What is stage fright and why does it happen?
According to the ‘Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary’, the word was added in 1878, though obviously the feeling has been around since people began performing. Stage fright is “nervousness at appearing before an audience.”
Stage fright, also referred to as performance anxiety, is usually caused by someone feeling inadequate, whether not fully prepared, or just self-conscious, about being on display before a group of people. Sometimes the audience consists of a few people; other times it’s a few million. Whatever your venue, the best way to avoid stage fright is by being confident in how you present yourself.
There are many types of public speaking from schoolroom to boardroom. How you approach your impending speech makes a huge difference in how it’ll turn out. Make sure you have prepared your notes. If you have any slides or props, make certain the machinery is set up, all the slides are in order, and your props are available, either onstage or with you.
Dress appropriately for the event, and be comfortable in what you have on. If wearing a standard business uniform, make sure it fits you well. Sometimes people don’t plan what to wear until the last minute and they end up struggling to find the appropriate ensemble. Standing up before a group of people should motivate you to look your best.
Preparing yourself mentally is the next step. Hopefully, you’ll have all your notes, equipment, props, etc. at the ready. But the most important rule to remember is that you’re going to be addressing people who are no different from you. Be confident in your ability to recognize that what you have to say is what they want to hear. No matter how controversial your subject matter may or may not be, it’s to your advantage to be as optimistic as you can.
The most fatal mistake a speaker can make is to forget a basic rule: breathing! You can’t live without breathing, and you can’t give a speech if you’re hyperventilating! See the breathing advice in the performance section of this article.
When you’re making your speech, speak as clearly as you can. Don’t alter your voice drastically, but don’t mumble so that you’re not understood. Refrain from making too many hand and arm movements, but don’t just stand there like a plank. Be animated and enthusiastic.
Whether you’re doing a violin solo, dancing with a partner, or making your theatrical debut, stage fright is a very real problem for many artists. No matter if you’re alone onstage or sharing it with dozens of others, stage fright can be reduced or even eliminated. First of all, you must want to get rid of your fear of performing.
Realize that you truly want to be onstage. So simple, but many people delude themselves, or are forced onstage by aggressive stage parents. The desire to get in front of a group of people and entertain them must be strong. Doing a performance just to please family and/or friends isn’t the way to go.
Like with public speaking, if you’ll be onstage singing or speaking, you must utilize your breathing in a sensible way. If possible, breathe only through your nose. It’s advisable to be trained by a professional, whether a voice coach or a yoga instructor. After all, your body is your instrument and must be treated with the utmost care and respect.
Visualization is also a common method of alleviating anxiety. There are many books on this subject, as there are videotapes you can rent and courses/seminars you can take. Investigate them, as positive visualization can make a good performance great. A simple exercise to do before getting on stage is to make a visual run-through of yourself in whatever role you’re performing. Incorporating this with slow, deep breathing can be of benefit to you. You may want to do this once or several times, depending upon how much time you have.
As for your costume or uniform, make sure it’s clean, pressed, and that you’re wearing it in time for the performance. The same goes for makeup, be sure it’s applied before the curtain rises. If you’re an actor, you’ll hopefully have all your lines memorized. Musicians needing sheet music, dancers, and their shoes, all performers need to have anything that will accompany them on stage with them or otherwise at the ready. Preparedness will help alleviate stage fright. The nerves or ‘butterflies in the stomach’ that occur before showtime affect rank beginners and seasoned performers alike. You simply harness that energy into your performance.
Remember you’re an entertainer and you’re simply doing your job! It’s a wonderful profession to be involved in, no matter if you’re an amateur or a professional. When you’re onstage, it’s important to think of yourself as a pro and always do your best.
Are you part of a basketball, baseball, football, hockey or any other type of team? Will you be doing a sports event by yourself, such as swimming, gymnastics, weightlifting, etc.? Or are you going to be half of a one on one situation—like boxing, wrestling, fencing, etc.?
Regardless of the event, proper breathing is essential. Warming up your body should be standard procedure, as per your coach’s instructions. The adrenaline you feel before and during your event will be of help, but a strong stretching routine to fine-tune your body beforehand shouldn’t be skipped. Nor should you neglect to have a meal beforehand, although this varies from sport to sport. The rule about not exercising for 30 minutes after a meal is apt advice. Overeating isn’t advised, but you shouldn’t be starving yourself either. Hopefully you practice proper nutrition and know exactly what your body requires and when.
Before you enter the track, field, court, etc., be of good mind. Don’t be overly concerned with winning. Envision yourself playing your sport well and doing your best. Sports are very entertaining and you are the performer playing to an audience. In some events, such as ice skating, gymnastics and diving, a panel of judges ranks the athlete’s performance. Don’t overplay to the judges, but don’t ignore them. They’re just a part of the audience, but more knowledgeable and seated a bit closer to the ‘stage.’
No matter if you’re an athlete, public speaker or performer, stage fright doesn’t have to overwhelm you. You don’t have to suffer from performance anxiety. All you have to do is breathe deeply, know what you’re out there to do, and have fun!