Seven tips to overcome stage fright
Stage fright is an incredibly common issue, often associated with fear of public speaking or performance anxiety. It refers to the feeling of getting nervous at the idea of being in front of an audience. It usually strikes before you need to give a speech or presentation or otherwise speak or perform for others. In most cases, stage fright is mild and diminishes in response to simple self-help strategies like deep breathing and giving yourself a pep talk. For some, however, the fear can lead to severe anxiety or even social phobia. No matter how stage fright might affect you, there are several tactics you can try to lessen its impact on you and overcome stage fright.
Tips to try for overcoming stage fright
Preparation can help you embody confidence—and the more confidence you have, the less room there may be for fear. This is why being ready for your presentation or performance matters. Take advantage of all the preparation time you’re given. If you are speaking, rehearse often. Memorize your lines, plan out your pauses and breaths, and practice making eye contact with the audience. If you’re dancing, acting, or playing music, dedicate sufficient time to training. The more comfortable you are with what you’re presenting, the less nervous you may be.
One way to prepare is by hosting a mock presentation for friends or family. You can control how many people are watching you and the stakes are low if you make a mistake, but you still benefit from speaking or performing in front of a group before the big day. Ask for feedback from your audience to improve your presentation, and repeat the exercise as often as necessary until you feel more comfortable.
Shift your perspective
Although it can be scary to get up in front of a crowd, you might benefit from trying to shift your focus from what you’re afraid of to what you or someone else might gain from the experience. For example, if you’re going to be speaking in front of others, consider the potential outcome your speech may have. Will it save money? Advance your career? Teach someone vital information? Could it potentially improve or even save lives? Or, if you’re imparting art in the form of dance, poetry, or music, for instance, think about the audiences who may be touched by your work, and the fulfillment you’ll feel by having put yourself out there.
Practice positive self-talk
It can also be helpful to examine the way you’re speaking to yourself about your fears. Do you find yourself saying things like "I’ll never get this", "I'm not smart enough to do this”, or “People won’t like what I have to offer”? If so, reframing your internal dialogue to reflect a more positive outlook can have tangible effects. For instance, one study found that students who recited a positive affirmation to themselves before giving a speech experienced less performance anxiety than those who didn’t.
Try to be realistic
Accept the possibility that there may be both good and not-so-good parts of your public speaking or public appearances and that this is okay. Try to avoid the common cognitive distortion of black-and-white thinking, which can make you feel nervous or embarrassed and believe that your performance is a complete failure if it's not flawlessly perfect. Remember that stage fright affects most people from time to time, so audiences will generally understand if you have a few shaky moments, make some mistakes, or struggle with maintaining eye contact. By embracing this realistic mindset, you can work on overcoming stage fright and boost your self-confidence.
Adjust your environment as needed
Whenever possible, take advantage of the opportunity to make accommodations to your environment to increase your comfort levels. For example, you may feel more comfortable presenting with the aid of your notes nearby, or you might prefer to have a digital presentation to reinforce your main points and keep you on track. Even minor things like wanting to sit instead of stand, preferring a headset versus a handheld microphone, or having a glass of water nearby can make a difference in your confidence levels, so don’t be afraid to ask. In most cases, the people in charge of making the event run smoothly will be happy to discuss what they can do to help it be a positive experience for both you and the audience.
Try calming exercises
Practicing calming exercises such as deep breathing can reduce anxiety related to stage fright, both in the moment and in the days or weeks before. Research shows that deep breathing can trigger changes in the brain, leading to “increased comfort, relaxation, pleasantness, vigor and alertness, and reduced symptoms of arousal, anxiety, depression, anger, and confusion”. You might try using an app or watching some online videos to learn basic breathing techniques that you can use as needed to avoid or decrease the effects of stage fright.
Get a good rest the night before
Studies show that not getting enough sleep can lead to increased stress levels and may cause you to feel anxious during your performance. If you want to feel calmer going into your presentation and work on conquering stage fright, getting a good night's sleep beforehand can help. That said, relaxing enough to fall asleep when you're worried about going on stage the next day can be difficult. In this case, consider trying some classic sleep-inducing techniques such as a warm shower before bed, limiting caffeine intake in the evening, avoiding too much screen time at night, and practicing relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation to overcome performance anxiety.
