Posts Tagged ‘Overcoming Stage Fright’

35 Tips to Overcome Stage Fright

October 12, 2011

As a speaker and entertainer that has appeared on stages in over 128 countries, I have learnt to deal with stage fright. Here are 35 different tips and ideas which may help you feel more relaxed on stage. Not all of them may be for you, but I am positive that many of these tips will make a positive difference for you.

These 35 Tips are downloadable as a FREE E-BOOK from  Smashwords in most reader formats, iTunesReader Store and Barnes & Noble.

1. Set an end time for your fear.

If you have a presentation at 20h00 tonight, set yourself a goal to get over the fear by 16h00 so that you can focus on preparing for your speech. It sounds crazy, but by setting yourself an end time, you are actually giving yourself extra time for the fear to diffuse itself.

2. Talk to the audience as friends

If you had to do your speech for a close friend, would it sound as structured and formal as it does now? Most probably not! Look at the audience and make eye contact with one person at a time, talk to that person as if they were this friend. In other words, talk to one person at a time in the audience. This will relax you and make the whole pace of your speech more informal. As such you will be connecting on a deeper level with the audience and they will be able to relate to you more effectively. Plus of course this approach reduces your anxiety.

3. Take it easy/ Don’t take it easy

There are two schools of thought here:

a.) On the day of your presentation, relax! Take it easy and don’t be too busy. It will fluster you more and make you worry about preparing for the presentation. Rather schedule lots of free time on this day so you can get your mind around it.

b.) Other people find that the more they do on the day, the less they think about the stress of the presentation, and this helps them cope.

Only you know which personality type you are and what will suit you.

4. Know your stuff

I have always believed that if you know what you are talking about, there is no reason to be nervous. Make a point of understanding what you intend talking about and do not learn it parrot fashion. When you understand and know the topic, you speak naturally and hence more confidently. Also, should a technical hitch occur, because you are confident on your subject, this shouldn’t phase you.

5. Stretch

If you are nervous, odds are your muscles will be tight and your body stiff. 10 Minutes before you go onto stage, do a few simple stretch exercises. This will loosen you up and relax your whole body.

6. Loose yourself in the material

When you become the material you are speaking about, you go into another zone and the focus moves away from you – this can make a big difference.

7. Practice in front of an audience

Even if you just gather your family, social circle or offer the talk for free to an old age home – an audience is vital! The more you practice with a live audience, the easier it gets and the less the fear becomes.

8. Be at the venue with enough time to spare

Obviously if you arrive late and have to run onto stage, you will be stressed. Give yourself ample time at the venue to acclimatise and get used to the auditorium. Remember, there could be a scheduling change on the day and you may have to go onto stage earlier than planned. This won’t do the nerves any good if you are still in your car and get a frantic phone call from the organiser that you have to be on stage in 2 minutes! It’s always better to be early.

9. Mental practice

If you drive past me when I am in my car, odds are you will either think I am mad, or I am talking on the hands free phone. I mentally practice my talk out loud and imagine myself standing in front of the audience. I even imagine, and answer people questing me from the audience. In fact, I enact the whole presentation out loudly. At home I will stand in a room on my own and pace act out the entire speech. My family already understand this and accept me as mad! Visualising this two or three times really helps calm the nerves and cement the presentation in your mind.

10. Use your imagination

Some speakers actually imagine their audience in a funny manner when they walk onto stage – they believe this calms them down. It could work for you too! Imagine them all dressed in funny clothing, or without clothing! Whatever works for you and makes you smile!

11. When things go wrong

If you are on stage regularly, something will go wrong sooner or later. Accept this! If you know your stuff, odds are it won’t phase you as much. If a microphone suddenly stops working, carry on in a louder voice, but don’t let it distract you. The technical people are already stressing and trying to sort out the problem. You adding to the stress won’t change anything. Think about the things that can go wrong and plan for them, thus when they happen you already have an action plan.

