5 Tips for Getting Past Stage Fright

By Alyson Connolly

Part of Public Speaking Skills For Dummies Cheat Sheet

Maybe you’ve kept your head down when your boss has asked for volunteers to present. Maybe you’ve even bypassed promotions because you’re afraid to speak in front of a crowd. But now you’re the head of your team and have to take that leap. You may be thinking: I don’t know as much about this as my colleagues. What if the audience hates me? What if I forget an important bit of information?

Get those negatives out of your head and replace them with positives. Visualize a successful outcome. Believe that everyone wants to hear what you have to say. Heck, some are grateful that it’s you up there and not them!

Stage fright can occur at any time in your career. Sometime an event precipitates it. The fight, flight, or freeze response kicks in, and you feel small and scared. Make yourself as big as you can and own your space. Don’t be slouched like a prey animal. Be that superhero ready to save the day! Maintain an up and out pose. Find someone in the audience or boardroom table to look at and tell your presentation to and talk to them — then move on and find someone else to connect with.

You’ve got this. Cut yourself some slack! You’re not perfect. You shouldn’t even want to be. What you want to do is to strive to be your best.

Breathe deep

Breathe deep. Often when you’re afraid, you take short gasps of air into your upper chest. When you were a kid and were upset, you were told to breathe deep and that it would help to calm you down. You know why? Because it works.

Sometimes when you’re afraid, you stop breathing altogether. You hold your breath. And when you stop breathing, there’s no oxygen going to your brain, so you stop thinking as well. Don’t just take small amounts of breath into your upper chest — think of dropping your breath as low as it can go into your lower abdomen. Take long, slow breaths.

Release useless tension

When you’re frightened, you tend to tense up. If you’re standing up there giving your speech and you’re gripping that sheet of paper for dear life, you’re probably tensing up other parts of your body, too. Like your jaw, for example. The audience is going to see that — and will mirror you. They won’t be thinking abut what you’re saying. They’ll be tense themselves and worried you’re going to snap!

You can work through tension. Go through your body and tense up each part. For example, start with your hands. Hold that tension for a few seconds and then release it. Doesn’t it feel great when you release it?

If you feel tense when you’re waiting to present, go ahead and really tense up a part of your body, like your toes. Do that for a few seconds and then release. This can relax you, and no one will know. You can do this even at the breakfast meeting when you’re sitting.

Adopt powerful body language

In the animal kingdom, the animals that make themselves big are the ones with the most authority and confidence. You don’t want to approach a bear when it’s on its hind legs, do you? You don’t have to roar like a lion, but you can adopt an up and out position rather than being down and in. In a down and in position, your focus is on the floor, your body is closed, and you feel and look like you want to skirt away. In an up and out position your focus is looking outward, your chest is held high, and your body is open. Try it. It actually makes you feel more confident and ready to take on the world — and your speech!

Use affirming affirmations

Negative thoughts try to crowd into your brain all the time — even if positive ones precede it. For example: I’m excited that I get to speak at the conference — I just hope I don’t screw up!

When negatives get into your head, overwhelm them with positives. You can do this by using affirmations: Think to yourself, I’ve got this. I’m the best person to give this talk. I’m fabulous! You don’t have to tell the crowd, of course, but no one can stop you from having that running through your head.

Visualize giving a great speech. People are smiling and paying attention Are they giving you nonverbal cues like nodding in agreement? What happens at the end? Imagine the slide deck functioning perfectly and you giving your speech without any hiccups.

Be the early bird

Whether you’re giving a presentation to your colleagues around the boardroom table or to 100 people you’ve never met, get to your venue early. Not only can you check out the room for what you need, you can also talk to those who have arrived and establish a relationship with them right off the bat. You can shoot the breeze about anything. That will make you more comfortable, and the audience members will connect with you as a human being. Then when you give your presentation, you’ll have some friendly faces in the audience to talk to.

When you focus on an audience member, only do so for five or six seconds. If you keep looking at one person, she’ll start feeling uncomfortable, and the rest of the audience will start feeling excluded. Look around the audience and talk to other people in turn as well.