How to overcome stage fright

Credit to Monica Silvestre

The essay about things to do to nail your next public presentation

As an extrovert kid, I was growing quite audacious. I was always seeking the attention of an audience getting energy from other people and was never afraid of it.

I self-taught myself how to be good at presentations and I want to share you with you some things that you can start doing today to hold yourself better in public.

You will eliminate your stage fright in 4 steps in which you have to: identify, think, execute, analyze.

#1 Identify

The first thing you have to do is to identify what is the nature of your fear. Being able to verbally communicate what frightens you is the first step and the basis of emotional intelligence.

Revise your mindset. Maybe there are some things that simply don’t work.

Most of the stage fright fears are irrational:

  • “The audience will not like my presentation”. Reframe: Why do you need to decide for them? Do your best and let them judge. The audience is genuine and honest. They will let you know if your performance is crap but it shouldn’t discourage you. In the face of constructive criticism, you should use it as a tool for further improvement.
  • “I look silly”. Reframe: Looks don’t matter. In Russian, we say: “Open your mouth so that I could see you.” What you say and how you say it — this is what matters. Of course, keep in mind being well-dressed and well-groomed adds up extra points to your charisma.
  • “They will booo at me and throw rotten tomatoes!” Reframe: in fact most of the times the audience is very supportive. Every single one person who is listening to you had an experience of public speaking. They will understand if you feel nervous and support you because they can deeply relate to the way you feel. No worries.
  • “But I am SO nervous!” Reframe: ok, can’t handle it at all? Say it out loud. Say: “I am sorry. I don’t think I am good at this thing and I feel a tad bit nervous. Let’s clap together so I could feel better and I start.”To discharge an awkward situation one just needs to admit that it is awkward. Same here. Be honest, be genuine and people will love it.

Remember that whatever your worries are prior to presentation, they are just mental constructions. They are not real. No existo! Do not engage with them. Observe your concerns and let them flow. Stay in the present moment. Disassociate yourself from these thoughts. If you have a hard time with that move the focus of your attention to something else —one more rehearsal for example.

#2 Think

This step is setting up your mindset and the action plan in order to improve your presentation skills.

Rewire your mindset in a way that your mind will send you an impetus to take action anytime the opportunity of exposure opens up. When you see an opening that smells like discomfort hop right in and think later. This should be your core mindset.

Remember about the momentum. Small marginal changes will grant you a huge improvement over the long period of time. Don’t rush right in if you feel that it can burn you out. Implement small practices that will accumulate with time.

Take 100% responsibility for your results. Internalize the understanding that confidence of speaking in public doesn’t come from outside. You have to earn it. 10 minutes of firsthand experience may be more valuable than 10 hours of absorbing some external knowledge. With this mindset proceed to the next step.

#3 Execute

Here are the things that you can start doing today.

Engage.

If you are a student participate in school activities and in the class. Always be the first one to step up.

If you need to present at work, same things apply to you. Participate in team buildings, parties, meetings and always step up.

Make a habit of talking to strangers. At first, your body might shake even from the idea of starting a harmless small talk but later as you build up your social skills you will learn how to engage people in more profound and sometimes even philosophical discussions.

The way of seeking rejections is a way of beautiful serendipity. Check out this TED talk and get inspired. This guy went on a rejection marathon and transformed himself.

The following video is his report for the Day 3. This is when the magic happened.

I post it because you are an angel, Jackie. This world needs more people like you.

Find a mentor.

Some people are naturally good at public speaking. Naturals usually are not the best teachers. The best teachers are self-taught naturals. Those who struggled and suffered and built up their confidence from the zero ground. Find such people and surrender to their teaching. You will learn a lot.

Learn a musical instrument and sing.

I picked up a guitar when I was 15. Since then for a couple of years, I was a regular player on the streets of the city singing and collecting some money. On the hindsight, those were the days of punk and there were many moments I am not proud of but that experience became a cornerstone in building up my assertiveness.

You don’t have to go hardcore rebel as I did but a couple of public gigs will significantly boost up your confidence.

Enroll in acting classes.

Theater is an extremely popular entertainment back home in Almaty, Kazakhstan. A lot of people are artistic and a whole lot more need a way of escaping from 9–5 routine. As a result, the whole range of clubs that offer acting classes have emerged and I happened to finish the first stage in one of such clubs.

3 months flew like one day. It was a fun and crazy time and there were no boundaries for expression. If normal people would see what we did there they would have called both ambulance and police. We were dancing on the edge of sanity.