12. Double check everything

Do you have notes, or a laptop which you use? Check that you have them with you and that everything works. Before you leave home, have a check-list so that you don’t forget anything. When you walk onto stage and suddenly realise that your notes are missing, or the projector doesn’t work, it’s too late! Of course your nerves will take over! In the same vein, know your speech so well that should this happen, you don’t need to rely on notes or presentation slides. That alone will give you huge confidence.

13. Eat a banana!

No I am not kidding! Someone told me a long time ago that eating something nutritious, but not too filling, takes away the butterflies in your stomach. Fear and anxiety causes an empty nauseating feeling in your stomach. By eating a banana 20 to 30 minutes before you go on stage, that empty feeling disappears!

14. Do something different

Whether you listen to soothing music, phone your spouse or play a game on your mobile phone – just try doing something completely different before walking out on stage. It takes your mind away from the fear and relaxes you.

15. Be comfortable with who you are

If you are self conscious about your looks, clothes or anything about you – you will be distracted and nervous. The only solution here is to be honest with yourself and learn to be comfortable with who you are. Similarly, wear clothes which is comfortable and not distracting. New shoes give blisters, so don’t wear new shoes on stage which could hurt and distract you. Wear them in first. Ladies, high heels can get stuck between floor boards! Leave them at home. If you are comfortable with yourself, it is easier to laugh at yourself, if something goes wrong.

16. Don’t rush it.

When you start your presentation – take it easy. Don’t rush it. Make a point of starting slowly so that you can get into a comfortable space. Not only do you have to get used to the audience, they have to get used to you. Especially if you have an accent – they need time to understand your pronunciation clearly. I’ll never forget seeing one speaker who walked onto stage, sat down on a chair, lit a cigarette and drank a cup of coffee. At the end he turned to the audience and said, “What’s the matter, do you start immediately when you get to the office in the morning?” What a brilliant gag and opening! He had the time to check out the audience, plus turned it into a huge laugh which everyone could relate to. Immediately everyone was more relaxed.

17. Never apologise for being nervous

Most, if not all people may not even realise that you are nervous – so why tell them? You may feel yourself shivering and shaking, but the audience may not be aware of anything. Never mention it – it will make the audience nervous on your behalf too, and they won’t listen the way they should. Instead they will worry about whether you will cope.

18. Get through the first 5 minutes!

Get onto stage and just concentrate on staying calm for the first 5 minutes. Imagine your hour speech as only 5 minutes – this makes it less stressful. Simply focus on getting the first bit done. By then you will have calmed down and the rest is downhill.

19. Stop stressing about whether the audience will like you 

This goes hand in hand with being comfortable with who you are. Yes! We all want to do a great presentation and have the audience like us. But, if that’s your focus, you will be distracted and nervous. Focus on doing the best you can within your parameters. As long as you honestly know you did your best, it doesn’t matter if someone didn’t like you. Think about it this way… does everyone like the same foods? No! There will always be some people that don’t like you. Accept this and do the best for those that do like you. Your whole approach then becomes more relaxed, and odds are you’ll convert the negative ones too! Will the world end if you fluff a line? No! So don’t worry about it.

20. Focus on them, and not you

You are a vessel through which a message is delivered. The presentation is not about you, or your slides – it’s about imparting information and knowledge to the audience. When you turn your focus from yourself to the people out there, the fear subsides.

21. Don’t share your mistakes

You have rehearsed the presentation and feel good about it. Suddenly on stage you realise you forgot an important point, or mixed up the order of topics as you had prepared them. The audience doesn’t know this! Only you know your talk. If you suddenly apologise for making a mistake, or leaving out a point – you are making the audience aware of a mistake they didn’t even know existed! However, if you say nothing and bring it in later – no one will be the wiser, and you will feel far less awkward. Odds are it may even work out better that way!

22. Imagine a white light

I always imagine a bright white light around me before a walk onto stage. I see this light/energy engulfing the whole audience and endearing them towards me. This can calm you down immensely… and your audience too.

