Photo by great photographer Mike Wilson, www.unsplash.com, or visit his website www.mikewilson.com.au.
My 4 Fantastic High Class Tips For Your Stage Fear Management
“Do the thing you fear to do and keep on doing it … that is the quickest and surest way ever yet discovered to conquer fear.”
When it comes to fear, we get pale: There are not many things we are so afraid of as being afraid. Fear makes everything grey, hopeless, futile, fear takes away our control, our breath, our own “Me” in a blink of an eye. Fear is the great antagonist of love. Fear shatters everything positive inside of us, and it befalls the powerful king as well as the poor beggar. Fear changes our body, the way we think and the way we feel. With fear time spreads and becomes unbearable. Fear is our real hell, here on earth and long before we die, and it’s hard to bring solace to a fearful soul.
Well, let’s try to bring you some solace anyway. When it comes to the fear of speaking freely in front of others, I have made a discovery: Most people really look for advice how to AVOID fear on stage. They want tips on how to become fearless, on how to get rid of fear. And that is why fear management tips don’t work for so many people. To a person afraid of panicking on stage the usual tips on how to calm down feel like a swimming style lesson to a person who is drowning. “I get damned afraid on stage, and when I am afraid, all these great tips don’t work because I can’t focus on on them at all, because I am afraid!”.
Your Fear Is Basically A Good Thing
That is why a bunch of high class fear management tips should start with some basic notions about the phenomenon of fear itself. Let me at once state the most important notion about fear:
Fear Is Good!
Yes, let me be the Gordon Gekko of fear management and shout it out to the four horizons: Fear is good! Without fear you wouldn’t read these lines right now because you would be already dead. Fear is the basis of our personal risk management capability, it saved us lots of times in the past from breaking our necks on skateboards and skis, or from getting to know personally very big trees at the steering wheels of very small cars. Fear has been our trusted adviser whenever we had to make important decisions in the past and it never let us down.
You might say: “Yeah, but when delivering a PowerPoint presentation in front of other people, what’s fear good for then?” Well, if we take a look back on the history of public speaking, we will become aware of the remarkable fact that our pitches of ideas to others have been true do-or-die-situations for thousands of years. Gaius Julius Caesar trying to convince his soldiers to follow him into the critical battle of Pharsalus against Pompey (and a deadly 2-1-supremacy), Maximilien Robespierre addressing the Convention in order to avoid the guillotine on 27 July 1794 (he didn’t), Nelson Mandela defending himself with his famous “I am prepared to die!”- speech at the Rivonia Trial on 20 April 1964: On all of these occasions making a stand in front of the others and convincing them could make the difference between going on living or having to die! So, from an historical point of view, fear of public speaking is highly rational. Moreover fear helped our ancestors to focus and give their very best on stage in order to save their necks, so, being afraid when on stage is, in principle, not only highly rational but also highly beneficial.
Befriend Your Fear
That is why the first thing you have to tell yourself is: “There is no life without fear, and there never will be, and for very good reasons too.” We can’t and shouldn’t avoid fear, we will have to live with it every single day of our life. All we can really do is to learn to manage it even more to our own advantage.
I know that many of you will not like this, but that’s how I see it. We must live with our fears and befriend them and use them creatively. If you resist, reject and fight fear, it will grow bigger and darker and heavier over the years, if you accept it, it will diminish and eventually find it’s perfect place in your life.
Me & My Fear Before Going On Stage With Garr Reynolds
I still remember that day in November 2015. It was a Saturday morning in the drug rehabilitation centre of San Patrignano, a complex of buildings stretching out between the beautiful green hills near the coast town Rimini in the Northeast of Italy, and Garr Reynolds and I were preparing to go on stage before a crowd of 2 500 young members, not the usual TED- or business-meeting-crowd, but young women and men who had all experienced the hell of drug addiction and the limits of good words and political slogans on their own skins. Saying that I was nervous would have been a gross understatement: I was really, really scared.
