If you’ve ever had a fear of public speaking or wondered how to overcome stage fright (without picturing anyone naked), this story will make you cringe.
Imagine standing in front of the top cardiologists in the country. (Did I mention I was 22?)
It was my first “real job” as a research associate. I had to present a quick summary of some journal article. Pretty routine stuff. I was very prepared, and just a bit nervous. But I had no idea what would happen next.
Panic wouldn’t even begin to describe it. I know I was talking because I could hear sound, but I have no idea what was actually coming out of my mouth. I vaguely remember noting that people seemed bored. I vaguely remember sweating. I probably rambled a bit. I’m guessing that my preparation and autopilot carried me through, but I have no idea. It was a complete out-of-body experience.
And not in a good way.
I wanted to run away and hide. I wanted to quit my job just to avoid seeing anyone ever again. I definitely couldn’t look anyone in the eye afterwards. Thank goodness they were all gracious enough to not really ask any questions afterwards and let me lick my wounds in peace.
Oh. But I had another presentation coming up in just a month. Crap.
That’s when my relentlessness and drive came out. This WAS NOT going to happen to me again. This time I was going to get everyone leaning in. This time I was going to get them asking questions. This time I was going to show everyone what I was made of.
And OMG. The experience of that second presentation is one I’ll never forget. Once you hook in a crowd and get everyone engaged – there’s really nothing else like it.
Once you truly feel stage presence, that stage fright feels like a little wimp pretending to be the class bully.
That’s what I want for you too. That was over a decade ago, and I’m so grateful for that cringey presentation because it brought me to you. So in this guide you’ll learn:
- What is Stage Fright and why you get it
- Typical stage fright advice and why it hasn’t worked for you
- Why stage presence is an inside-out approach
- And three fast-acting strategies I teach my own clients
By the way, this guide does hand-in-hand with my Speech Anxiety Guide, where I also give “in case of emergency” tips in case you blank out right on stage (like I did at 22) as well as ways to prepare in advance.
What it’s like now:
I have to admit. Presenting makes me feel ON FIRE. (In a good way… not an endless inferno of doom like before.)
Energy rushing through me; the audience leaning in and nodding along; I’ve come to expect that.
I’ve trained myself to click into that ON FIRE feeling, and each time is better than the last.
That’s the beauty of getting your stage fright under control. You only have to do it ONCE to be able to tap into that presence over and over.
What the heck is stage fright and why do I have a fear of public speaking?
Let me give you the simplified version here.
Ever heard of fight-or-flight? That’s our body’s automatic response to a threat.
Well, it’s actually fight-flight-or-freeze. And the threats we’re talking about aren’t just the life-endangering ones like our prehistoric ancestors faced. Twenty-first century threats include everything from losing your income to snide side-eye from your colleagues.
There’s all sorts of crazy stuff that’s happening to your body: sweating, hyper-awareness, increased self-talk, restricted breathing, and becoming aware of these takes you out of your momentum.
And once you’ve entered the stage fright cycle, usually it’s all downhill, because you can’t jump back into your momentum.
Or can you?
Stage fright redefined
Newsflash. I still get those same sensations. It never really goes away. You just learn to let them pass through you quickly. Besides, they represent something different to me now.
That “fear” means I’m about to go for something big. It’s a big deal, and I celebrate the fact that I get to do it!
See also: Fail once a day
I don’t know if reading that is frustrating or relieving, but when I don’t feel any kind of “stage fright” sensations, it usually means that I’ve played it small, and don’t care all that much about my next presentation.
That’s not what I want for myself, and that’s not what I want for you.
I’d rather go big.
Typical Stage Fright Advice:
You know me. I pride myself on being counterintuitive and going against the grain. Nonetheless, let’s start with all the advice I’m sure you’ve heard before. You’ve probably even tried it.
I don’t want to throw it under the bus. They mean well. There’s some truth to them.
But it’s generic advice for generic people, and it won’t work for you because you have a different starting point.
Bad advice #1 – Just know what you’re talking about
“The best way to conquer stage fright is to know what you are talking about.”– MICHAEL H. MESCON
This one infuriates me more than any other.