23. Do a run through at the venue

If time allows, do a full practice run on the stage at the venue. This will definitely familiarise you with everything and make you feel less nervous. Think about it logically… you will have gone through the process once before, this gives your mind time to process everything around you. Hence when you walk onto stage the second time, you are already familiar with the environment and thus more relaxed.

24. Visit the venue

If you know that you will be nervous and worried what the venue will look like, make a point of trying to visit the place a day or two beforehand. This will give you time to think about it in your mind and become more comfortable.

25. Keep fit

When you are fit and healthy, you handle yourself better. Go to the gym the morning before the presentation and work all the frustrations out of your system.

26. Breathe

Nerves can cause short fast breaths and this will throw you off balance, and make you more nervous. 5 Minutes before you go on, sit down, relax and work on your breathing by taking slow deep breaths. Thus by the time you walk onto stage, you have paced your breathing to a more relaxed rhythm.

27. Walk among the crowd

Standing alone on a stage with the audience in darkness is nerve wracking for anyone. Ask the organisers to put up the houselights so that you can see the faces of the audience. Then make a point of walking into the audience and look at everyone around you one on one. Make eye contact and bond with individuals in the audience. It calms you down, plus makes you more approachable/friendly in the eyes of the delegates

28. Focus on the importance of the event within reason

Yes! Some events are more important than others and hence your stress levels may vary. Either way, when you stand on that stage, remember that it’s only that group of people that are watching you at that moment. There are another billion people on this earth that aren’t watching you – so what’s the big deal?

29. Love what you do

It makes a huge difference if you are passionate about the topic you are speaking on. You are thus automatically more comfortable with it and naturally relaxed. Anyone who has to speak on an unfamiliar topic will be nervous – that’s a given. Hence if you have the choice, choose something you love to talk about – this will reduce any anxiety you may have had before dramatically.

30. Smile

Smile from within – force the corners of your mouth up. Make it a proper smile and not just a grin. Try it now – see how it changes your mood!

31. Fake Confidence

Imagine yourself absolutely blowing the audience away – a super star performance! Get onto stage and fake it! You’ll be amazed at how quick you get into it and relax.

32. Stop being over critical on yourself

This is a huge cause for butterflies and nerves. Just realise that no audience is sitting there waiting to criticise you. The majority of them are too petrified to stand on that stage. They are just too grateful it’s you. So relax and enjoy it! In the same vein don’t be too critical on yourself. As a speaker I have often walked off stage thinking the audience were a bit quiet and that it didn’t go down so well. In the meantime they were so into what I was doing, they forgot to respond and clap, simply because they were so taken aback. Sometimes our expectations are too high. Calm down and enjoy the moment. Often you get a far better response than you expected. Also remember that if your expectations are too high and the audience doesn’t respond accordingly, you may wrongly hold back and not give as good a presentation as you should have.

33. Add laughter

Yes, we are not all comedians, and jokes take practice and timing. However, it is in your interest to find a joke or funny anecdote that you know will work – we call it a stock gag – where at least 80% of the audience will laugh. Open with this, it will relax you and the crowd!

34. Practice in front of your fear

Imagine your fear is watching you and you have to do the presentation. It’s a rehearsal on your own in front of your fear. Doing this two or three times makes you confront your fear and get over it.

35. We all make mistakes

Focusing on that perfect presentation will lead to a boring speech and you will lose all spontaneity. The only way we learn is through our mistakes! It is naive to believe that you won’t make any – but in the eyes of the audience it also makes you human and endears them towards you. Just don’t make the same mistake twice! Through practice and learning from your mistakes you will become more proficient. This doesn’t mean that an older speaker is better than you – it all depends who learnt the most from their mistakes. As the golfer Gary Player always said, “The more I practice, the luckier I get.”

