Comedian Jerry Seinfield talks about a survey where people were asked about their greatest fears. Death came in at number two, while public speaking was number one. As Jerry put it: "So, if you're at a funeral, you're better off being in the casket than giving the eulogy."
How do you feel when you step up to speak or perform? Are you nervous? Worried? Panicked? Feeling dread and terror?
If you are like most people, you likely experience some degree of stage fright, as the fear of public speaking is one of the most common fears people report. While some people have only a mild case of the jitters when stepping up to speak or perform, many others have a much higher level of performance anxiety.
While preparation and practice can do wonders in helping people feel less anxious when stepping up to speak or perform, I have found this is often not enough to quell the higher level fear and anxiety that so many people feel. For these people, more is needed to help calm the Fight or Flight reaction that gets triggered when they perceive speaking or performing to be such a threat.
I find that a body, mind, spirit approach is most helpful for those who struggle with stage fright. Below are some ideas you may find useful based on the holistic approach I write about in my book, Getting Over Stage Fright: A New Approach to Resolving Your Fear of Public Speaking and Performing.
BODY: Most people feel very worried about people detecting their symptoms of high anxiety when speaking or performing. These symptoms often include heart pounding, shaking and trembling, difficulty catching your breath, blushing, and/or sweating. The good news is that these symptoms are not as detectable as you may think, even though they can make you feel a loss of control and distract you from fully focusing on the content of your presentation or performance.
Here are some tips to work on calming the Fight or Flight reaction and easing your physical symptoms:
1. ACCEPT ANY ANXIOUS FEELINGS you are having and learn to not be afraid of your fear. Ride the wave of your feelings rather than resist the discomfort. Your fear will ease naturally as you focus on thoughts and images that help you feel safe and grounded rather than thoughts that fuel more anxiety and self-doubt.
2. BREATHE SLOWLY AND DEEPLY and focus on releasing and relaxing any tension that you are holding in your body. Slow down your pace of speaking and moving and try to stay in the present moment as much as possible.
3. CREATE A BODY POSTURE that expresses a relaxed, natural ease and a "Can do" attitude. Smile and create an open, relaxed, confident stance. This will give a message to your nervous system that you are steady and can handle the challenge up ahead.
MIND: It is important to realize we have a choice in how we think and it is up to us to direct our minds to think in ways that support us rather than undermine us. The good news is that we can begin to change conditioned patterns of fear and anxiety by becoming aware of our negative thoughts and reactions and choosing to think about our challenge in more realistic and supportive ways.
Here are some tips to help your mind work for you rather than against you:
1. DIRECT YOUR MIND away from any negative, fear-inducing thoughts and toward more supportive, empowering thoughts and images. Notice anytime your mind shifts back to fear-based thinking and continue to redirect your mind as many times as you need to. You will be training your mind to be your ally in this process.
2. KEEP A GOOD ATTITUDE and do not succumb to frustration or anger with yourself, no matter how challenging your experience may be. Be willing to accept exactly where you are in this moment rather than getting caught up with where you think you should be.
3. GET PERSPECTIVE on yourself and your situation. Smile and feel yourself lighten up as you remind yourself you are not giving the State of the Union address nor are you competing in the Olympics. Bring your situation down to size, realizing that fear and anxiety distort the reality of the situation and make things seem much scarier than they really are.
SPIRIT: Learning to cultivate your spiritual nature allows you to access your higher self and also creates the possibility for deeper healing from this fear. The good news is that your fear can act as a catalyst for your personal and spiritual growth and lead to many hidden blessings when you approach this challenge in a more conscious and mindful way.
Here are some tips to help you access your spiritual nature as you face this challenge:
1. RELAX YOUR NEED FOR CONTROL after you have done the prep work. Learn to go with the flow and allow whatever happens to be okay, trusting that things will turn out okay for you.
2. BE A WILLING SPIRIT and let go of any resistance you have to speaking or performing. Be willing to do whatever is being asked of you with an open heart and generous spirit.
3. TAKE THE FOCUS OFF YOURSELF and remember, It's not about you! Don't make this a proving ground for yourself. Instead, connect more deeply with individuals in your audience and focus on your true purpose, which is to contribute in whatever way you can to benefit others.
Albert Einstein once said, "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them." In order to resolve our fear of public speaking or performing we need to adopt and practice a new approach to this challenge.
Many people are tempted to avoid speaking or performing situations so as not to feel the fear. While this will provide immediate relief, it usually worsens the fear over time. Instead of avoiding, I invite you to read my books and learn more about how to help yourself with this fear. Then, I encourage you to practice using these tools in a safe and supportive setting, such as in my Getting Over Stage Fright Workshop and/or in a group such as Toastmasters.
Janet Esposito, M.S.W.
Janet is a bestselling author, coach, and workshop leader with more than a decade of experience in helping people who fear public speaking and performing. Her first book, In The SpotLight, has been an Amazon bestseller for over 7 years. Janet has also written a second book, Getting Over Stage Fright, where she offers a new, holistic approach to help you get beyond your speaking or performing fear, whether you have just a mild case of the jitters or a full-blown case of stage fright.
To learn more about Janet and what she has to offer, visit www.performanceanxiety.com.