Avoiding Stage Fright
Whether you’re giving a business presentation or delivering a soliloquy onstage, stage fright can rear its ugly head. The fear of getting stage fright can itself cause stage fright to strike you dumb. Don’t be afraid of stage fright. Just keep the next several tricks in mind, and you’ll be ready for anything. (Unless you get so nervous that you forget the tricks.)
Write out your intro and conclusion
The student was 6 feet, 2 inches tall. He was standing in front of the class, preparing to start his speech. You could tell he was nervous by the way he gripped the podium; the color had drained from his hands. He started to speak. He got out a few words, and then he fainted. As he fell to the ground, the podium went down with him. He never let go.
The student was in a class taught by speech expert Allatia Harris. She says that the incident is a perfect example of why she advises speakers to write out the introductions to their presentations. “Nervousness is most intense just before you start talking,” she says. “You see all those people looking at you, and words start coming out of your mouth, but your mouth’s not connected to your brain. You may not even be aware of what you’re saying.” Give special attention to the introduction. You need to have it down cold so you don’t fall down cold.
Similar preparation should be given to the conclusion — the second most anxiety-producing part of a presentation.
Double-check the order of your visuals
You can’t check your visual aids too many times. Much of the anxiety associated with presenting comes from the fear that the visuals will screw up. The more you check them, the more confident you are.
Double-check your equipment
Many people worry about their computers, projectors, and other equipment. Take the extra few minutes to check them to make sure they work properly. Then you can stop worrying.
Anticipate problems, and have solutions ready
Anticipate any problem that may arise, and have a plan ready to deal with it. For example, whenever you stumble over a tongue-twisting name or phrase, you can have an all-purpose recovery line ready. “Let me try that again — in English.”
What if you forget what point you were going to cover next? You can buy time by asking the audience a survey question that requires a show of hands. Or you can review what you’ve already covered. Or you can skip ahead to a different point.
What if you have an equipment failure? Bring spare supplies — an extra light bulb for the projector, an extra marker for the flip chart, an extra battery for the laptop. You get the idea.
Get to the site early, when possible
Fear of the unknown probably produces more anxiety than any other cause. Until you get to the site where you’re presenting, you face a lot of unknowns. Is the room set up correctly? Did they remember to give you an overhead projector? Is an audience actually going to show up? Plenty of little questions can add up to big sources of stress if you don’t have answers for them.
You can get the answers simply by going to the room, so do it early — at least an hour before you present. That extra time allows you to correct any mistakes and calm down. You also get a chance to meet members of the audience who arrive early, which can reduce stress by making the audience more familiar to you.
Divide and conquer
Many presenters who suffer from stage fright claim that only a large audience triggers their fear. A few people? No problem. A big group? Forget it. Try this: Look at one face in the audience at a time — especially faces that appear interested in what you’re saying. Keep coming back to them. (No, normally you shouldn’t stare at only a few people. But stage fright creates an exception. If the only way you can prevent yourself from passing out is to look at only a few people, then do it. Just don’t stare at only one person for the entire time.)
Don’t apologize for nervousness
Many presenters feel compelled to apologize for being nervous. Don’t apologize for making a mistake, flub, or goof-up. Just let it go. You don’t want to draw additional attention to your nervousness. As Allatia Harris says, “Never apologize to the audience unless you’ve injured someone.”
Watch what you eat
Everyone’s heard that you are what you eat. Maybe and maybe not. But here’s some food for thought — what you eat before you present will affect your anxiety level. So avoid drinking coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages before you go on. You’ll be jittery enough without the added stimulation they supply. You also probably want to avoid carbonated beverages unless you’re giving a presentation about burping.
Have water handy
One consumable that you should have available is water. If anxiety dries out your mouth or you’re overwhelmed by negative emotions, pause and take a sip of water. And if you’re thirsty? You know what to do. Just make sure that you don’t drink all your water within the first 30 seconds of your presentation. Remember, don’t drink too much water, or you may have to make a mad dash to the restroom — not something you want to do during your presentation.
Keep your breathing even
Feel like you’re going to pass out? Pause and take a breath. And then a few more. This pause seems like a dramatic flourish to your audience. But it gives you a chance to get your emotions under control.