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Overcoming Stage Fright

August 22, 2011

This is a tough one for me to tackle, as I have never had stage fright. As weird as it may sound, I love standing in front of a crowd. I will never forget once, while addressing a network-marketing group of about 400 people, I had to talk about presentation skills. I started by saying that I have never had stage fright, and continued by saying that you could put me in front of any audience naked, and I would talk about the first thing that comes up. At the time I didn’t realise what I had said. It had made sense in my mind. To top it all, it was a very religious group as well. Thankfully they all had a sense of humour and burst out laughing. Only then did I realise what I had said, and ended up laughing with them. Thinking back, my reaction actually proved my point that I wasn’t nervous, and even when I did say something wrong, I could still laugh at myself. They realised I didn’t mean it the way their ‘imaginative’ minds had processed it, and all was forgiven. I just had to share that with you. To be honest, I was embarrassed at the time but managed to hide it quite well.

Stage fright is a reality for most speakers I know, and their has been much said about how to overcome it. I will cover various tips and theories, but I believe there are only three reasons why someone is nervous before a presentation.

1.) They are not really into what they are doing, i.e. only doing it for the money and it is not their real passion – hence the feeling of, ‘Will I pull it off?’

2.) They are not the experts they profess to be, and fear that someone could possibly see through them.

3.) The main reason to me – they don’t know their talk!

If I go on stage and have no knowledge of what I am going to say, then I will be uneasy and stressed. That’s only normal. But if I know my talk (we come back to the issue of being ‘real’ and doing it 100 times for free), why should I have any reason to doubt my abilities? If you have practiced and rehearsed that talk and can do it in your sleep, you have absolutely no reason to be nervous. That’s it. Yes I can read minds too … you are now thinking to yourself, “But what about those 100 times I do it for free, there will be the first time I do it – so obviously I will be nervous.” Yes I agree, so why then don’t you start small? Do it for your family, friends and social circle first. Do it for people you are comfortable with. Then build up to the Rotary and Lion club meetings etc. Ease yourself into it!

I will never forget my first Magical Production show we performed on Princess cruises. We had a choreographer from Broadway rehearsing with us every night. When it came to the final bows she would swear like a trouper and scream at us (that’s my wife and me – my wife assisted in the show.) Let me backtrack. I have always been a thankful person and believe that part of my success is that I am grateful and thankful for everything that has happened in my life. I don’t take anything for granted and believe in humility. I don’t see myself as better than the next person. My wife has the same views.

Thus, when we bowed at the end of our show, in my eyes it was a gracious bow of gratitude and thanks towards the audience for spending the hour with us. To the choreographer this was a no no! She was American! Have you ever watched an American entertainer on stage? They are in charge – they take over – they have ATTITUDE! That is why they are the best and the biggest. Her philosophy was, ‘It’s all good and well to be humble, but when you are on stage, YOU are the star. YOU are in control. Your whole body must ooze confidence.’ I am giving you the polite version here. She said, “When you bow, you look the audience in the eyes and say, “Up Yours!” Of course you do this silently to yourself. Guess what happened? My chest suddenly pushed out and I stood more proud – now she started applauding.

As crude as this example may sound – she was right. YOU are on that stage. The audience is there to listen to you. If you do not ooze confidence and pride, you will never become great. Look at your top American speakers and entertainers. They have ATTITUDE! Attitude sells. Whether you agree with this philosophy or not, it works. That’s why they are the biggest and the best.

However, that doesn’t mean you must become an arrogant prat! Keep your humility and remain a gracious human being. But when you stand on that stage, you need to radiate power and control. The audience must see a confident, high-energy individual who is great at what they do. How else can you inspire others if they don’t see that energy and passion in you? It’s all about the show! I trust this makes sense.

 Further tips to increase your confidence:

1.) When you practice your talk, take it on video and watch yourself. Initially you may not enjoy seeing yourself on tape. But the more you do it, the more you become used to seeing yourself and you soon learn to look at yourself critically and see where you have gone wrong. You become comfortable with seeing yourself and this does make you more secure within yourself.

