In my last two blogs on this topic, I wrote about some practical tips for managing stage fright and the deep shame that many performers have as a result of having stage fright. Stage fright is a taboo area and professional performers whether actors, dancers or musicians, rarely admit to it, even to their closest colleagues, which causes immense distress and can impact the quality of their performance. Stage fright is not only limited to the professionals; anyone can experience it at any time, whether giving a work presentation, an after dinner speech or anything else.
Stage fright comes from fear. It comes when the mild dose of adrenalin that you need to help you perform well, gets out of hand. Your body overreacts and goes into fight or flight from a perceived threat. You are ‘only’ performing but that performing in its most extreme form, can feel as if you are in extreme physical danger.
The perceived threat can come from a number of different sources but the biggest is from your own negative self-talk. It can run something like this: “If I don’t do this presentation well, I won’t get a promotion” or “they’re going to think I’m useless if I mess this up.” Just from those two examples, you can see the pressure we put on ourselves, and our anxiety about what other people might think of us. That negative self-talk can be our downfall. It is easy to slide into a barrage of negative emotions, which then give enormous power to what we don’t want to happen.
The first step is to acknowledge the stress and pressure of the situation and let go of beating yourself up – it never helps! Then start to notice when that negative self-talk kicks in: “Wow! I am being really hard on myself….Is this really what I want? Is it helping me by feeling like this? What do I want to feel? What do I want to see happen?”
The next step is to find a way of getting in to a good feeling place. Negative emotions that stem from fear are very powerful and can feel overwhelming at times, but there is a choice here. You are not at the mercy of your negative feelings. You can choose to feel good. If you are a musician you can remember your love for the music you are playing; if you are a dancer you can feel the joy of the dance, the feeling of rhythm in your feet; or if you are giving a presentation at work, remind yourself why you are doing it and search out your passion for the topic, as much as you can.
You may say: “But I don’t love that music” or “I hate standing up in front of people and giving a presentation.” Sometimes it is more challenging than at other times. You may dislike the music you are playing or you may genuinely dislike giving presentations. So find something, anything, that will help you feel good. Feeling good comes from the simplest things: remembering the feeling of sun on your skin, the feeling of your child’s hug, the colours of a stunning sunset – whatever lifts you. And then bring those feelings into your present situation.
Now explore choosing some more encouraging and supportive thoughts for yourself: “ I’m about to get up and perform…I do feel nervous…but, I choose to do this and I really want to do it well….I would love to enjoy this whole experience…I would love to feel a connection with the audience…it would be great if all these people liked it as well….they are here to hear me…I’d love to inspire them and leave them feeling good…wow, just thinking like that is starting to make me feel better….oh, I’m actually looking forward to going onto the stage…” It would be tempting to think “Oh, that’s all nice and fluffy…I’ll give it a go and if nothing changes, well, clearly it doesn’t work…nice idea, but not very effective.” Start by taking it seriously and give it your attention. Then it is a case of building it into your neurology and this takes practice. It can take as much practice, if not more so, than preparing for the performance itself.
Be aware of the performance, whatever it is, in advance and then, just as you prepare for it physically and mentally, prepare for it emotionally. See yourself giving a wonderful performance; see it going well every time you think of it. Feel the good feelings in advance so that it becomes normal and habitual to enjoy performing. It may take time and commitment, but if it helps you enjoy your performance and let go of your fear, then it is surely worth it!