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Stage Fright

Whether it's a speech at a professional meeting, a wedding toast, or competing in a sports event, sweaty palms and shaky knees are commonplace when speaking or performing in front of a group of people. In fact, most people experience some form of performance anxiety, even if it’s only mild. A lot can be at stake, since a good public showing might advance a career, for example. Yet fear can trip anyone up with an increased heart rate and a suddenly blank mind.

What Is Stage Fright?

Nervous man. vchal/Shutterstock

It seems impossible, but high-profile performers, like singers Adele and Rhianna, suffer stage fright just like the rest of us. Sometimes, such phobia may be part of a larger issue that can include symptoms such as dry mouth, nausea, stuttering, tachycardia, changes in vision, tics, and even tremors. An extreme fear of public speaking is a subtype of social anxiety disorder, and some 7 percent of the adult American population suffers from this condition.

Is stage fright a phobia?

Stage fright can be devastating both professionally and personally, but it’s not considered a full-blown phobia. However, an extreme fear of public speaking is a phobia called glossophobia. Glossophobia is a subset of social phobia or the fear of social situations where one is being watched or judged by others.

What happens during stage fright?

Someone might have performance anxiety in the days, weeks, or months leading up to the performance. Just before going on stage, they may feel tense, fidgety, or lightheaded; their hands or voice might shake. Their heart might pound faster, and they may sweat more. They may experience gastrointestinal symptoms, like nausea and stomach pain, with this common type of social anxiety.

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Conquering Performance Anxiety

There are many practical tips for overcoming the anxiety associated with stage fright. The first is to have a firm grip on the topic or situation at hand—winging it doesn’t usually work. Practice helps, and rehearsing in front of a mirror or a friend while using index cards, if necessary, is even better. Finally, it is essential to prepare for inevitable questions, which, again, goes back to being very familiar with the topic at hand.

Simple adjustments can help ease this fear—for example, bring notes, don’t convince yourself that you will bomb, and make eye contact to reduce the tension. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and yoga can also calm the mind before a big event. With proper treatment, people can conquer stage fright and excel in a variety of public performances.

How can you relax before going on stage?

Do your homework: Figure out who your audience is and what matters to them. Having content that you know provides value will help build your confidence and reduce your fear of public speaking. Identify what specifically scares you about an upcoming performance and work on solutions to that.

How do you stay calm during a presentation?

A little emotional intelligence can help you manage public speaking anxiety. First, acknowledge that your fear is emotional, not rational: You have practiced and prepared, and you’re ready to present. Employ positive self-talk and psyche yourself up for the performance (e.g., listen to music or meditate). Relax your body. Stretch. Give yourself time to rehearse on stage, if possible. Visualize giving a great performance in your mind.

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