2.) Don’t just rehearse your talk to camera, in front of friends, or alone in your living room, but visualise it during quiet times as well. If you are sitting waiting on someone, or just before you go to sleep – see yourself on that stage and imagine doing the talk. This all boosts your confidence. Someone once told me that when they rehearse in their living room, they put all their children’s stuffed animals on the couch and use them as an audience. Hey, if it works for you – great!

3.) Many people suggest you should find a quiet room before the presentation and relax/meditate. If that helps you, great! In my mind it just gives you more time to get nervous. I would suggest rather keeping busy, talking to others and holding a conversation with someone. You MUST have done your talk 100 times by now. You know it. There is no reason to be nervous and brood. You should be telling jokes to the stage assistant and laughing, while waiting for your cue to go onto stage.

4.) Many people say that you have to get through the first 5 minutes. Granted, if you haven’t done a dry run and are not used to the stage and lighting, it can be intimidating standing there in a strange environment with lights blinding you. Look at a 5 minute goal of just settling in – don’t worry about the whole hour keynote. Just get into that ‘comfort zone’ first, and the rest will follow naturally.

5.) Breathe normally. When people clamp up they start breathing fast with shorter breaths – hence the nerves. A nice idea is to get onto stage, look at the audience and take a few deep breaths before starting to speak. One of funniest openings I ever saw a speaker do was that he walked onto stage with a cup of coffee. Sat down, lit a cigarette and basically spent two minutes smoking and drinking coffee. He was looking at the audience, but was in a ‘zone’ of his own. Then suddenly he said,” What’s the matter – do you start working straight away when you get into the office?”

The audience cracked up. They could relate to what he did, plus he had given himself the time to get used to the stage, calm himself and start with a laugh.

6.) That brings me to making the audience laugh right away. Laughter breaks the ice for anyone. If you can walk onto stage and get a laugh in the first 10 seconds – it will calm you and the audience. Read my chapter on opening lines and ideas for more on this.

7.) Realise that 99% of the people in the audience would be scared sh&#tless to stand on that stage – so they are all glad it’s you and not them. Thus they are on your side.

8.) Consider for a moment if anyone in the audience has your knowledge and can stand up on that stage and do what you are doing. Odds are they can’t! That’s another reason to be more confident.

9.) Most people are scared of ‘dying or bombing’ on stage. You know that fear is what holds people back. Are you going to let fear make you nervous? If you know your talk, you have nothing to fear!

10.) Some people suggest that you talk to the audience as if they were only one person. Okay, but every time you look up, there are hundreds in front of you. Here is where eye contact is important. I would change this advice to, ‘Talk to one person at a time.’ It is imperative to maintain eye contact with everyone in the room and make them feel as if you are personally speaking to each and every individual. Thus you do look and speak to one person at a time, but you move around. Spend a few seconds looking at one, and then move to the next. In essence you are still only having a one to one conversation, but covering the whole room.

11.) Understand that it’s not about you! It’s about them! When you make your audience more important than you and focus on the message/story that you are telling, your focus changes away from yourself and you calm down.

12.) As a speaker, have you ever spoken on the topic of ‘Letting Go?” I believe many of us have. You now have to apply the concept to yourself. Let go of the worry that some people may not like you. That’s life! Not everyone is going to like you and get on with you. This is a personal issue each and every one of us has to come to terms with. You need to learn to be comfortable with who you are. We live in a society where we are so conditioned by the media on who we should be, that this actually screws up the majority of people. Stop being image conscious. Stop doing what the media sells you. Be true to yourself and inner peace will follow.

