Staggering Stage Fright

"Stage Fright is the major source of Fear. Even more than the fear of dying." Ms. Rathika Rukumangathan revealed to us an amazing fact that took many of us by surprise during her talk on Public Speaking. Being actively involved as well as having assumed the role of the President of Toastmasters club of Kulim, she spoke from her experience.

Hmmm… stage fright!  Fluttering or pounding heart, tremor in the hands and legs, nausea, stomach regurgitation, facial nerve tics, dry mouth, tight throat, trembling lips, etc.  You may have gone through it or merely observed it.   

A gathering of a few Meditation practitioners from some Brahma Kumaris centres of North Malaysia took place at Nibong Tebal Brahma Kumaris centre about a month back on Public Speaking for an audience of Tamil language. Many of them were Newbies. My very good friend, Mr. Pachaiappan who runs the Nibong Tebal Brahma Kumaris meditation centre invited me to share with them some of my insights.  It was also a great honour to work with a compassionate and caring speaker Mdm. Radha, a senior student from Penang Brahma Kumaris centre. This event spearheaded with fun-filled and friendly guidances of Ms. Gauthami from India. She taught us how to make our presentation lively and user-friendly. An invaluable input. We had a lot of fun together, especially seeing the courage of the first timers who came forward and presented their speech without hesitation.

Yet that stage fright stuff was echoing in my mind continually. Whilst having some discussion on evaluating the participants presentation I had some time to discuss on it with Ms. Rathika. Stage fright may be observed in people of all experiences and backgrounds, from beginners to professionals. One method she suggested to overcome it, during her talk, is to reach the hall half to one hour earlier and ascend the stage or rostrum and get the feeling of it.

Upon the conclusion of our event, I decided to delve into stage fright in depth.

Major causes of stage fright

James J. Barrell, Don Medeiros, Jim E. Barrell and Don Price of Department of Psychology, West Georgia College, Carrollton conducted an experiment in 1985 on performance anxiety (stage fright), with the methods of self-observing, self-reporting and self-discovering and the result was published in Journal of Humanistic Psychology, Vol. 25, No. 2, 106-122 as The Causes and Treatment of Performance Anxiety - An Experiential Approach.

Five causal elements were found to be present in the experience of performance anxiety:

1. Perceiving or imagining the presence of significant others who are able to judge the speaker.

Increase the sense of one’s own power, to perceive the vulnerability of others and to accept oneself.

2. Considering the possibility of visible failure at a task.

Focusing one’s attention on the present, rather than the future, is much more productive.

3. Feeling a need to do well to avoid failure.

Focus on the process, the moment-to-moment experience, rather than the results of a performance.

4. Feeling uncertain as to whether one will do well.

Uncertainty plays a major role in experiencing many forms of anxiety. Keep in mind that one cannot control other’s reactions or judgments, but only one’s own performance.

5. Focusing on one’s own behavior and appearance.

Increase one’s awareness of others, without considering them as judges.
Tips for overcoming stage fright

Here are some suggested tips from various authors that might be useful in dealing with stage fright.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice: The old adage “Practice makes perfect” applies to delivering a speech as well. That is why speakers should practice before the date of their speech or presentation, because the more they practice, the more adept they will become, and with adeptness comes confidence. Try practicing your speech in the mirror or in front of a group of your friends or family members before you present it. This will help you gain more confidence and give you valuable practice on delivering your speech.
  • Work on the introduction: After the first 30 seconds, a speaker’s anxiety level begins to decrease significantly, so if speakers have a well-prepared introduction, they will be more relaxed from that point forward.
  • Picture the audience as tiny points of lights.
  • Be Organised.
  • Be extremely well prepared.
  • Concentrate on searching for current and immediate things that are happening at the event that you can mention during your talk (especially in the opening).
  • Pretend you are just chatting with a group of friends.
  • Close your eyes and feel or visualise the audience listening, laughing, and applauding.
  • Remember happy moments from your past.
  • Think about your love for and desire to benefit the audience.
  • Do isometrics that tighten and release muscles.
  • Take quick drinks of tepid water.
  • Use eye contact. It will make you feel less isolated.
  • Look at the friendliest faces in the audience.
  • Utilize visual aids: Visual aids, for example, PowerPoint slide shows, divert attention from the speakers, which results in the speakers feeling less self-conscious and, therefore, less nervous. 
  • Just relax. To go into relaxation mode watch the video at my Cool, Cooler, Coolest post.
  • Join a Toastmasters club for betterment.
In summary, optimal strategies of coping with performance anxiety include “focusing on process rather than results, the moment of experience rather than the future, positive approach goals rather than negative avoidance goals, and self-acceptance rather than self doubt.

“Only Thing We Have to Fear Is Fear Itself”: Franklin D. Roosevelt First Inaugural Address.


Stage fright is technically known as glossophobia

Some musicians use beta blockers to avoid stage fright during auditions, and performances. In other cases, performers use alcoholic beverages to ease their stage fright. There have been many cases in which this habit has led to alcoholism.


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