It’s so easy to say “Well I’m a good presenter because I’m soooo good at what I do.”
Obviously, you have to be good at what you do. But I bet you already are! Probably better than most.
(In fact, you’ve probably heard plenty of people who are great at speaking, but are basically saying nothing of value – they are the ones most likely to give this advice!)
Freezing up when speaking to people has nothing to do with how much you know, or your skill level whatsoever.
Please don’t follow this advice only to think you’re not good enough.
Bad advice #2 – “Just be passionate”
Yes it’s true that you can convert your nerves into excitement. (More on that in tip 3.)
But telling someone to “just be passionate” is not actionable enough.
Especially not when you feel like you’re breaking down in an inferno while up on stage.
Besides. This advice works great for keynote addresses and motivational speakers who get to give the same speech over and over again.
Of course adding more passion run after run is going to make your speech better, but it doesn’t really apply to the average professional who has to share their findings on why process X is marginally better than process Y.
Bad advice #3 – “Just be yourself or just speak from the heart”
Well… I DO want you to be yourself, but not the version of yourself who freezes up in front of people.
I want you to be the version of yourself who brings full presence and energy to a presentation.
It’s in you. You’ll get there. And then it will be so much more fun to “just be yourself.”
Have you seen this advice before?
Have you tried it already?
That’s the kind of advice you read and go “yeah, yeah, that won’t work for me though.”
I know because I’ve been there. That’s the type of advice people give to either:
1 – justify why they’re already good at public speaking
2 – just say something because they have no real advice to give you.
After you try this bad advice, you probably feel even worse, like you’ll never be cut out for this.
So don’t follow bad advice. I have something better for you anyway.
It’s mostly work from the inside-out
So I have to admit.
To truly feel present, certain, and engaging during presentations and abolish your stage fright for the long-term – a quick article won’t cut it.
You can either:
1 – work with a coach like me who will help you uncover and start embodying “your present and confident self” as a speaker from the inside out and quickly let fears pass through you OR
2 – Start volunteering for presentations ASAP, because practice makes perfect.
If the thought of that makes you want to throw up, you’re in luck. Because…
It’s also from the outside-in
If you’ve just volunteered for a major presentation, (or if you were volun-told) and you’ve got some serious public speaking anxiety creeping up, but you’re not quite ready to work with a coach – I still got you covered!
I have a few short-term tricks that I call my “outside-in” strategies that will help annihilate your stage fright for just long enough to get up there and deliver.
I have about 10 of these that I teach my clients, but these three are my favorite ones that still work for me!
(You don’t have to do all three each and every time. Just choose the one that feels the most right for you.)
Do this enough times, and your fear of public speaking will dissipate all on its own!
So without further ado…
My GOOD advice to beat stage fright
Stage Fright Advice #1 – Channel your inner Beyonce
Sometimes you have to borrow a little confidence to get your own to catch up. Start with “How would I feel right now if I was Beyonce?” generate that feeling and then go for it!
Quick sidenote: Obviously, this doesn’t have to be Beyonce. Choose somebody who embodies presence and confidence, and everything else you need at that moment. This person can be real or fictional. Or even a combination of people.
Interestingly, in my coaching practice, most people choose to channel their boss, and I find that kind of nice.
In your case, it can be your friend, your spouse, or even someone fictional. (It can even be that annoying coworker that you’re secretly a little jealous of.)
A few questions to get you started:
- How would Beyonce approach this situation?
- How would Beyonce enter this room?
- How would Beyonce answer this question?
- Would Beyonce let herself feel like she doesn’t belong here?
One client of mine took that advice a different way. She says she pictures her boss sitting in the audience or at meetings and that motivates her to give her all.
At first I thought that’d be too intimidating, but others told me that’s a great idea!
Let me tell you about how I coached Victoria – a corporate manager – using “Channel Your Inner Beyonce.”
“Everyone will be there. My boss, her boss, and all the other managers. They’re going to all be looking at me and my dumb ideas, and will probably give me an annoyed look when I fumble on my words.”
