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Ways to Ward Off Stage Fright

Bill Lampton

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I asked my professional speaking colleagues how they managed stage fright. Here are the responses I received.

— Doug Smart

A few days before the program I call several people who will be in attendance (the person who chose me to speak provides a few names and contact info). I ask each, What are 3 challenges and 3 opportunities that, in general, the people in the audience face? Sometimes what they mention seems unrelated to my topic. After the calls, I look for ways my topic can have a positive impact on one or more of those areas.

Also, I know exactly what I’m going to say for the first 2 to 3 minutes. And I say a prayer as I’m being introduced: Help me to help people.

— Christine Corelli

  • Positive self-talk.
  • I walk briskly before I speak to release any tension in my body.
  • I think of the audience as good people who work hard, just like me and want very much to hear what I have to say.

— Dan Janal

Generally speaking, I don’t have stage fright. Maybe a little pent-up energy based on anticipation, which I think is different. I use that energy in my presentation. I also might go to the men’s room and do some deep breathing or punches and kicks to dispel some energy.

— Phillip Van Hooser

  • Arrive early to “mix and mingle” to make connections with audience members before I take the stage.
  • I try to focus my thoughts and attention on the first 3 minutes of the presentation and not the 57 minutes that will follow the opening.
  • I breathe a prayer: “Lord, let my mind be sharp and my tongue quick and agile, and let me stay focused on this audience.”

— Rebecca Morgan

I can think of one, the most important one for me. I say a little prayer: Help me give at least one person what they needed to hear today to make a difference in their life.

This gets the focus off me and onto them, which is where it should be.

— Joan Stewart

  • About 5 to 10 minutes before I am introduced, I go someplace quiet in the ladies room or to an empty room near the conference hall and say a silent prayer, asking my higher power to speak through me, and to give me the guidance to tell the audience what he thinks they need to know. Works very time!
  • I pretend I am speaking to everyone in the room one-on-one, instead of to a group of 100 people. I make eye contact and smile.
  • I tell myself that if I’m nervous, I’m supposed to be. Johnny Carson revealed during numerous interviews that almost every night before he was introduced, he was a bundle of nerves and had terrible stage fright.

— Jim Cathcart

  • The number one question to answer, that will dissolve stage fright, is “why would this audience want to hear what I have to say on this topic?” Once you’ve answered that one, the fear will drop away.
  • Remember that they consider you to be the authority on your topic. You are the speaker so they already assume that you know what you are talking about. So don’t worry about telling them why they should respect your opinion. Just tell them what you came to tell them.
  • It is OK to end early. In fact, if you run out of content before you run out of time it is a good thing to summarize and conclude. Trying to “stretch” and fill the time with spontaneous comments is the quickest way to assure their rejection. Bad speakers keep talking, good speakers have no trouble stopping.

— Susan Wilson

  • Own the space. Prior to speaking, get to know your speaking space by touching walls, chairs, stage, curtains, podium to make it “yours” for the time that you’ll be speaking. Visualize welcoming your audience into “your space.”
  • Practice in your daily speaking what you need for success when giving a speech- eye contact, confident posture, smooth and strong voice, abdominal breathing, personal warmth.
  • Focus on WOW! for yourself (Words of Wonder that include praise, affirmation, encouragement and support of your skills, talents and abilities).

— Sheryl Nicholson

  • Have confidence that no one else owns YOUR story (it brings confidence to know I’m not quoting other people or using other people’s stuff)
  • Take three deep cleansing breaths before I go on stage (this helps lower my voice so I have more range when speaking)
  • Always meet and greet BEFORE and event and stay AFTER — this shows a sincere interest in knowing my audience and THEIR needs.

— Richard Hadden

  • Speaking for an audience is a thrill for me. Just like skydiving, roller coasters, etc. So while it has the potential to be scary, I try to focus on how much fun I (and if I do my job right) the audience will have.
  • Nobody knows what I “meant” to say, so if I don’t say it just right, it won’t really matter to anyone but me, and I’m very forgiving.
  • I’ve discovered the degree of stage fright varies inversely with my degree of preparation.

— Terry Brock

  • Know my material. The more I know that material and how it relates to the audience the better.
  • Physical activity to get my focus off me. Move around, listen to upbeat music and even run. This helps to get my focus off me.
  • Focus on the audience. This is the most important. If I focus on them and their needs, I do much better. If I think about myself I don’t do as well.

— Carol Pierce

Whether providing a small or large group training program, a motivational keynote, or even a media or talk show interview, I pull up my courage and confidence to control stage fright by using these very effective methods:

  • Arrive early enough to get a feel for the place
  • Chat with the audience and/or journalist or host prior to the program/interview to become comfortable with them and to get into that conversational mode
  • More importantly, ask God to help me say what people need to hear. (Allowing this flexibility works every single time, regardless of the information I have prepared to present.)

— Bev Smallwood

  • Breathe deeply. As I take in the air, I mentally breathe in the positive energy of the audience; as I exhale, I let go of negative thoughts and tension.
  • I pray for the audience, that each person will receive exactly what they need from the program. (This takes the focus off me.)
  • If at all possible, I get to the audience members one on one before the program, while they are gathering. I learn a little about them. I physically touch them (handshake). I smile and welcome them. Thus, when I get up to speak, I'm among friends.

SpeakerNet News is produced by Rebecca Morgan and Ken Braly. It is not affiliated with the National Speakers Association. Send comments or suggestions