So Afraid Of You

Most people have had to address a group at one time or another in their lives.  Maybe it was giving a book report in school or maybe it was speaking in a public form at a town hall meeting or maybe it was something else somewhere else.

Some of us have breezed through the experience but others have struggled with it.  For those who rely on being able to address a crowd — whether it’s a musical performance, a literary reading, or some other such activity — things get complicated if they also suffer from stage anxiety or worse yet, stage fright. 

I’ve always been of the opinion that regardless of whether stage fright is part of the equation, there are a number of steps that can be taken to make a presentation or performance or reading less stressful that it is.  So what are these steps?

Days before you take to the stage, be sure that the material you’re presenting is something you know inside out.  If you’re uncertain about your material, you’ll be afraid of making mistakes or forgetting something.  Tackle that fear head on by making sure you’ve mastered the information or message or presentation before you step out on that stage.

Now preparation is more than just knowing the material inside out.  It’s about having back-up plans in case things go awry.  If you’re a musician, that might mean making sure you have extra batteries (9V, AA, AAA, etc.), spare drum sticks, sticky tape, masking tape, duct tape, extension cords and plug-in bars, fuses, microphones, microphone stand, a box of CDs to sell, marketing materials (brochures, business cards, etc.), signage and more.  If you’re an author, that might mean making sure you have extra batteries (9v, AA, AAA, etc.),  sticky tape, masking tape, duct tape, extension cords and plug-in bars, microphones, microphone stand, a powered-head (to plug the microphone in), a box of books to sell, marketing materials (brochures, business cards, etc.), signage and more.  Have it ready to go — in other words, already packed in the vehicle you’re taking to the event — long before you start getting ready for the event.

Something that’s rarely addressed is the matter of making sure you get enough sleep as the important date draws near.  Nothing brings out problems quite like not having enough sleep, especially the night before the event.  Getting enough sleep will give you a clear head so you can deal with any surprises, upsets or unexpected additions/deletions from the event.  If you don’t want to be thrown for a loop, make sure you tie up as many loops as possible long before you hit that stage.

Get to the venue long before you take that first step to the stage.  Acquaint yourself with the venue and get a sense — physically and mentally — for how you will move about in the space allotted to you for your event.  Introduce yourself to management and staff, and don’t be afraid to ask questions about events similar to your own that have been presented at the venue. 

Only use space and resources that are allotted to you, and if you need something else — a table and chair for signings or for sales, a place where you can hang signage — ask for direction from management.  Nothing will throw you off faster than finding out that you’ve innocently annoyed management because you didn’t ask before doing something in their venue.  In other words, keep the stress as low as possible by asking permission so you don’t find yourself begging forgiveness later on that day.

Do a thorough and proper sound check.  It’s amazing how many people don’t bother with this step only to experience ear-piercing feedback or speakers that might as well not even be hooked up to the sound system.  Check the lighting and if it’s too dim, do something about it.  If it’s too bright, do something about it.  But always ask management what they’d like you to do before starting anything.

A half-hour before you find yourself on stage, find a quiet place far away from the stage where you can spend some quiet alone time.  Make sure it’s a comfortable place so you can sit down and calm yourself.  Some might choose to meditate but it’s not mandatory.  Sometimes all it takes is closing your eyes, taking a few deep breaths in and out, and reminding yourself that you are ready to do this … you have done all the necessary preparations and you’re good to go, so to speak.

As you step out in front of the crowd, remember that audiences are forgiving.  If you should stammer or trip or even fall, your audience won’t turn on you.  In fact, your audience will feel all the closer to you because, like them, you are human and people like that … knowing that all of us are human.

Once you’re on stage, the best thing you can do to defeat stage anxiety and stage fright is to have fun with what you’re doing.  After all, you do what you do because it engages you and because you like writing or singing or performing and because you like sharing yourself with others in this way.  Pick out a few friendly faces in the crowd — even if the only faces you recognize are management and staff who were so very helpful to you earlier on that day — and play to them whenever you feel yourself tensing up.

Lastly, remind yourself that if anyone gives you the gears for what you’re doing, that you have the courage to stand in front of the crowd and the person giving you the gears is somewhere in the sea of people who came to hear you.   If they think it’s so easy, they should give it a try.  Maybe it will be a breeze for them but then again, maybe they’ll suffer stage anxiety or stage fright as well and in that moment, they’ll realize that they shouldn’t have judged you so harshly.

In life, it’s the things you didn’t do that you wanted to do that you’ll regret having passed over.   If you can remind yourself of that fact, you’ll soon realize that you have what it takes to overcome stage anxiety and stage fright no matter how big or small the crowd.

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