Think about it, how many people do you know that just seem to be chilled and happy with whom they are? Not many! When you talk to them and spend time in their company, how does it make you feel? Comfortable? It’s their natural energy that rubs off onto you. My dad always said to me, “You can’t get everyone to love you, but you can get them to respect you.” Isn’t that what it’s all about? There is that old saying that you only need 51% of people to like you in order to be successful. Get over all the personal image issues and be yourself. If you stand on that stage and create an illusion of someone that you’re not – many people may like you. But it will be stressful to maintain that image. However, if you are you, and content with everything about yourself, more people will like you. As someone so nicely put it, “Don’t take yourself so seriously!”

13.) I’m scared of making a mistake! Duh! We all make mistakes. If you don’t make mistakes, how else will you improve your talk and become a seasoned veteran in the game? Again, society has conditioned us to see mistakes as negative. Please never fail at anything – then you are a loser! What kind of philosophy is that? You know where it started – in school with it’s flawed education system. If you failed you were a drop out. My favourite saying is from Thomas Edison who said, “I have not failed, I just found ten thousand ways that don’t work.” Isn’t that just the best? That’s the philosophy you need. Take it a step further, we as humans were designed to learn from our failures and mistakes. If not, why would we keep on standing up again after we fell down as babies when we tried to walk? But once again the media/society/etc. has conditioned this warped perception in our minds that failure is bad. Granted, doing the same mistake twice is just plain stupid. You have to be honest enough with yourself to learn from your first mistake and change. I look at my speaking career. When I started I made horrible mistakes. Anyone that saw me then and now would never recognise my presentation. Why? Because I was finding my feet. We all have ideas we think will work. When they don’t we want to fall apart. Nonsense, sit back and analyse why it didn’t work. Change it and try again. If it still doesn’t work, do it different again. The easiest way to explain this is the way a seasoned comedian works. He may tell a joke which has you rolling in the aisle. You repeat the joke and no one laughs. Why? The comedian has mastered that joke over years and years. He knows how to stand, when to pause, which words to emphasise. Do you think he did that the first time he told the joke? Definitely not – it came with years of practice. That’s why the 100 times rehearsal of your talk is so important. You will learn so much and change so many things. At least you will start the first paying gig with a good talk. The greatness only comes from years of presenting it further and mastering the little things. I look at my first talk I did, ‘Discover Your Magic.’ To date this is still my favourite talk. Why? Because I have done it for so long I know exactly where to pause and what reaction I will get. And guess what, in 5 years from now there will be many changes to the current version, because I will always learn something every time I do it. So take mistakes and learn from them.

14.) Exercise! Fit people are calmer than unfit ones. Have a good workout on the day of your talk – it gets rid of all that excess negative energy and just makes you feel better.

15.) Plan for the inevitable. Further chapters in this book include lines and comments to cover when things go wrong. I am a firm believer that if something goes wrong and you have the right funny comment at that moment, everyone relaxes. However, you need to memorise and have them at hand. Even the corniest lines are funny if timed correctly. Recently I was speaking at a large conference when the power failed. Everything went into darkness. Any decent conference venue will have a back-up generator that will kick in within a few minutes. Of course the microphone was also dead, so I projected my voice as best I could and asked the audience to remain calm and put their hands straight up above their head into the air. I repeated myself saying I could see not everyone was doing this. They laughed as no one could see a thing, including me. When the light came on, 80% of the audience was sitting there with their hands high above them. I dryly looked at them and said, “See, that old Chinese proverb, many hands make light work, really works!” Besides laughing loudly, I received a thunderous round of applause. In fact afterwards many people spoke to me and thought I had planned the whole thing. The management of the hotel thanked me for covering the blackout so well and shifting the focus onto me. In fact they gave me an expensive bottle of wine as a ‘Thank You.’ All because I had this silly line at exactly the right moment.

A speaker was trying to bring across the message of breaking yourself lose from the shackles that hold you back. He had himself tied up and attempted to try an escape to bring across the message. As he successfully broke free, he shouted, “I’m free, I’m free.” And a little girl in the front row shouted back, “So what, I’m four!”

This is an extract from my book: Tips for Speakers, available at www.mindpowerpublications.com