When stage fright escalates
The tips listed above may be useful to anyone who is experiencing nervousness or anxiety about speaking or performing in front of others. That said, experiencing it in an extreme or severe form may be a sign of an anxiety disorder. Social anxiety in particular could be at play. It’s a clinical mental health disorder that’s more than just shyness or the nervousness that many of us feel from time to time in social situations. In fact, the effects of excess adrenaline can be distressing and even debilitating. Symptoms may include:
- A rapidly beating heart
- Excessive sweating
- A rigid body posture
- A tight throat
- Speaking in a soft voice
- Difficulty thinking clearly
- Difficulty making eye contact with others
These symptoms can be so intense in some individuals that they may end up avoiding situations where they have to interact with or speak in front of others at all. This avoidance can lead to negative impacts on their job and careers, their social relationships, or their personal passions or goals.
How therapy can help
Speaking with a therapist is typically the recommended treatment for those with social anxiety. A trained therapist can help you recognize and shift unhealthy thought patterns about yourself and what others may think about you. However, even if you don’t have a mental health condition that’s creating or adding to your sense of stage fright, meeting with a therapist may still be useful. They can assist you in adopting a more realistic perspective on your fears and developing healthier coping mechanisms for situations in which you experience stress or anxiety.
Research suggests that both in-person and online therapy can offer similar benefits for people in many different situations. If you’d feel more comfortable with virtual therapy or if it would be more available to you, you might try a platform like BetterHelp. You can fill out a brief questionnaire and get matched with a licensed therapist who fits your needs and preferences. You can then meet with them via phone, video call, and/or online chat to discuss and learn to manage the challenges you may be facing.
Experiencing some level of stage fright before giving a presentation or performance in front of a crowd is normal. The techniques on this list can help you better manage these feelings and address any self-doubt or issues with self-esteem that may arise. If you're concerned that you may have an anxiety disorder that's making situations like these prohibitively difficult or distressing, it may be helpful to speak with a therapist about it.
How can you get over stage fright?
For people wondering how to overcome stage fright when performing or speaking in front of a group, the following tips may help:
- Take plenty of time to review your notes or other preparation materials beforehand
- Ensure you get plenty of rest the night before the performance
- Rehearse the presentation, dance, or performance ahead of time in front of someone you trust, like a best friend, family, or significant other
- Reflect on the negative thoughts you’re having about the event and look for ways to challenge them
- Imagine what success might look like, using visualization and affirmations to put yourself into a more positive state of mind
- Develop a game plan for responding to unexpected issues during the event
- Smile, make eye contact, and keep an upright posture, which may help you connect better with your audience
- Make changes to your environment to make the performance more comfortable, if possible
- Recognize that stage fright can be natural and be patient with yourself on your journey to overcoming it
Techniques like these may be helpful for managing and reducing stage fright. If you are in need of extra support, speaking to a licensed therapist may also be worth considering.
Is it OK to have stage fear?
Having stage fright is often natural, and there is nothing wrong with feeling anxious before performing in front of an audience. However, if stage fright is interfering with your ability to work, interact with others, or otherwise live your life, then it may be a sign of an underlying anxiety disorder.
Why am I scared on stage?
Various factors may cause people to experience stage fright or performance anxiety, including:
- Fear of negative judgment from others
- Perfectionistic tendencies
- High stakes (as in the case of work- or school-related performances)
- Unpleasant childhood experiences
- Fear of the unknown, which can be natural when performing in front of an audience
- Challenges with self-esteem
In addition, certain mental illnesses, like generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and social anxiety can also lead to feelings of fear about performing in front of others.
Is stage fear permanent?
Although stage fright can be distressing, it is often possible to recover from it through strategies like:
- Therapy, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT)
- Treatment of any underlying mental illnesses, such as social phobia or panic disorder
- Medication, if needed
- Mindfulness practices, like meditation, yoga, and breathing exercises
- Lifestyle changes, like reducing caffeine intake, practicing good sleep hygiene, and getting plenty of exercise
- Practicing performing in front of others to get more familiar with it
That said, what works for one person may not work for everyone.
How do I reset my brain from anxiety?
When you’re feeling anxious due to stage fright—for example, right before giving a big speech—several strategies may help you calm your mind and put yourself in a more relaxed state. These can include:
- Practice mindfulness to put your focus back on the present moment, including what you can feel, see, touch, and hear
- Try to notice the emotions you’re feeling without passing judgment on them, which may help you gain some distance from the anxiety
- Slow your breath using exercises like box breathing, which may help calm your nervous system
- Consider finding a way to distract yourself, such as watching a video or reading a book
In addition to these techniques, taking a moment to challenge the anxious thoughts you’re having may also be helpful. For example, if you keep finding yourself thinking, “This is going to be terrible,” you might try replacing that thought with something like, “What proof do I have that this will go badly? Isn’t it possible that it will go better than I’m expecting?”
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