Stagefright – How To Overcome It

Stagefright is a very common fear.  And you don’t even need to be on a stage!  Any kind of public speaking – whether that is giving a speech at a wedding, or a eulogy, giving a business presentation, or speaking at a networking group – fills most people with anything ranging from mild anxiety to outright panic.

There have been many surveys done on fears and phobias – and depending which one you read, Public Speaking is the number one fear people have – above death, heights and spiders!  It’s always in the top 3, at any rate.  And isn’t that kind of crazy?

Where does Stagefright come from?

Here’s the thing about that. Death, heights and spiders are all dangerous to – or potentially dangerous to your health.  But Public Speaking? That comes from somewhere else.  Either it is a childhood memory or another fear.  Perhaps in childhood you were made to stand up and read something out in class, or recite a poem, and it didn’t go as well as it could.  Maybe you were laughed at or criticised.

Possibly at home you were encouraged to be ‘seen and not heard’ like “all good children”.  Or it could be that you were slapped down (physically or emotionally) for speaking up.  Whatever the reason, you now fear others reactions when you speak.

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Or, it could be that you what you actually have is a need to be perfect, or a general feeling of not being good enough.  Perhaps you don’t think you have anything worth saying.  For whatever reason, you have developed this problem called, ‘I can’t speak in front of an audience’.

Yes, you developed it.  You certainly weren’t born with it.  Babies have no fear of making a noise in front of anyone.  Go to any maternity unit and have a listen.

No – the fear of public speaking is something you developed.  And that’s great – because unlike the possibly more tribal and instinctive fears like spiders or snakes – which have developed through the ages as a subliminal tribal knowledge –  this is learned behaviour which is within your control to ‘unlearn’.

And here is something that will help you lose that fear.

There are two modalities you can use when looking at your audience from stage – Peripheral Vision and Foveal Vision.

If you think of it in terms of cavemen times – peripheral vision is what a grazing animal would use to be aware of all its surroundings at the same time. By being aware of everything at the same time, the animal can see changes to movement in the grass that might indicate danger, for example.

On stage you may appear to be looking at one thing but actually your awareness is everywhere, rather than on one specific thing or person.

Foveal vision is the opposite.  This is when your concentration is directly ahead of you and in the middle of your visual field.  In other words, it is what you focus on.  This is what a predator uses to fix it’s prey and, ignoring everything around it, will pursue that particular animal – because that is the one it focused on.  Have you ever seen a video of a cheetah chasing down its prey – it will go after the one animal, even if it seems there are others that would be easier to catch.

Now – the problem with being in foveal vision is that it can exacerbate stagefright.  You focus in one spot and your brain has the time and energy to be thinking about how nervous you are.

Instead what you want to do is be in peripheral vision.

Here’s an exercise you can do right now involving peripheral vision.

Try this.  Look at something in the room with you now.  Focus on it and think about a problem or a worry you have.  Now, whilst looking at that one spot, become aware of the ceiling, the walls to your left and right, things that are in the room, the lighting – see how much you can ‘see’ without moving your eyes.  Now try and think about your problem whilst being in that state.

It’s pretty hard to be focused on a problem when in peripheral vision.  In fact, it’s impossible.  When you get on stage and go into peripheral vision, you can leave all your worries at the door.  You are fully present in the room and not in your head.

Try it and let me know how you get on the next time you have to speak.

And don’t worry – that is only one of many techniques you can learn to help with your presentations.  If you would like to learn more – come along to one of my free Passion Into Profit events where I show you how to take what you are passionate about and turn it into a profitable business.

1 Comment

  • Jo Reply

    Love the animal analogy Andy

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