Guide on the Side - Stage Fright: Performer's Friend or Foe?By Marie Wallace, Published on February 1, 1998
Marie Wallace has enjoyed a fulfilling career as a librarian, beginning in 1951 in academia with the University of California and transitioning in 1971 into the private law library world until her 1995 retirement from O'Melveny & Myers. She is the 1997 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries' highest honor, the Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. Throughout her professional life, Marie has been a guiding force in the Southern California Association of Law Libraries, Practising Law Institute's programs for law librarians and Teaching Legal Research in Private Law Libraries (TRIPLL).
Today, Marie has commenced on a new path she terms "Life in Progress," which enables her to pursue a diversity of interests as a master swimmer, law librarian, trainer, storyboarder and designer of wearable art. She continues to be a dynamic speaker and prolific writer on such topics as private law library management, presentations and training. She is a member of Toastmasters International and is active with the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) and in continuing education for private law librarians. She devotes her "free" time to various non-profit and civic activities. Always open to new ideas, Marie can be reached at: [email protected]
|Does stage fright limit your activities? Do you wonder why
you get it and others do not? Do the polished presenters you see at seminars and
conferences know some special tricks?
Take heart. You are not the only one spooked by performance fright. Actors, singer, musicians, dancers, and athletes are frequently afflicted with the same syndrome. Biographies of well known celebrities often reveal continuing and acute stage fright even after decades of recognition and success. As for a quick fix, please stop your search for magic pills, homeopathic remedies or beta blockers now. Low-tech, anti-stage fright technology has been around a long time. Master the three parts: generalized knowledge, physical skills and positive attitude, and you will turn the fearsome godzilla into a friend.
To illustrate how toxic and insidious a negative attitude can be, let me share a personal story. Early in my career, I was President of the UC Berkeley Library Staff Association and had what should have been the pleasure of introducing Lawrence Clark Powell, UCLA Librarian and founder of the UCLA Library School, to speak at a staff meeting. Larry was a polished speaker and a distinguished librarian, while I saw myself as a terrified peon. Fortunately, I had pertinent material to use for an introduction gleaned from hearing Larry speak previously. I drafted and re-drafted and finally honed my introduction to six sentences. How would it sound and how could I remember it?
Listening to my husband's hi-fi system, it occurred to me to record my remarks. My first attempt sounded better than I thought it would but there were definite improvements to be made. About the eleventh try, I heard myself sounding assured, enthusiastic, and relaxed. Great! I played and re-played that tape--on the machine and in my mind. I woke on "the day" with my adrenaline pumped wildly. I could hardly breathe and the meeting was hours away. When Larry arrived to my great surprise, I could see he was as nervous as I was. Oddly, this caused me to relaxed a little.
Though I was still a bundle of nerves my introduction went off without a hitch, almost as if I had pushed the "play" button and the words rolled out of my mouth. Larry, who had seemed as nervous as a cat earlier, responded to the introduction by morphing into the speaking pro that he was. The meeting was an unqualified success.
What did I learn from this experience? Not what I should have. I had been on the stage and the fright had not been my undoing. I should have recognized that it had befriended me. The early panic attack caused me to prepare. Recording myself primed me for hearing my voice, tone and pace. The adrenaline helped me put an "edge" my performance. I saw that even experienced presenters get pre-performance jitters and that these miraculously disappear once the speaker gets on stage.
So what was my problem? Bad attitude. Instead of dwelling on the positives I dwelt on the negatives and saw stage fright as a monster that I never wanted to meet again because who knows what might happen next time. For twenty years, I avoided public speaking and when I finally did summon up some courage to give it a try, I exhibited worse than typical stage fright symptoms, I started breaking my teeth by grinding them at night.
It took my dentist to provide the insight that I needed to join Toastmasters before I lost all of my teeth. Good advice but what the dentist didn't tell me and what I see now is that stage fright can be either your friend or foe. It is your story. You are the director and the star. It is your call how you want the story to end.
To purchase, click on title:
I Can See you Naked: A Fearless Guide to Making Great Presentations, by Ron Hoff / Andrews and McMeel, 1988.
High-Impact Presentations - A Multimedia Approach, by Jo Robbins.