being are psychological rather than physical — yet, our physiological response fails to distinguish between the two.  Since public speaking presents the risk of being faced with rejection, the level of nervousness can create unwelcome grief for some people.  Though these reactions are deeply ingrained, it is however possible to overcome presentation anxiety.  One can learn how to address these worries to be able to speak with greater ease and control.

Is there a magic spell? Not exactly.  There are however, a number of techniques that you can practice which will help you ease your fears and boost your confidence levels.  Here are some steps that can guide you:

  1. Prepare – your starting point is always very good preparation. Dedicate sufficient time to crafting and planning your talk or presentation well.  Check that the content is coherent and that you have internalised the key concepts of your message.  If you are preparing for a high stakes presentation you would want to rehearse and practice until sharing your message feels like second-nature.
  1. Visualise – allow some time for this effective technique. Visualisation can alter how we perceive the world around us. The ability to use our imagination can help us reshape our perceptions of reality.  By choosing to look on the bright side and see the proverbial glass as continuously half-full, the world around you will seem more hopeful and full of possibility.  Visualise yourself successfully giving a smooth performance before you go on stage.  Multiple studies have shown that people who visualise themselves delivering a smooth talk, perform better than those who do not.  So instead of worrying about getting stuck, imagine yourself giving a great presentation.  Picture yourself delivering incredibly well, feeling confident and at ease.  Picture every minute of the presentation in great detail so that your actual presentation will be an encore.
  1. Anticipate – whilst your energy is meant to be focused on the glass half-full, do not neglect the half-empty part. Anticipate what might go wrong, think of challenging questions that might be thrown your way or perhaps difficult members in your audience.  Get comfortable with uncertainty. Face the fact that you cannot have absolute control over a situation.  At a certain point you have to trust yourself that you have done all that you can to prepare to your possible best.
  1. Reframe – speakers tend to say, ‘I’m nervous!’ whilst performers typically say ‘I’m ready!’. Performers perceive that adrenaline rush as readiness.  Learn to use those chemicals to your advantage so that just like performers you perceive that adrenaline flush not as an attack but as your body preparing you to deliver with energy.  By reframing the meaning of the emotion we are experiencing from nerves into excitement, we shift our psychological orientation.
  1. Breathe – before you initiate your presentation, focus on the pace of your breathing. Inhale and exhale long, slow breaths that will calm you and reduce your heart rate. Once you get a good feel for this controlled rate of breathing, seek to remain conscious of it during your delivery.  If the adrenaline kicks in, your heart races and your voice falters, it will be difficult for your audience to understand you. Use deep breathing techniques to supress anxiety and get rid of its physical symptoms.  One of the simplest way to let go of fear is to slowly, mindfully exhale.
  1. Play your feel-good music – listen to that up-beat song that makes you feel vibrant with positive energy. In addition to helping you create a positive mood and mind-set, it also alters your perceptions of the world around you.

If you find that fear and anxiety gets in the way of your ability to speak well in public, I encourage you to try out these practices.  These techniques will help you channel your energy in the right direction so that you effectively transform your stage fright into stage presence.  Speaking is your opportunity to give and to share your message with others.  Remember, you’ve got this!

This article was originally featured on the Malta Sunday Times.  An adapted version is being feature here.

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