Stage Fright – How to Conquer Stage Nerves

Is it possible to eliminate Stage Fright altogether?

I’m not sure. Even after 50 years of performing onstage I still get nervous!

My performing career has taken me from Acting, Cabaret and Stand Up Comedy, through Magic and Illusion Shows to Professional Speaking and now mainly Corporate MC work. I tried to work out approximately the number of times I’ve been onstage, it’s certainly in the thousands of times, if not tens of thousands.

However, over this time, I’ve had to learn a number of  techniques to allow me to cope with Stage Fright and to feel comfortable onstage. These are the things I’m going to share in this article.

His palms are sweaty, knees weak, arms are heavy
There’s vomit on his sweater already, mom’s spaghetti
He’s nervous, but on the surface he looks calm and ready
To drop bombs, but he keeps on forgettin’
What he wrote down, the whole crowd goes so loud
He opens his mouth, but the words won’t come out
He’s chokin’, how, everybody’s jokin’ now
The clocks run out, times up, over, blaow!

Lose Yourself – Eminem

Stage Fright – Preparation Secrets

Stage Fright – Shift the Focus

Don’t focus on YOU so much!

Remember the first rule of MC work?  It’s not about you!

The same applies in any onstage situation. The sooner you start concentrating on them, the audience the better.

Ask yourself, –

Why am I going onstage?

What’s my Role?

How am I helping the audience?

What’s the benefit to the audience?

Those should be your underlying thoughts, not ….

Me Onstage

Me forgetting my Lines

Me messing up someone’s name.

This shift of focus is a powerful tool and goes a long way to combating stage nerves.

Stage Fright – The Mirror Trap

Many people think that practicing their speech in front of a big mirror is the best way to practice, but in some ways it’s just the opposite!

People who are nervous about being up there on stage can actually get even more nervous when they see the real image of themselves in that situation!

Some people find it more helpful just to run their lines etc in a room by themselves, only resorting to a mirror if they want to practice a certain gesture or body shape.

Try it and see.

Stage Fright – The Power of Visulisation

As a follow up to the Mirror Trap, another tool is the Power of Visulisation.

This technique is used by huge numbers of successful sports people, where they calmly picture themselves successfully completing a difficult golf shot or clearing the high jump bar with perfect technique.

We can picture our ideal version of us onstage delivering our material, or more importantly, picture the audience – smiling, nodding, taking notes and applauding a job well done.

I’m a big fan, and have written about before, the powerful “Morning Ritual.” A set of steps you do each morning to really help you focus and set up your day. You can find more info about this HERE.

One of those steps is to use Visulisation. If you do this every morning for some time it will not only help you become comfortable with your material, it will help you control any Stage Fright.

Stage Fright – The Perfection Trap

Speaking of being comfortable with your material, many MC’s and Speakers fall into what I call “The Perfection Trap.” They strive to be Word Perfect, memorising every phrase, stage movement and gesture and tend to freak out when the slightest thing goes wrong

In many ways the highly popular but slightly artificial TED & TEDx speaking structure has had a big influence here. It’s enabled us to view hundreds of highly rehearsed short presentations in front of ideal audiences in perfect venues.

But this is often not the real world faced by professional speakers and MC’s of all levels! Presenting and performing is a very fluid environment, there are many changes, obstacles & hiccups along the way.

But there is one thing you should always remember … Our audiences want to see a real human up there onstage delivering material they are comfortable with in a warm and engaging manner.

They really don’t mind if we stumble a bit, we all do it.

They don’t mind if we stray from the script, to adapt to the moment, the crowd and the energy.

Remember at all times, they want us to succeed. They want a successful event.

Stage Fright – Solid Structures

Another technique that many presenters rely on, is to have a solid repeatable structure to what they are doing. This serves as a road map, so they are always heading in the right direction and know where they are up to. Knowing that a solid structure is in place, they feel more comfortable onstage and even if they stray of the path a little they can easily get back on track.

Let me give you a couple of examples.

Professional Speakers often use a very structured approach to putting a presentation together.

A short snappy opener to grab peoples attention and establish a premise.

Then Stating the benefit that the audience will get from the presentation.

Then making a Point, followed by a story or illustration that reinforces that point.

Then another Point, followed by another story.

Repeat this till your 3 or 4 points are made.

Then a Summary of the Points and a Call to Action.

Then Close.

Obviously there are variations on this, but even this simple structure helps the speaker move through the presentation and deliver everything he or she wants. If they are nervous, even simple notes or Powerpoint slides will keep them moving along and feeling comfortable.

As Professional MC’s there are also simple structures that we can use to help us out and be more relaxed.

In Thanking Speakers we can use a simple framework.  Check out this article.

In Introducing Speakers many MC will use a simple structure, such as …

Why this Topic?
Why this Speaker?
Why Now?

You can read more about that here … A Bio is Not an Intro

This can also extend to running a panel Discussion, Networking event etc.

