Everyone has been so focused on the content of their TED Talk that they seem to have forgotten one very important aspect of any presentation: It’s required to speak… on stage… in front of a bunch of people. If that image paralyzes you with dread, you probably are familiar with the term “stage fright”.
Stage fright is the anxiety or fear felt before going on stage or giving a performance. The medical term for stage fright is “glossophobia”, and while few of us have an actual condition that causes us to experience stage fright on a much more serious level, most of us are no stranger to “jitters” before presenting or performing something.
Stage fright is not dependent on talent, intellect, or experience, but rather stems from lack of self-confidence. Researchers J.J. Barrell, D. Medeiros, J.E. Barrell and D. Price found that the central concepts that cause the stress or anxiety responsible for stage fright are as follows:
- The belief that there are superior individuals watching that have both the ability and intent to judge you is present. In school, this includes a lot of people such as teachers, the principle, or bored peers who seem intent on receiving entertainment from the slightest of mistakes.
- The possibility of failure is considered. If you’re reading this or if you are preparing to give a TED Talk, you’re most likely a perfectionist. And many times perfectionism means a fear of failing. This fear can hinder your performance as one tiny, insignificant mistake can shatter your confidence.
- You are very focused on your appearance. Many of us are afraid of looking stupid, but the truth of the matter is that if you wanted to show off your image, you would’ve joined a fashion show or a beauty pageant. The purpose of a TED Talk is to spread innovative ideas that can change the world and not to come across as “cool”.
All of these basic thoughts cause you to feel stressed or threatened, and in response, the brain triggers the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones increase your heart rate in a process known as the “fight or flight” response. This instinctual reaction comes in handy when going into combat against super villains or running from a vicious dog. However, it’s not a good idea to attack the audience, and as much as you may want to, you can’t run off the stage screaming.
How then, can you rid yourself of this biologically programmed fear of stages? Extra adrenaline prepares your body physically. As a result, your heart rate increases. To get your heart beating normally, try taking deep breathes. This relaxes your body and mind.
Visualizing a positive outcome can also calm down the body and allow you to focus.
The cliché “practice makes perfect” has significance here. If you commit your performance or speech to memory, you can go on autopilot on stage to avoid mistakes.
It’s important to stay present. When you think about the future of your presentation it’s easy to imagine situations where you mess up which causes your stress level to increase.
Avoiding caffeine is a good idea because it is a stimulant and will only add to the surplus of energy. Drink water instead to prevent your mouth from becoming dry.
Some people make the audience less intimidating by picturing them in compromising situations (like in their underwear) or pretending that they’re only speaking to one person.
My personal favorite method for overcoming stage fright is exercise. Physical activity provides the excess energy produced with an outlet. For example, as strange as it may be, I tend to tap dance before going on stage.
Stage fright is extremely common, and let’s face it, you’re bound to get nervous before going on speaking. But the picture is so much bigger than you as a single entity. The fact that you’re giving a TED Talk means that you have an idea that is worth spreading, which resonates within yourself, and therefore has the capacity to resonate within others. It would be a shame if the world was left with one less idea. So take a deep breath, relax, and remember: the stage doesn’t bite. 😉