(A Practical Guide to Overcoming Stage Public Speaking Anxiety)
Have you ever felt your heart racing, palms sweating or knees trembling at the thought of stepping on a stage to address an audience?
If yes, you are not alone.
In this post, we will explore the psychology behind stage fright and discuss practical tips to help you overcome it.
Whether you are a public speaker or an individual seeking to improve your public speaking skills, this post will show you how to deal with glossophobia (public speaking anxiety), and mount the stage with confidence every single time.
What Is Stage Fright?
Stage fright, also known as performance anxiety is a natural human response to the fear of being judged while performing in front of people.
This fear is common to people all over the world and it can limit your ability to reach your fullest potential and perform excellently in any public speaking presentation.
Common Symptoms of Stage Fright
Symptoms of stage fright may vary in different people. However, below is a list of prominent symptoms of stage fright.
1. Increased Heart Rate.One of the most noticeable symptoms is a rapid heartbeat, often accompanied by palpitations. Your heart tends to pound loudly, making you feel like everyone can hear it.
2. Sweating. Profuse sweating, especially in the palms, armpits, and forehead, is a typical physical response to stage fright.
3. Shaky hands and legs.The feeling of nervousness often leads to trembling or shaky hands and limbs, making it challenging to maintain composure.
4. Dryness of the mouth. Many people experience dryness in the mouth, which makes it difficult to speak clearly.
5. Shortness of breath.Rapid breathing or shallow breaths might occur due to increased heart rate, making it feel like you’re running out of air.
6. Memory blank. You may experience forgetfulness leading to the inability to recall lines and the key points of a speech.
7. Stuttering.You may experience a speech disorder that makes you repeat words or syllables, and sometimes stop your speech temporarily.
8. Fidgeting.Nervous habits like pacing, tapping, or constantly adjusting clothing can be a way of exhibiting nervousness.
9. Negative thoughts.You might experience an overwhelming sense of self-doubt and negative thoughts, such as fearing judgment or failure.
10. Extreme avoidance of situations that trigger stage fright. The fear of speaking in front of a crowd might cause you to avoid situations that trigger stage fright at all costs.
Causes Of Stage Fright
1. Fear of judgment. People worry about making mistakes and not meeting the expectations of their audience, most of us do. The fear of appearing incompetent and being negatively evaluated by others which arises from a desire for social approval prompts individuals to place high expectations and intense pressure on themselves. This leads to physical symptoms like trembling, sweating, and rapid heartbeat and hinders individuals from performing their best.
2. Self-doubt. A lack of confidence in one’s abilities is a significant cause of stage fright. The feeling of uncertainty about one’s abilities and competence gives rise to a decline in confidence and intensifies their fear of being judged negatively. This causes individuals to question whether they are good enough to present in front of a crowd and sprouts negative talk, which makes it difficult for them to perform excellently.
3. Social Anxiety. People who struggle with social anxiety often experience stage fright as they fear social criticism. Social anxiety disorder is characterized by an intense fear of social situations, including public speaking or performing, where individuals fear judgment, embarrassment, or humiliation by others.
In social anxiety, individuals may worry excessively about being scrutinized by others, fear negative evaluation, and experience physical symptoms such as trembling, sweating, and a racing heart when faced with social or performance-related tasks. This fear of social judgment can affect an individual’s ability to perform excellently.
4. Pressure to succeed. Many people experience stage fright because of the heavy pressure imposed on them whether personally or from other people. When individuals feel intense pressure to perform perfectly in front of an audience, it can trigger anxiety and fear of failure. This pressure may come from various sources, including personal expectations, societal standards, or the desire to meet others’ high expectations. The fear of not living up to these expectations can intensify stage fright and make individuals too conscious of the consequences of any mistake or perceived failure during a performance or presentation.
5. Inexperience. People who are new to public speaking might experience stage fright because of the lack of prior experience. Inexperience causes individuals to feel unprepared and uncertain about how to handle themselves in front of an audience. This sense of unfamiliarity can breed anxiety and fear and make individuals worry about making mistakes, forgetting their lines, or not knowing how to engage the audience effectively. The fear of the unknown can be particularly daunting and may intensify the anxiety they feel.