If you can find something like this in the place you are — give it a shot. You won’t regret it.

Enroll in a coaching workshop.

I passed some workshops where I had to do some things that people would consider weird. I was giving away “Free Hugs”, singing on the street collecting donations for the orphanage, reading poems out loud in the park, organizing and participating in flash-mobs.

All of these activities massively exercised my “not-giving-a-shit” muscle and made me immune to external opinions.

Study a foreign language.

A new language will help improve your articulation skills and understand your native language on a deeper level but most importantly it will allow you to work on your inner blocks which pop up every time you start over-thinking your classmates opinions about your language skills. Knowing an extra language adds up to the confidence as your development becomes more and more multi-faceted.

Exercise.

Street workout is the movement that I started back in 2011 in my own city. Today Kazakhstan is the only country in the world where street workout is considered an official national sport.

When we gathered for the training, our outdoor workouts attracted bypassers who were getting interested in what we were doing and asked to teach them a couple of tricks on the bar. In some sense, it was always a public experience.

If you are not a fan of exercising outside then still exercise. Having strong body and being in a great shape is the foundation of the confidence that you will use in your presentation.

Write.

Writing improves your speaking skills and the ability to self- reflect. This will help you in the analysis of your performance and expression of the ways to improve on it. Daily Journal is definitely something to integrate into your routine.

Watch.

Learn from the best. There are many coaching videos on Youtube. But what I find the best is to watch the actual lectures of some of the most confident speakers. Long live the TED talks!

Read.

Read books, read essays like this one dedicated to your topic of interest. Read a lot in general. One can’t be witty without being intelligent. Intelligence is a great basis for the charm and further development of confidence. Stay empty. Stay hungry.

#4 Analyze

Every time after another presentation you go through 3 questions:

  • What did I do well?
  • What did I do badly?
  • What can be done to improve?

These 3 questions can be applied to the aspect of self-improvement. Ask yourself and be honest. Make short notes in your daily journal. Focus your attention on the action plan and your execution.

Tips.

[Before presentation]

Repetition, repetition, repetition.

This is the major key to any presentation. If you know that improvisation is not your strongest trait you should learn your script by heart. You should know where you will stand, how and when will you move, and the precise timing of your delivery. By repetition , you teach your brain to get used to your presentation.

Listen to uplifting music.

Listen to the “Eye of a Tiger” or “We are the champions” or whatever suits you. Go an pump yourself up in the toilet if you don’t want others to see you. If you are more daring you can even put in on at the start of your presentation. Look how Aaron Levie, CEO of Box breaks the ice with this small trick in his talk at Y-Combinator:

Use power posing.

Watch this brilliant talk by Amy Cuddy. This TED talk completely changed the way I think about stance and postures. It will help you to develop a “power mindset” too. You can use this trick both before and during the presentation.

Gain momentum.

Before you start the presentation, start talking to other people — just small talk, nothing serious.Talk to several different people one after another. Talk to a small group. It will help you to turn inside out and switch from self-reflecting “observing the inner” mode to active-listening and participating “observing the outer” mode which is exactly what you need for presenting.

[During the presentation]

Keep the eye contact. 

Avoid wandering your gaze in the audience — it will seem like you are distracted. Choose 2–3 people and watch them in the eye when you deliver your presentation. Don’t stare at them but look friendly and smile. These people will serve as your anchors, your focus points. If you do that your audience will note that you look super focused and even intense during your delivery.

Meta-message.

Hone the voice inside your head when you deliver. Is that a voice of a mentoring strict teacher or a voice of a passionate storyteller? Maybe it is a motivational voice of a preacher? People unconsciously absorb your subliminal message and build their judgment upon it. Your inner voice you sub-communicate should be well thought through and smartly designed.

Body language.

Keep the straight posture. Use your hands. If you wear glasses you can use them by holding them in your hand and even biting one of the temples. Play around with gestures, find what works for you. Use a bottle of water and drink. You can leave it on the table next to your notes and it will be an excuse to take a sip, sneak into your notes and take a meaningful pause.

Be humorous. Be spontaneous.

A good joke is always gold. Remember to stay present not to miss the moment when it is actually appropriate. If you need — prepare something brilliant in advance but be genuine and authentic and people will love it.

Final words.

Stage fright is a fear and as with all fears, the only way to control it is to do things that scare you. Depending on what’s your current level is select the activities that you can implement immediately and gradually progress.

Follow the loop: identify>think>execute>analyze>repeat and you will be constantly improving.

Thank you for reading and I wish you to nail it next time you present in public.

Step into the spotlight!