By Mark G. Auerbach
Stage fright happens to the best of us, and not just prior to performing onstage or giving a business presentation. You may have experienced it when be called upon in class, or at your first dance, or when standing before a group. For some, it’s almost paralyzing. Barbra Streisand and Olympia Dukakis have experienced it. How you learn to handle it is what counts.
A little stage fright is natural, and it keeps you on your toes. If you don’t have any nervousness, it may be more difficult to control your presentation.
I started out doing musicals, and I was just a member of the chorus, one of maybe a dozen singers and dancers who did the same steps and sang the same notes as the rest of the group. I seldom had stage fright until I had a solo, when I realized all eyes and ears would be specifically focused on me.
My directors and choreographers would say that knowing one’s role inside out, knowing the music and dance steps, rehearsing, staying in shape, and staying in control lessened the effects of stage fright. Once I developed the character and backstory of that character, it was easier to hide inside that character, and I became less afraid.
When I started my own public relations company, I had to give presentations, and there was no song or dance or character to hide behind, so I invented one–Mark G. Auerbach, the confident, easy-going, successful, and popular marketing practitioner. Once I was comfortable in my “role,” I became more confident in front of an audience.
I still get “jitters” before a presentation, depending on the type of presentation. When I was a radio anchor, I was invited to co-host a benefit performance at the Worcester Foothills Theatre. I thought I’d be reading notes from cards – until the director told me he knew I’d gone to Yale Drama School, and he knew I could sing. He would have me sing a couple of verses of “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” Stage fright made me a nervous wreck. I was totally out of my comfort zone.
Joe Smith, the Los Angeles based actor and writer (whose father, Marc, had talked me into doing the Foothills benefit, offered his advice to combat stage fright. “Breathe, slow down, and think about the words you’re saying. I find that if you’re only focusing on the external things – what your hands are doing, how should I say this next bit, etc., you can get easily shaken off that track. But if you know what you’re talking about and focus on that, you can feel confident in the ideas behind what you’re saying, and you don’t have to worry about trying to replicate this perfect recording you have in your head.”
Lisa Biaconin, Grammy Award-nominated music director of the Kurn Hattin Homes for Children in Westminster, VT, advised, “I combat stage fright by being very prepared with my materials that I am about to present. I also feel that it is very important to have an understanding of your audience. When they feel engaged and comfortable, that will be conveyed to you as a presenter.”
Jerry Bryant, corporate trainer, singer, and actor, reiterates the need for good preparation and rehearsal. “My best weapon against stage fright is preparation; if I have thoroughly practiced my presentation I have the confidence I need. Practice in a setting as close as possible to the one you’ll be speaking in. Use the visual aids you’ve prepared. Stand up and practice in front of a mirror, with the notes you’ll use at the event. Nothing beats practice.”
Bryant added, “It’s important to remember that there is a sweet spot between too much and not enough stage fright – you need to be a little nervous in order to be at your best. It’s also essential to breathe: a few deep belly breaths before you go on are a key to calm.”
Many theatre companies and college theatre departments offer theatre classes, and some offer workshops and seminars for the corporate speaker.
In theatre, it’s bad luck to say “good luck” to someone before a performance. The theatre term is “Break a leg.” Enjoy the moment in front of people. The applause at the end is so richly satisfying.
Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.