6. High Standards. Many individuals struggle with stage fright because of the standards imposed by the presentation e.g. job interviews, auditions, or work presentations. These high expectations create immense pressure and anxiety which is a major cause of stage fright.
This is not to say that having high standards is wrong as it can motivate individuals to be excellent. However, these standards cause anxiety when in excess.
7. Negative Past Experience. Negative past experiences of being criticised after a speaking presentation triggers severe stage fright in many people. When individuals have had previous negative or embarrassing experiences in public speaking or performing, these memories can create a lingering fear and anxiety associated with similar situations in the future. These past experiences might include forgetting their lines, the inability to answer questions provided, or receiving harsh criticism from an audience. Such memories can erode confidence and increase tension about facing an audience again.
8. Lack of preparation. When individuals are not adequately prepared for a performance or presentation, it can lead to a sense of insecurity and anxiety. They may worry about forgetting their lines, missing key points, or stumbling through their performance. The fear of not being prepared enough can intensify the fear of judgment and self-doubt. It’s challenging to feel confident when you know you haven’t put in the necessary time and effort to perform excellently and leads to performance anxiety.
Effects of Stage Fright
Stage fright can have a profound negative impact on both personal and professional aspects of people’s lives.
Physiologically, stage fright gives rise to symptoms like a racing heart, sweaty palms, and trembling, leading to poor performance. It also leads to memory lapses and reduced confidence, hindering one’s ability to perform at their best.
Additionally, it can result in continuous anxiety, deteriorating self-esteem, and extreme avoidance of future opportunities.
Professionally, it can limit the growth of individuals in their respective careers, hindering them from reaching their full potential.
Socially, it may limit personal growth by restricting participation in public activities.
Practical Tips for Overcoming Stage Fright
Prepare Adequately. Thorough preparation is key to performing excellently in public speaking presentations. The more you understand your topic, the more confident you will feel while presenting it. Conduct enough research on your topic, outline your key points, and create visual aids if needed.
Rehearse in Realistic Settings. Rehearse your presentation in realistic settings to boost your preparedness. Practice using your friends, family, or colleagues as an audience. This prepares you for speaking in front of the audience and also helps you build the right tone and master time management for your presentation.
Focus on the Message. Concentrate on the message you are conveying to your audience. Refrain from dwelling on the feeling of anxiety as it might cause you to convey your speech hurriedly and confuse your audience. By focusing on the message, the mastery of your topic will repel all feelings of anxiety and prepare you for a superb presentation.
Visualise success. Picture yourself performing excellently on stage and focus on the positive feelings of confidence and achievement. This helps you feel successful in the speaking presentation and align your mind to a positive outcome.
Connect with the Audience. Interact with your audience and maintain eye contact with them. This will help you relax around them and see them as allies instead of people waiting to notice every little mistake you make. This reduces the anxiety you feel.
Accept Imperfection. Having a perfectionist mindset can further escalate the anxiety you feel in speaking publicly. Understand and accept that no one is perfect, and that mastery is a long-life process. No one becomes an expert in a day. Keep learning and practicing. You will get better at it.
Practise Positive Self Talk. Say positive things to yourself and avoid negative thoughts. Continually remind yourself of your competence and your previous achievements. This will encourage you to mount the stage with a positive mind.
Practise Deep Breathing before Mounting the Stage. Use deep breathing exercises to calm your nerves. Inhale and exhale slowly several times before mounting the stage. This exercise helps you relax and gain composure.
Build your Pace. Speaking not too fast or too slow can help you maintain flow and clarity. Ensure to build the right pacing while rehearsing and during the presentation. If you can maintain a fair pace, you have a better chance of effectively conveying your points to your audience.
Seek Professional Help. If stage fright becomes extremely limiting and difficult to handle, don’t hesitate to reach out to a therapist who specialises in performance anxiety. A specialist can help you tackle the root of the problem and also serve as a support system for you.
Stage fright is a common feeling for many individuals across the world and it limits our ability to reach our fullest potential. However, with the right practices, you can overcome stage fright and perform excellently in any public speaking setting.
Remember that stage fright is a natural response to the challenges of speaking in public, and accept that overcoming it is not a day’s process. With time and consistent efforts, you can speak confidently and captivate your audience in your presentations. Embrace the journey and don’t be afraid of imperfection.
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