I knew that this audience was able to look behind every rhetorical trick and every banal phrasing, and moreover I would stand on stage with the probably most famous keynote speaker in the world, my friend Garr Reynolds, bestselling author of “Presentation Zen”, the most successful book in the history of presentation literature. So, standing on the stage of the huge meeting hall of San Patrignano and going through the sound check together with Garr and Carlotta, our translator, I hardly managed to produce an audible sound at all. My voice rang strange and untrue to myself, and my hand with the mic shook violently. I thought: “This should be a dream come true, but I am about to transform it into a nightmare. Ironically I will miserably fail during one of the potentially best moments of my life.”
This was our stage in San Patrignano, from the audience’s perspective. Photograph courtesy of myself.
But then three things dawned to me: First of all I remembered how much I liked to talk to people, how much I liked people in general, and having been to San Patrignano before, I knew how exceptional the guys there were and how generous. Secondly I realised that this event wasn’t about me, it was about the young women and men in the audience and about Garr who I had invited there, knowing that he would enjoy the people and the place immensely. And thirdly Garr was fun, and we had laughed a lot together the day before, and the presentation we had prepared contained some funny elements for the audience too, so that this whole thing could really turn out to be a good time for all of us. These thoughts saved my day. I was still nervous during the actual presentation, and I underperformed slightly because of it, but I overall loved the experience. I truly felt alive, passionate and thankful that night, especially when the young women and men came to the centre of the stage to have selfies with Garr and me.
Garr and me relaxing after the pitch. Photograph courtesy of Carlotta G.
What I really want to tell you is: Fear is excitement without the breath, as Fritz Persl once put it so beautifully. So before delivering your presentation do feel the excitement, do feel your passion for the topic, for your idea or product, do feel your love for the people in the audience. It’s not about you, you don’t have to be perfect, just take a deep breath, you are just the burning bush through which the divinity wants to speak to the people. You are the messenger, or even better, the mentor and friend of your audience. Of course you are afraid, but soon you will be just excited. No pitch or presentation is a monologue, see the event as a dialogue among people of good will that can turn out to be inspiring and fun. Fear is great energy, transform it into a passionate connection with your audience: Feel your audience, look at them, smile at them, ask them questions, like them, befriend them, take them with you on the beautiful journey ahead.
My 4 Fantastic High Class Tips For Your Stage Fear Management
All right, this was the really important stuff, but just in order to appear as the accomplished expert that I am not, I will add a few no brainers regarding your fear management before going on stage and while on stage:
Prepare your presentation like you were a bloody beginner: Do full verbalised dry runs, memorise the sequence of your slides, rehearse your voice, facial expressions and gestures. Once on stage keep a written version of your presentation in reach, this will act as your security blanket.
Days before your pitch, visualise a successful presentation, visualise everything that might go wrong and how you manage the resulting situations successfully, and visualise the blank expressions on your audience’s faces mutate into warm smiles. In order to do so, you must know the place and stage. Go there well before the big day, make a sound-, stage- and projector-check, make a few pics. On the day of your pitch be there early and talk to people in the audience. Smile as much as you can.
Avoid drugs of any kind, eat a Banana before going on stage, and that’s it. Gently hum and stretch, laugh, take a walk before the pitch, meditate, visualise positively your body radiating energy from the stage. Once your pitch is on, walk the stage slowly, like a big cat, energetically and yet elegantly. Stop, make pauses, breathe, feel your connection to mother earth, her energy flowing through your feet and into your body.
Don’t try to be perfect, remember that your pitch is a dialogue among friends. Feel your passion, feel the excitement, feel the fire burning within your soul. Stay in the moment, feel everything that happens. Feel your unique beauty inside you and then forget about yourself. GIVE YOURSELF AWAY.
*Yes, the quote at the beginning of this page is from Dale Carnegie 😉