Bright lights, big city, oh my! How to overcome stage fright

Whether you are giving a speech, performing in a play, a concert or a recital, the nerves associated with being in front of an audience can be debilitating.

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  • “Picture the audience in their underwear.” You’ve probably heard that cliché a million times. I’ve never heard anyone use it with success. As a frequent public speaker, let me give you some tips that actually work to reduce stage fright.

  • Prepare well

  • By this I mean prepare a lot more than you think you should. few things relieve stage fright better than knowing your material perfectly. If you are performing in a play, make sure that you know your lines backwards and forwards. If you are giving a speech or presentation, make sure that you have rehearsed it completely over and over again before you show up. If you wing it, you’ll lose your audience and your anxiety will increase as you speak.

  • Show up early

  • You should arrive 30 to 60 minutes before your performance — unless someone suggests you go earlier than that to set up. By arriving early, you can size up the room, greet members of the audience and test the audio visual equipment before it’s time to start. By eliminating a range of potential problems, you reduce the butterflies and become more comfortable.

  • Charge ahead

  • Your nerves will likely be worst at the beginning. If you’ve prepared well, things will go better than you expect and what seems overwhelming at first will quickly become comfortable. You may be perspiring and anxious at the start, but don’t let that make you more nervous. Focus on your lines or your message and watch the audience.

  • The audience is your friend

  • Remember that everyone in the audience wants to see you succeed. No one came to see you fail. Virtually everyone has had to do something uncomfortable in front of an audience so they empathize with your feelings. They’ll forgive (if they even notice) your mistakes. If that isn’t comforting enough, be sure to invite a friend or two to your event so that you can look at them to find a reassuring face.

  • Sleep well

  • This may be easier said than done, but be sure to get a good night’s sleep before your big show. Don’t stay up all night beforehand preparing — you can do that two nights before, but not the night before.

  • Don’t take medication to calm your nerves

  • Don’t self-medicate to reduce your anxiety with anything, including alcohol. If you have a medical condition for which you take medication to reduce anxiety, talk to your physician before taking anything extra. You want to be sharp for your performance.

  • Be prepared

  • I know, I said this at the beginning, but there is nothing that will reduce your anxiety more than being well prepared. Test your performance on a friendly audience in advance, even your dog will work. Using a couple of friends is optimal. Each person might offer suggestions to help improve your performance; they’ll also reassure you that you are ready.

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  • By following these simple suggestions — and forgetting about the audience’s underwear — you will be able to perform whatever you’re doing to the best of your ability.

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Devin Thorpe, husband, father, author of Your Mark On The World and a popular guest speaker, is a Forbes Contributor. Building on a twenty-five year career in finance and entrepreneurship that included $500 million in completed transactions, he now champions social good full time, seeking to help others succeed in their efforts to make the world a better place.


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