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fear of public speaking

Put Fear In Its Place!

by Robert McEntee on October 7, 2013

“Even if it was difficult, even if it was dangerous. DANGER WAS REAL BUT FEAR WAS A CHOICE. I would choose faith instead – after all, that was a part of my family legacy too. Everything we did was for the glory of God”  Nik Wallenda, Champion High Wire Artist

Twice recently I have had to “talk down” two fellow performers who were experiencing extreme states of fear regarding upcoming performances. One friend had not performed in a long time due to a lengthy illness and family issues. He also felt his last performance had not gone well and therefore lost all his confidence, the lifeblood of showmanship. The other performer just generally gets severe performance anxiety even though her shows always go well. Both of them felt they could not successfully complete upcoming engagements and wanted to get out of them.

It’s well known in the entertainment field that fear is not your friend. In fact similar to what’s said about dogs, audiences can sense when a performer is nervous and the unsettled state overtakes them as well, thus seriously dampening the fun factor of the event. I had to remind them of much of the following, which I often need to remind myself of prior to more significant engagements. While I’ll largely address stage fright or performance anxiety here, the information is largely relevant to most other types of fear as well.

It has been said the fear of public speaking is greater than the fear of death, although it’s impossible to judge the validity of such a statement. Another saying goes, it’s okay to have butterflies, but get them to fly in formation. This means it’s normal to have some performance anxiety, whether you’re giving a speech for your job, a toast at a wedding, etc. The key is to use the anxiety to your advantage, remembering that in a way it’s a good sign as it shows you care about doing an exemplary job. This leads to the acronym for FEAR you may have heard of, False Evidence Appearing Real! This means that your reality does not have to be based on what your insecurities are telling you…

Through the previous article Mind Tricks for Enhanced Perspective & Performance! you learned valuable concepts such as “acting as if” and “supportive observer comments”. When dealing with “pre show jitters” it’s most important to remember that the one thing you can always control is your mind. It’s more difficult to control it under high stress, that’s why regularly practicing mind calming techniques is so valuable. Then when needed, you can easily transmute negative self talk into success building imagery. Reframe nervous thoughts as anticipation of your success. The adrenaline rush is similar and within reason can aid, rather than hinder a performance.

The best antidote to performance anxiety is proper preparation. After that it’s doing what can be done in the moment. So you take action on practical preparation, which for me involves a relaxation technique such as deep breathing or possibly a brief tai chi routine. Many performers have set rituals they go through before taking the stage which keeps them focused on the task at hand, rather than giving in to the mind’s urge to self sabotage through negative imaginings. It seems that we become less intelligent when nervous, therefore, working from a written checklist if there are a number of details which can be easily overlooked, is a good idea.

Let me give you one easy yet very practical technique which can quickly counteract anxiousness. Breathe in through your nose for a count of 4 seconds. (When inhaling the stomach should expand as the diaphragm raises, and do the opposite with exhalation. Many people actually breathe backwards, and such shallow breathing brings nervous energy.) Hold the breath for at least 4 seconds, and then exhale through the mouth for 4 seconds, as the stomach contracts. The 4 second intervals can be increased with practice or according to your lung capacity. If you repeat this for about 10 minutes you will definitely noticed increased calmness!

Let’s see what the best selling book of all time, the Bible says about fear. “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”  2Tim1:7 That seems to say that the state of fear is contrary to a sound mind. Then we have the famous FDR quote, “The only thing to fear is fear itself.” So strong opinion exists that fear is a negative thing, however that may be part of the problem; we are conditioned to fear, fear!…

Realize the benefits of defining specifically what you fear at a given moment. With presentations or performances, it’s predominately fear of failure. However failure is not necessarily a bad thing, as from it we learn, grow and improve. In fact, success coaches often believe that we should, “fail forward fast” since the failure motivates and educates  us to do better next time. Facing the worst possible outcome in advance helps to put things in perspective, so even if you completely freeze up, no one dies or is even injured. Our mistakes are soon forgotten as people are much more concerned with themselves, rather than how we imagine they are with us.

I like to remind myself that if I screw up, the result is a little embarrassment or perhaps the audience learns how a trick is done, no big deal. However if a performance artist such as a knife thrower, trapeze artist or tightrope walker makes one mistake, either they or someone else could very well die. Most of us aren’t involved with such extreme activities, but these performers need to completely master the techniques we’ve discussed, as they cannot afford the slightest bit of negative self talk. Speaking of tightrope walkers, if you haven’t seen the incredible video of master Nik Walenda, walk across a portion of the grand canyon, there is a condensed version here Notice his technique for completely filling his mind with positive thoughts and claiming his success at every step!

If you’re wondering how the two performers I discussed at the beginning of this article handled their situations, the male performer gave into his anxiety and got a replacement performer for the event. I am sure his next engagement will bring even more dread, since each time we face our fears they lessen, while the opposite is also true. On the other hand, the female performer worked through her anxiety and performed successfully! She questioned herself after, what or why she had been so nervous! I suggested that she record her present feelings and review them the next time she feared an upcoming performance. Decide which of these types of outcomes you want in your life and simply make it happen, as only YOU are in control of you!

Here are a few relevant, valuable resources:

Jump & the Net Will Appear (Robin Crow)

Inspire Any Audience (Tony Jeary)

Creating A Powerful Presence (Bert Decker)