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How to conquer and control stage fright

Fear is a natural rejection to being exposed to danger, according to this article in Entrepreneur. When we were living in the wilderness fear alerted us against the dangers lurking in the darkness or behind the rocks and prompted us to take preventive measures. Going on a stage and speaking to an audience or giving a performance is the same thing. You are not going to be attacked or anything, at least not physically, but you are certainly exposed to instant scrutiny, sometimes harsh, and this is what you fear. This is called stage fright.

No matter how confident we are in our personal lives, as soon as we know that scores of eyes and ears are focused on us, paying close attention to what we’re saying and what sort of body language we have, and then drawing conclusions accordingly, we are stumped.

It is same as working on a narrow wall that is many feet high. Draw a narrow column on the ground and you can easily tread upon it. The probability that you may lose balance and fall down many feet below and die or injure yourself eliminates your ability to walk comfortably on the narrow wall. You feel stiff. It’s hard to move. You can’t even balance yourself. Knowing all these psychological as well as physical reactions to imminent danger, you decide against the exercise, in this particular case, rightly so.

But in the case of stage fright most of the fear is imagined, and hence it can be easily conquered by altering your thoughts. You need to focus on the positive rather than the negative. This is not just a pep talk advice, it actually works.

According to the writer of the article, our brain gauges a situation according to the questions it asks. For example, when you are on stage, your brain starts asking, “Are they going to dislike me?”, “Are they going to laugh at me?”, “Am I going to give a very bad performance?”

If you are giving a presentation in a class or in a conference you may ask, “Are they going to ask very difficult questions?”, “Are they specifically going to ask the questions I might not know just to stump me?”

Since such questions represent a search for dangers, they automatically trigger preventive reaction inside your brain and your body. Your brain doesn’t want you to be in this situation and hence it stiffens your body, makes your movements unnatural, and strains your voice.

So if these questions are triggering negative reactions, why oppose them to yourself? You are basically speculating on things that have not even happened. Instead, focus on questions that are totally unrelated to your situation, or even if they are related to your situation, they are not about your vulnerability. You can ask something like, “Did most of these people have a proper breakfast before coming here?”, “I wonder how I can help these people today with my performance.” and so on.

Instead of focusing on what you cannot do, focus on what you can deliver. Think about how desperately your performance is needed.

You can also turn the worst-case scenario in your favour. Assuming you’re not going to be as impressive as you should have. What is your fear doing? It is making you look more bad than you usually are. Fright never makes people look good. So by worrying too much you’re making matters even worse. Even if they are judging you harshly, even if they are going to pose tough questions, fear and apprehension will only make matters worse.