Stage fright can afflict even the most seasoned performer. Amazing as it may seem, someone as immensely accomplished and apparently confident as Juliet Stevenson can be struck by the paralysing fear of messing up in front of an audience. And she is by no means the only celebrity to have suffered from stage fright: it turns out all sorts of actors and musicians battle with it.
If it can happen to stars, you may be thinking, what hope is there for the rest of us? Well, first of all, if you’re performing as yourself, speaking rather than singing, it’s perfectly acceptable to use notes. As with computers, a human mind whose memory is full of lines has less energy available for other vital functions, such as connecting with the audience.
I’ve often made the point that public speaking is scary only when you don’t know what you’re doing. This is true and solves the problem in a great many cases. But, of course, our great actors and singers do know exactly what they’re doing: I don’t imagine for one second that the issue for Adele, for example, is that she hasn’t rehearsed enough.
This is where attitude and psychological preparation come in. The excellent Juliet Stevenson has put forward three strategies for overcoming stage fright, which chime with the advice I give my anxious clients. These are Juliet’s solutions:
Try something dangerous
Pushing yourself out of your comfort zone by testing yourself physically is an effective way of giving yourself perspective on your upcoming speech, interview or business pitch. What’s the worst that can happen in each situation?
Also, once you’ve conquered fear in one area, you know you can do it in another. If you can fly on the wing of an aeroplane, you can certainly talk to some people!
Stay in the present moment
If you’re ahead of yourself, wondering what you’re going to say next, this not only detracts from how you’re delivering your current point but can also usher in the jitters. Equally, if you’re looking back and analysing what you’ve just expressed, this will distract and undermine you. Live in the moment and, as Juliet says in a Radio 4 programme called The Gamble (see below), “you cannot have stage fright”.
Remember it’s not about you
Your performance is a big deal for you but stand back and look from the audience’s point of view. Any nerves you’re feeling are an unwelcome distraction, spoiling the experience for those watching and making them uncomfortable. This is not about you, it’s about the audience. And, as Juliet Stevenson points out in the same programme, it’s about the message you’re conveying.
(The relevant section starts approx 15 mins 30 s in and runs till about the 20-min mark)