I ask her “So in your workplace, who embodies confidence? Whose presentations or meetings do you like to attend? Who do you wish you were a little bit more like?”
She tells me about another manager Cathy. Why? Cathy’s direct and to the point. When she talks to the CEO she doesn’t pussyfoot around, and she doesn’t seem to worry about wasting anyone’s time. She knows exactly what she wants to say and she says it.
(Ah. And there it is. A good coaching session can help uncover what you really want and what you’re scared of.)
“Okay, so as we rehearse, just for right now, you’re not Victoria. Channel your inner Cathy.”
I could see her transform and deliver her presentation with certainty and presence. She was excited to share. She knew that everyone listening was dying to hear her. And – she knew that if she fumbled a little, it wouldn’t be too big a deal. She already had their respect.
Once you hear that certainty and presence in your own voice, You’ll never revert back.
“I killed it!” was the email I got the next day.
But not only that, presentations and meetings became fun, exciting, and easy from then on.
Now here’s the bonus fun part.
Once you get the hang of this, you can channel your inner [fill in the blank] for every part of your life.
I always say How you do one thing is how you do everything, so why don’t you try this trick in your workplace, with your family, or even with how you approach new opportunities!
Stage Fright Advice #2 – Power Poses.
You know how when you force yourself to smile you feel happier? (Try it right now!) The same thing happens when you stand confidently.
What’s a power pose? Well it’s probably the opposite of how you’re sitting right now.
You know, slumped over, shoulders rolled in, looking down.
What if you did the opposite?
- Standing straight.
- Feet apart.
- Shoulder back.
- Chest out.
- Take up space
Feel the difference?
The key here is to stand like a person with confidence and certainty – because confidence and body language are a two-way street.
Quick sidenote, I didn’t come up with Power Poses. A Harvard professor – Amy Cuddy – studied this. According to her research, not only does your body language help you change the way you respond to situations, even your hormones change after just two-minutes of adopting a power pose.
For me, if I have to sit in the audience before presenting, I make a conscious decision to spread out instead of slumping down. And I find other ways to practice a power pose for a couple of minutes before important presentations, meetings or interviews.
It makes a huge difference in how I feel on the inside and how I show up in front of people.
Couple that with a smile and you’re a force to be reckoned with!
Try it right now!
Stage Fright Advice #3 – Say “I’m excited!”
Wanna know something crazy? Your body can’t tell the difference between nerves and excitement. So trick it!
The sensations are practically the same. Butterflies in your stomach, heightened awareness, heat, sweat, and getting way into your head.
It’s only how you approach it that makes the difference:
Tell yourself you’re too nervous, and the butterflies turn into queasiness, heightened awareness turns into fear of judgment, and getting into your head turns into an inner monologue like “Oh sweet bejezus. What am I even doing here? Please please please don’t throw up on stage!”
What if you turned that self-talk into “Wow, I’m so excited, I can really feel it in my body!”
Doesn’t that take the tension off?
What if you used that heightened awareness and that heat to be more dynamic and exciting on stage?
Your body is in a sort of “fight or flight” mode already. Use that energy to really deliver your message!
Here are a few ways you can use this:
- Before you’re called up, you can have an inner conversation with yourself where you observe these excitement sensations and tell yourself, “Wow, I’m even more excited than I realized! This is really awesome”
- You can also just repeat I’m excited I’m excited I’m excited in your head to drown out any negative self-talk if you feel it coming your way.
- You can even do this for a moment if you blank out on stage.
Try it right now. Go do something you’d normally find intimidating (like maybe go ask Dragomir from IT for a laptop upgrade) but tell yourself you’re excited first.
Don’t you just love tricking your brain?!
The end 🙁
Like I said. No generic advice here.
Pair my three tips:
- Channel your inner Beyonce,
- Power Poses and
- Say “I’m excited”
Plus, check out my Speech anxiety guide for some “in case of emergency tips”
(And general good practices like over-preparing and knowing your stuff)
And you will be ON FIRE for your next presentation.
Let me know what your biggest takeaway was, and if you’re serious about upping your game for your next big presentation, let’s work together!