Presentations/Stage Fright

At the Emotional Health Centre, Therapy House, 6 Tuckey Street, Cork city we help with presentations and stage fright

Stage fright

Almost everyone who has had to appear before an audience at sometime has suffered from stage fright. Experienced actors, successful business people, and college presidents have had to deal with dizziness, sweaty palms, upset stomachs, and other familiar symptoms of stage fright. Some professionals never entirely lose the fear, but they have learned to control it and even to use it to their advantage.

The more common symptoms of stage fright are a rapid pulse, and upset stomach (butterflies), and sweaty palms. Sometimes the symptoms are more severe: The voice seems uncontrollable – it either becomes inaudible or it sounds loud and shrill – and, worst of all, the mind goes blank – one is unable to remember anything. Actually, when a person has stage fright they are experiencing an acute anxiety attack, which can be controlled with practice and determination.

Usually when a person has to appear in front of a group of people they want to make a good impression, but they also are scared of revealing more of themselves than they really intend to. They may be plagued by fears that they are not sufficiently attractive, clever, informed, or convincing. As a child they may have been taught that it was wrong to “show off”. Consequently, when as an adult they have to make a presentation in front of an audience, they may be caught in a paralyzing conflict between the wish to “let it all hang out” and their parents’ prohibition against such behaviour. Early shame experiences may also leave them with a fear that they’ll inadvertently do something to expose the awkward, embarrassed child beneath their fragile facade of maturity. They may even be tired of keeping up a front and unconsciously long to test out the response of their “true” self.

Regardless of the cause, stage fright can be controlled. Those people who master their fear gain not only the ability to appear before an audience but also a feeling of self-confidence which carries over into other areas of their lives. Stage fright is a very common affliction, so we can learn much from people who have analyzed it and conquered it. There are many things your client can do to help themselves.

You shouldn’t put themselves down for being afraid. Your fear is realistic and justified. You should think about your audience in a positive way. The people who have tome to hear them or see them are probably not your enemies. Hopefully they have come prepared to like them.

I usually advise clients of the following points:

• They should prepare thoroughly. They may be afraid that they will fail, so they must keep in mind that the best insurance against failure is preparation. They should go over their material, be sure of their facts, and not be afraid to express their feelings about their subject. When they are personally involved in their topic or task, they think less about themselves and as a result are less self-conscious. By caring deeply about what they have to say or do on stage they won’t have time to be self-critical. So in preparing their presentation, they should get clear with themselves the importance it has for them and the reasons they want to communicate effectively to their audience.
• Tell them to plan ahead. Know what they’re going to wear, and be sure it is something that is comfortable and conveys the image of them that they want people to have. If possible, they should check out the auditorium, theatre, lecture hall, or wherever it is they will appear. It’s a good idea to become familiar with it so at least they’ll feel physically at home there. They can look at the empty seats and imagine people in them. Imagine those people being friendly and attentive. If they plan to use notes, they should print them large and clear. Have them time their presentation to be sure it’s not too long or short for the occasion.
• Have them think about how they’ll present their material, and to whom they are addressing themselves. They can practice their speech or their act either by themselves in front of a mirror or, preferably, before friends. The better prepared they are, the more quickly they will be able to overcome their fear and the symptoms which accompany it.
• Advise them to look on the experience as an adventure and an opportunity for learning and growth. They should think about the pleasures of communicating with other people and reaching them with their ideas and their performance.
• Tell them to smile and look confident, even if they don’t feel it. People will respond to their smile, and soon they’ll really feel the confidence they are trying to project. Although they can admit that they are suffering from stage fright (many famous people do admit it to their audience), they mustn’t put themselves down. People may sympathize with their nervousness, but they must remember that they came to hear them talk or seem them perform, not to worry about them.
• If they have trouble controlling the feeling of panic just before they give a performance or make a speech, have them use self-hypnosis. They can also calm themselves by taking long deep breaths. Regular breathing has a soothing effect, and the extra oxygen will help their muscles to relax. One famous actress even used to take a nap just before show time.
• Teach them to use the anxiety they feel to add intensity to their talk or their performance. If they’re so nervous that they must use their hands, they can try to make gesture which punctuate or accentuate the content of their talk.
• Tell them to look at the people in their audience and find someone who is listening and seems to be agreeing with or even enjoying what they are saying. Eye contact with another person will help to ease their tension. When they address themselves to a specific person rather than to a vague mass of people, they will be more direct and more persuasive and thus get a better response from their audience.
• It’s important that they speak about things they know well. They mustn’t bluff; the audience will realize that they don’t know what they are talking about. When they’re sure of their facts and convictions, even if they are momentarily confused, they can regain their composure. When they make a mistake, they should admit it but they mustn’t dwell on it – after all, everyone makes mistakes. If they can graciously admit theirs, they will probably have the sympathy of the people in the audience, because they can identify with their embarrassment. A supportive audience does a great deal to lessen the performer’s panic. Even experienced actors often say how dependent they are on a good audience.
• Advise them to be themselves and be natural. They mustn’t try to be like some person they admire greatly. Remember, the audience came to hear them. They will be most effective if they are comfortable with themselves. Successful TV personality Barbara Walters reminds herself, “I am the way I am; I look the way I look; I am my age.” Genuineness and sincerity are still greatly admired qualities.
• As a hypnotherapist, I can help you overcome stage fright by teaching you self-hypnosis and/or programming you with a conditioned response of relaxation and poise in all performing situations.

For an appointment please ring Therapy House, 6 Tuckey Street, Cork city on 021-4273757 or email us on