Strategies for Dealing with Stage Fright

Nader Nassereddine
5 min readApr 29, 2021

Before we get into any of this, I would like you to illustrate this hypothetical scenario in your mind. Picture yourself, about to give a presentation in front of a massive audience on a topic that you have a Ph.D. in. You walk towards the mic and you begin to tremble, your hands are getting sweaty, and you forget your speech. This happens to all of us, even those who are confident presenters. Studies have shown that the most common phobia that majority of the global population suffers from is glossophobia. Not sure what that means? Let me put it in simpler terms; it’s the fear of public speaking.

With 5+ years of public speaking experience, I have researched and concluded a number of strategies that will help prepare you for any upcoming presentation, but also to overcome this widespread phobia.

Note: Please note that I will be using performance anxiety, public speaking, stage fright, and glossophobia interchangeably throughout.

WHAT IS PERFORMANCE ANXIETY?

Oxford defines performance anxiety as: “extreme nervousness experienced before or during participation in an activity taking place in front of an audience.”

In other words, performance anxiety is an incredibly common communication-based anxiety disorder and is a very difficult skill to accomplish. Conquering this phobia not only applies to actors who perform their lines on set or musicians performing live in front of their fans, but to anyone who has to do a public presentation, a toast at a wedding for instance, or even teaching a course to 500 students, and the list goes on.

Most phobias seem to appear out of nowhere, and generally, it often starts in childhood or early adulthood. That said, most phobias (even glossophobia) can arise because of a combination of genetic tendencies and various psychological factors. Also, it could relate to one’s prior experiences and those who fear public speaking may have a real fear of being embarrassed or rejected from society at large.

STATISTICS & FACTS

Here are a few statistics that I came across during my research about performance anxiety and glossophobia:

  • Approximately, 75% of people in the world suffer or have a fear of public speaking.
  • Younger patients are more likely to develop glossophobia during childhood than adults today.
  • A ratio of 6% of males and 8% of females in the United States have performance anxiety.

However, one fact that blew my mind away was that the number one fear in the world is public speaking. At first, I had to process this, and it made sense. The adrenaline that intensifies whenever we have to give a public presentation happens daily with everyone.

STRATEGIES FOR DEALING WITH STAGE FRIGHT

Before this post, I once struggled with performance anxiety especially when I was younger. However, these strategies helped me overcome my biggest weakness and I would like to share them with you today.

  1. Practice, Practice, Practice. It’s exactly like the saying, “practice makes perfect.” As cliché as it may be, the more you practice your presentation the less anxious you will be. TIP: Try practicing your presentation in front of some people you’re comfortable with and ask for feedback. It may also be helpful to practice with a few people with whom you are less familiar with.
  2. Using positive imagery. Envisage yourself delivering a successful presentation rather than dwelling on all the things that could go wrong. For example, athletes frequently use positive imagery as part of their preparation and positive thoughts can help decrease some of your negativity about your social performance.
  3. Prepare relaxation exercises. Learn which breathing or other preparation techniques work best for you, particularly before you start your presentation and in the early minutes. This will help to restore the balance in your mind and emotions so that you won’t be so afraid to perform.
  4. Don’t fear a moment of silence. If you lose track of what you’re saying or start to feel nervous and your mind goes blank, it may seem like you’ve been silent for eternity; however, most likely your audience won’t mind a pause to consider what you’ve been saying.
  5. Expect Mistakes. Perfectionism can lead to severe performance anxiety, but if you allow and even expect mistakes to happen then it takes a lot of the pressure off you and helps to reduce any form of anxiety.
  6. Limit Your Sugar & Caffeine Intake. Both of these things can have a negative impact on your body’s stress level. So, if you are going to be doing a presentation anytime soon, it’s a good idea to avoid both sugar and caffeine beforehand. Trust me I’ve been there, not worth it!
  7. Recognize your success. After your presentation, give yourself a pat on the back. It may not have been perfect, but chances are you’re far more critical of yourself than your audience is. Look at any mistakes you made as an opportunity to improve your skills.

“Look at any mistakes you made as an opportunity to improve your skills.”

MOVING FORWARD

Fear of public speaking is a natural and common phobia, but can actually be a positive thing. Public speaking is an important part of many careers and professions, and being an effective public speaker is a huge asset to have. Whether you are speaking in front of an audience of 300 or speaking in front of a committee of 10 people, this effective communication skill is essential to getting ahead professionally.

I hope the strategies we discussed today help the next time you have an important presentation so that when you see a microphone in your midst, you won’t be afraid to take the stage.

References

Jones, C., Fazio, R., & Vasey, M. (2012). Attentional control buffers the effect of public-speaking anxiety on performance. Social Psychological and Personality Science, 3(5), 556–561.

Hope, D. A., Heimberg, R. G., & Klein, J. F. (1990). Social anxiety and the recall of interpersonal information. Journal of Cognitive Psychotherapy, 4(2), 185e195.

Cheng, J., Niles, A. N., & Craske, M. G. (2017). Exposure reduces negative bias in self-rated performance in public speaking fearful participants. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry, 54(Complete), 101–107.

Folk, J., & Folk, M. (2018, November 20). Shaking Anxiety Feelings Symptoms. Anxiety Centre. Retrieved December 5, 2018.

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). (2010). Anxiety and Depression Association of America. Retrieved December 5, 2018.

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Nader Nassereddine

Work to make your past thankful and your future proud. 🧿