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Overcoming stage fright

03:42am, 21/11/13

Stage frightIf you’re a performer, the chances are at one point or another you’re likely to experience stage fright. Whether you’re a dancer, actor, singer or comedian, the irrational fear of messing up during live performance can be absolutely nerve-wracking, often turning this worry into a self fulfilling prophecy. It’s a remarkable phenomenon that a performer can absolutely master their routine in the sanctum of a rehearsal studio, only to have it crumble to pieces under the spotlight in an auditorium. Conversely, a performer might experience stage fright because they havenít yet mastered their performance and become nervous before they go on stage due to feeling underprepared. Memories of previous performances where things didnít go according to plan can also be huge factor in the onset of stage fright.


Some of the typical symptoms of stage fright (or performance anxiety) include:

  • - Heightened cardiovascular activity

  • - Shaking or sweaty palms

  • - Feeling faint or dizzy

  • - Unintentional vocal pitch fluctuations or an inability to project your voice clearly

  • - A fear of forgetting your lines or your mind going blank

  • - Visualising scenarios where the audience ridicules or mocks you

From an evolutionary perspective

To some degree, we have our ancestors to blame – we are all biologically wired to undergo physiological changes when we find ourselves at the center of attention in front of an audience. Feeling the physiological contraction associated with stage fright is actually your reptilian brain’s natural fight or flight mechanism becoming activated.

The human being is undoubtedly a marvelous creature, but evolutionarily speaking it is not as well adapted to the lifestyle of modern day society as we might like to think. In the tribal, hunter-gatherer societies of the past that helped shape our genes, standing in front of a sea of people, all with their eyes on you was an extremely precarious position to be in. Your body’s natural fight or flight responses may well have saved your life in the paleolithic era, but in a modern day concert hall this kind of physiological reaction can ruin performances and cause a great deal of embarrassment.

So, if the fear of public performance is so deeply entrenched in our subconscious, what can be done to cure the problem? If you’ve ever tried to talk yourself out of stage fright, it’s pretty clear that logical persuasion is not a very effective tool to combat it.

Moving beyond stage fright

Seasoned performer Ringo Starr revealed that he is still frequently sick before going on stage, even after 50 years of performing! This severity of stage fright is not uncommon – many of the world’s most famous performers are similarly afflicted. Whether your stage fright is relatively mild or as ferocious as Ringo’s, certain steps can be taken to mitigate the unpleasant effects of this irrational fear.

1) Practise makes perfect

The motto of the US Navy Seals is: "The more you sweat in training, the less you will bleed in battle" – this applies for the performing arts too! It goes without saying, you should practise performing your routine/set/monologue as many times as possible in private to help iron out the nuances so that everything flows perfectly. Perform it as you would do in front of an audience, and if it helps, invite a handful of trusted friends to watch you rehearse so that you can get to grips with performing in front of a crowd but without the risk of failure. Stage fright can still strike even if you’ve practised to perfection, but knowing your material off by heart definitely helps alleviate some of the anxiety.

2) Interrupt your physiology

Being able to physically relax under pressure is absolutely paramount if you want to perform to the best of your potential. Above all other techniques, the ability to breathe properly is most effective at transmuting nervous energy into relaxed calmness; helping you to attain an a state of present awareness that is optimal for performing on stage. Learning a couple of good breathing techniques such as this one will help you to keep the nerves at bay.

3) Self hypnosis

There are numerous ways to re-wire your mental associations to performing in front of an audience, one of the most powerful is the art of visualisation. As the big day draws closer, start running videos through your mind of the performance going perfectly. These visualisations should be seen from the first person perspective and be vibrantly appealing to all 5 of the senses. From the loud applause of the audience to the feeling of triumphant confidence as you step out on stage, try to make your visualisation as rich as possible. Conversely, do the opposite to any negative projections you might have – turn down the noise, make the colour greyscale and crumple up the image in your mind so that its barely perceivable.

Undergoing sessions with a hypnotherapist is also a great way of changing any negative associations you might have with performing live. Hypnotherapists are also skilled at helping you re-examine any failures you had in the past to prevent them from reoccurring in the future.

(Photo by tcatcarson)

© 2012 Don Ely, all rights reserved . last update: 23/11/17