The flushing at the very thought, the pounding heart, the butterflies flapping through the belly. Or your skin pales, you feel cold all over, your mouth goes dry and your mind blank. Dizzy. Numb. Shaky. Sick.
It's stage fright, and it can begin long before you actually walk to the stage or the minute you do. Most performers and speakers have it in some form; those that do can often find ways to control, manage, transform, and use it.
Here are nine ways that'll help you transform anxiety into usable energy.
1. EXPERIMENT WITH LOW-RISK VENUES
To chip away at her fear of public speaking, one of our clients volunteered to perform the readings at her church each month. Having a text in front of her removed her anxiety about what she was going to say; it allowed her to control her breathing, eye focus, and voice as well as become accustomed to having so many people looking at her. Others facilitated informal neighborhood meetings, oriented small groups of new employees, and instructed colleagues in a new process.
2. WARMING UP REDUCES ANXIETY
Develop key message points that address why you are presenting and the characteristics of your audience. Few speakers get it exactly right in the first planning session, so leave time for revising, reorganizing, honing.
Through practice you'll internalize your messages as well as supporting data, examples, stories, your use of visuals and language.
As you rehearse, you will find places where you stumble, phrases or ideas that are difficult to articulate, messages that need additional support. Some speakers stop immediately to revise. Others revise after a couple of run-throughs. Either way, edit—always keeping in mind the purpose you want to achieve with your specific audience.
And then rehearse some more.
6. PSYCH YOURSELF UP, NOT OUT
As you plan, rehearse, edit, and rehearse some more, visualize success. Create an image of that success: you, relaxed but alert, in command of your messages and delivery, using visual and vocal cues to engage and retain audience attention.
Keep that image in your mind and use it to guide you toward what you are: effective.
7. PROJECT POISE TO BECOME POISED
Research conducted by social psychologist Amy Cuddy indicates that body language affects brain chemistry. "Fake it until you become it," she advises. The balanced stance, definitive gestures, vocal quality, facial expressions, and eye focus of a self-assured speaker, in other words, will become your own if you practice them even when you don't feel confident.
8. CONCENTRATE ON AUDIENCE AND MESSAGE
The more intensely you attend to the connections between your messages and your audience, the less time and energy you'll have to think about yourself. If you do drift into anxious self-awareness, use the Psych technique (Tip #6) to picture yourself, in confident detail, giving the best talk of your life.
9. REMEMBER RECOVERY TECHNIQUES
If you stumble over words or omit some information, you don't need to apologize. Instead, take a slight pause and then provide the correction. If you temporarily blank out, look into the eyes of an audience member. Eye focus has a calming effect and will ease you back into the stream of your messages. Use silence to recover; it smoothly provides a place for you to jump back in.
The best thing about these tips? They work.