Stage Nerves

Stage Fright – Don’t Awfulise

I learnt of the term Awfulising or Catastrophic Thinking in the brilliant book Change Your Thinking by Sarah Edelman. It’s where we create distress about events way out of proportion to the actual reality, or spend inordinate amounts of energy worrying about things that could happen but usually don’t.

I’m guilty of this myself. Despite the many hundreds of flights over the years I’ve taken, I still worry far too much that my bags won’t turn up. ( My bags have only been late twice.) l worry that the hotel won’t have my booking (It’s never happened.)

I feel that many presenters that suffer Stage Fright or Stage Nerves, tend to awfulise as well.

Two examples straight from the book of this type of thinking  …

“I must do this perfectly – it’s terrible to make mistakes.”

“People must like and respect me – it’s awful to be disapproved of.”

You can quite easily become aware of this type of thinking and with a few simple exercises change the habit. Learning to monitor your thinking is a great first step.

Check out the Book here on Amazon.

Onstage Secrets to Conquer Stage Fright

Stage Fright – Relax

The temptation to have an extra coffee or two or perhaps a stiff drink to artificially relax you can be strong, but is generally a very bad idea. Avoid the Coffee and Alcohol before you go on.

A few deep breaths and some stretching is always good.

Many speakers try to find a quiet spot and meditate before they go on. Not necessarily to go through their lines, by then they should be locked in, but just to calm the body and mind and get some focus.

I like to do some Voice exercises and Vocal warm-up.

Stage Fright – Slow Down

Being nervous for many people leads to a rushing of their material.

It may be a desire to get through the time onstage as quickly as possible or just the effect of the extra adrenalin pumping into the body. Either way, if you feel the nerves, try and slow down your delivery. If you need too, take a pause, move a little on stage and refocus.

Stage Fright – Speak to Individuals

Many people I talk to about Stage Fright tell me that they are only nervous onstage, that they are quite happy talking to strangers One on One.

This mindset then gives us another technique that we can use. Talk to the audience as a collection of individuals!

Focus all your attention on just one person as you deliver a few lines, then switch to another. Keep on doing this as you work your way around the room. Some people who have tried this technique tell me it works so well for them, that after a few people they feel quite relaxed and can start looking at the whole group.

I actually developed this technique in the years I performed Stand Up Comedy in some of the toughest Comedy rooms in Australia. When the whole room seemed to hate you but you still had to do your time in order to get paid.

In these situations I would search out the one person who was slightly enjoying what I was doing. Or hating it less than everyone else. I kept my attention on them, worked on them and then onto the two people on either side. This seemed to spread and I was able to win them over as well. Then focus on their table, then that corner of the room, then that half of the room etc.

You can win over a whole room like that.

So in our Speaking and Presenting, look out for the one or two people who are smiling, nodding and paying attention. Direct your material there to begin, it will make you more comfortable and the others will join in as you progress.

Professional Tip –

Try and meet at least a few audience members as they come into the room. This is useful for both Speakers and MC’s.  Then when you go up on stage, you already have a few “friends” out in the audience.

As an MC I will often be near the door at the start, guiding people to where they should sit, welcoming them to the event etc. You can then seek these people out from the stage and direct your comments to them, before moving your attention to other strangers.

This can be a nice way to overcome those Stage Nerves.

It also make a nice connection, to the audience if you mention a couple of those people by name.

“I was talking to a few of you before the event, John, Margaret & Bruce over there, and they mentioned that one of your big challenges this year was going to be  (issue to be addressed.) Well I think you will find plenty of tactics, techniques and strategies to deal with just that in our great range of presentations coming up.”

See what we did? The audience think you did lots of homework, the people you met briefly all think you must have talked to the others in depth, you’ve made a nice link into the topic of the presentation and you get a few friendly faces out there to lock onto if you are feeling nervous!

The Big Secret of Stage Fright

Humans are hard wired to be nervous!

It’s a perfectly natural thing. In situations where we perceive danger, threat or just the unknown, our blood starts to pump faster our nerves get twitchy. The body prepares to fight or take flight!

It’s exactly what should be happening!

I suggest you look out for the first signs and acknowledge them.
I actually get worried if I don’t feel nervous. I see it as a sign that I’m too complacent, that I’ve forgotten the real reason I’m there.

Try and acknowledge the feeling and then use that extra energy to give you extra vibrancy onstage.

Embrace your Stage fright!

Timothy Hyde

Widely acknowledged as one of Australia's busiest & best MC's and a global authority on the MC Industry, Timothy Hyde shares his expertise and insights into this fascinating Professional Speaking niche via this site and a dynamic YouTube channel. His best selling book The ExpertMC Toolkit and Resource Manual has helped thousands of people worldwide improve their Emcee skills and in many cases, start earning a living by taking on the role.

Now, check out these popular articles