4 Steps to Getting Over Stage Fright

It’s one of those problems we don’t talk about a lot.  Yet many business people suffer from a fear of speaking in public that’s severe enough to damage their career.  You can change!  Do these simple steps and it improvement will be rapid.

First, before a specific talk:

  1. Be prepared. This is the MOST important thing you can do.
  2. Practice the first 5 sentences at least ten times.Know them very well.  You can go on automatic at that point and get over the initial jitters.
  3. Practice the whole talk 1-3 times.
  4. Look good! Dress well, comfortably, loose waistbands, nothing fussy or worrisome.

Second, just before the talk:

  1. SING!!! Sing at the top of your voice in the car on the way.Sing scales.  Hum in the bathroom. (Loosen vocal cords, deepen breathing)
  2. Try tensing a hand, abdominals, jaw.Do it deliberately, then release.  The idea is to consciously give yourself control over tension and relaxation.  One public speaker says that isometric tension of abdominals is her key to preventing stage fright.
  3. Take a few deep breaths with a LONGER EXHALE to signal relaxation to your overwrought nervous system.

Third, just before you open your mouth:

  1. On the way to the chair or podium, sing in your head!Hear some music that makes you feel upbeat and powerful.
  2. Check the self-talk – switch from “I’m so scared” to things like:“I am prepared.” “I can HANDLE THIS!”  “I talk well.”  “I may actually enjoy this.”  “I’m the one they choose to talk.”  “I’m good at my job.”   (Self-talk is a large part of what is scaring you to death!  Say your new phrases with happily, with enthusiasm!)
  3. Pause and look at your audience. Get their attention. Breathe.

Four, here are strategies to have more fun as a speaker: 

  1. Go to Toastmasters or something like it. This will build your “speaking muscles.”
  2. Find ways to practice – groups, church, school, etc.
  3. Keep a journal of your public speaking – hopes, fears, successes, feedback.No failure, only feedback.
  4. When you feel a twinge of fear, practice diaphragmatic breathing – exhale 2 times before you inhale.Feel the belly rise and fall as you breath (this means clothes are loose enough).  Loosen your shoulders and jaw as you exhale.
  5. What’s your belief about fear?Some fear may be helpful – you just want to do a good job.  Some beliefs generate the fear.  Write them down and “dispute” them:

            No one else is scared.  Dispute: I know that stage fright is common.

            People will know I’m scared.  Dispute: True, so what? May not be true—my team says I sound just fine.

I’ll forget my part.  Dispute: Maybe, but I have my notes.

Fifth, visualize for better speeches.  Maybe you’ve rehearsed fear and failure in your head for a long time.  Try this instead!

  1. Imagine someone giving your talk successfully. See and hear them, hear the applause.
  2. Make any improvements to this scene.
  3. Now, step in and imagine yourself doing the same thing.See, hear and feel yourself successfully going through the talk as if you were there.  Hear the applause!  Hear yourself say “Good job!” “I did really well” to yourself.
  4. Write down anything you learned from this exercise that will help you. You can practice as much as you like.

Speaking in public can be rewarding and powerful for your career.  Take the next step.

Judith Sugg, Ph.D. is an author, teacher and consultant who helps people and organizations clarify their vision, improve their interactions, understand conflict, and thrive in their surroundings.  She partners with Alisa Blum at AIM for Organizational Health to raise Awareness, achieve Integration and enable Mastery of mindfulness tools to improve individual and organizational effectiveness.  Judy is the author of Six-Word Lessons for Fearless Presenting: 100 Lessons to Beat Anxiety and Give Stellar Presentations available on Amazon.