- Develop an inconspicuous personal relaxation ritual. Singers, musicians and dancers can
often do this behind the scenes but presenters are usually on the stage before their
performance and would look a bit odd doing tai chi, yoga or standing on their head.
- Read some of the excellent books on presentations and stage fright. I recommend High-Impact
Presentations - A Multimedia Approach by Jo Robbins, who spoke at the 1997 AALL
Annual meeting, "Walking on Water: Making a Quality Presentation." There are
also titles specifically on stage fright. Find them by searching one of the
mega-bookstores online. Be aware that to acquire physical know-how you must look for a
different kind of learning experience. Passively reading (no matter how good the material)
will get you knowledge but not skills. You can not learn to tango by reading a book.
- Public speaking is a physical activity. Stage fright is an emotional reaction which
restricts physical abilities. To unlearn the unwanted physical reactions associated with
stage fright, you must practice performance before an audience. Once it not enough.
Mastery requires distributed and incremental learning. For these reasons, I recommend
joining Toastmasters.Other options
are to engage a professional coach or enroll in a class or seminar. Locate them on the
- According to research on muscle memory reported in a recent issue of Swim Magazine,
it takes up to six hours to move the memory of a new physical skill to a permanent storage
site in the brain. This is for non-emotionally charged physical skills. It takes longer to
unlearn an emotionally charged activity and to replace it with a neutral skill. If you
want to retain the new technique: don't try to learn another new physical skill for the
following six hours, or you may "erase" the newly learned material.
- Scientists are beginning to find out that much of our intelligence in outside the brain
buried in our cells. With practice you can access other kinds of intelligence and appear
physically relaxed, enthusiastic and confident even though you are not.
- Mold your attitude around all your successes. Remember what success feels like, what it
looks like. Even when you perform in a less than stellar fashion, remember the parts you
did that were outstanding.
- People overwhelmed with stage fright have negative attitudes. They "what if.."
themselves into a total tizzy by imagining what could go wrong. Or they develop a litany
of other negatives. Replace negative attitudes with positive ones "I have a lot to
share with this audience." "This is going to be fun." "The audience
looks really alive."
- Observe how competitive athletes interviewed before or after an event often say "I
am going to do my best" or "I am just going to go out there and have fun."
It is a positive attitude that gets the competitive ice skaters up after a fall and
continuing their program as if nothing happened. Successful athletes study sports
psychology and positive attitude is key.
- Performance is an act of faith. You have to believe your body will perform what it has
practiced whether it is a speech, a song, a dance or an athletic competition.
- A positive attitude will lead you to seek any help you may need to improve. A negative
attitude shackles your personal and professional life.
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.
Presentations - A Multimedia Approach, by Jo Robbins.