If you’d rather be the dead guy in the casket than be giving the eulogy at a funeral– you might be in luck because this really does work.
The fast pulse, shaky knees, shaky hands, trembling lips—these are all signs of common stage fright. One might argue that this fear stems from the terror of failing publicly, or perhaps it's just an unexplained anxiety. However, let's stick to the facts. The entire cocktail reaction you experience during public speaking or performance is simply your body reacting to a perceived threat by releasing various hormones, such as adrenaline. A thousand years ago, this response might have saved us from the jaws of a jungle tiger or the lash of an axe. Now, in our safe-yet-not-so-safe world, it has become an inconvenience.
Many people consider taking various pills and drugs to temporarily alleviate these symptoms, but what's the point? More than 80% of people experience some form of stage fright, and some performers even leverage this feeling to deliver their best performances. If you're someone who is comfortable in your own skin, capable of walking onto a stage and delivering an A+ performance, feel free to skip this article. However, if you'd rather be the dead person in the casket than give the eulogy at a funeral, you might be in luck—because this approach worked for me.
Practice, practice, practice—until you can recite the entire speech with your eyes closed or even with an action movie playing in front of you. This will help you get over the initial hurdle. Usually, once you're past it, the fright tends to diminish drastically. It's okay to be nervous; being nervous means it matters. Use that to your advantage by preparing ahead of time. Practice in front of a mirror, or record yourself and repeat until you can say to yourself, "Wow, that was a great presentation!"
Ease the tension in your body by trying meditation, which is essentially controlled breathing and calming down. Stretching and chewing gum can also help to ease jaw tension.
Understand how body language affects how others perceive us. I strongly suggest watching this TED Talk by social psychologist Amy Cuddy, which explains the concept of power posing in detail. Some tips include looking straight ahead rather than at the floor, and maintaining good posture to project confidence—even if you have to fake it.
It can also help to think of your presentation as a one-on-one conversation you are having with with various individuals in the audience instead of speaking to the crowd in general. You make this work by making eye contact with different indivials and engaging them as you talk. It also generally makes for a better presentation when you do this.
Yes, laugh! Laughter can take your mind off nervousness. Consider watching a funny video the morning before your performance. Anticipate the nervousness and set a mental stop time for it. Maintaining a positive attitude about yourself and focusing on your past successes can significantly affect your performance.
Try to arrive early at the venue to get comfortable with the environment. It would be ideal if you could practice at least once on-site before the actual event.
Once you've done all this for at least a week before the event, you'll still feel last-minute jitters and nervousness. Trust me, this is normal; even professional speakers sometimes feel just as nervous right before their performances. Breathe well, and try tightly squeezing and releasing your hands several times before you walk up to perform. You might start with a stutter, or you might want to run away—just keep going, and within 30 seconds, you'll be performing just like you were during your solo practice sessions!
The best way to solve a problem is to understand it inside and out, and then press where it hurts!