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Welcome to this issue of our free E-zine, People Skills for Skilled People!

In this issue, we’ll look at a topic that has a huge impact on your career success. It’s about a condition that can seriously slow or stop your professional forward motion. We’re going to explore…

Stage Fright:
Getting Your Butterflies “Flying in Formation”

Vol. 3, No.1

You’re moving up in management in your organization, and you’re giving more and more presentations. For the most part, you’re getting pretty good feedback on them. You know you can get up and give a cogent coherent presentation; but after most of them, you’re left with a feeling that something just isn’t sitting right. You’re not sure you really connected with the audience. Or maybe you can’t remember if you hit all the key points you wanted to. You might even have had moments when you felt like you were in a “white tunnel.”

If you’ve felt anything like this, you may have had a case of stage fright, or what goes by the term “communication apprehension” in the world of communication studies. With the increased stress put on speaking well in public, you can’t afford to let this condition continue. It’s a major career spoiler that can impede your progress in job interviews, visibility in professional associations, advancement in your department, and creating your best professional image.

The good news is that stage fright can be conquered. But before it can be, we need to take a look at some of its typical manifestations. There are two kinds: physical and psychological, and they’re interrelated. Let’s start with the physical. Before or during a presentation, you may feel any or all of the following:

  • Sweaty palms
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness
  • Cold feet and hands
  • Shaking or trembling in body or voice
  • Tight muscles
  • Pounding heart
  • Churning in your stomach
  • Constriction in your throat
  • Wobbly knees
  • Being “tongue-tied”

These symptoms almost immediately pour over into your conscious mind, causing the following symptoms:

  • Fear
  • Self-consciousness
  • Insecurity
  • Disorganization
  • Forgetfulness
  • Inarticulateness

Then, of course, these mental conditions cause even further physical symptoms, which enhance the mental ones, etc. etc. In our speech coaching, Jan and I have seen cases where highly competent professional people simply refuse to give public presentations even though the career and professional stakes are extremely high.

What a shame! Especially since curing this condition is so simple. If you’re saying to yourself right now “Yeah, but I can’t imagine getting rid of MY stage fright,” let me offer your some powerful suggestions that will help you break the vicious cycle of communication apprehension and move to a far better place.

To escape from this downward spiraling loop, you need to realize the truth of the following three ideas and truly make them your own.

1. To the audience, you never look as nervous as you feel.

For almost everyone we’ve worked with who has a bad case of stage fright, this comes as a total shock. Surely everyone must see me shaking and sweating, stumbling over my words, and fetching for those lost ideas that will never see the light of day. Well, I’ve got news for you. You don’t look nervous and insecure. Usually what happens is that the speaker confesses his or her nervousness (although we do not recommend that you do this), and the audience is incredulous. They’re also admiring the speaker for having the nerve to get up in front of them in the first place, since most of them suffer from stage fright also! Of all the ideas that can cure stage fright, this one is truly the most liberating. “If I don’t look nervous,” you say to yourself, “then why should I worry about how I feel?” You have now answered the first question on the stage fright quiz correctly, and you’re on your way.

2. Your audience wants you to succeed.

This one is really motivating. Sometimes you have to give bad news in a presentation, and thus you’re apt to have a hostile audience. The truth is, even if your audience disagrees with you, they want you to make a credible presentation and will respect you for it. So why not go for it?

3. Your audience is terribly envious of you.

Do you realize how pervasive stage fright is? A while back, a survey was conducted to determine the things people were most afraid of. Among them were divorce, prison, joblessness, serious illness, and even thermonuclear war! But believe it or not, at the very top of the list was “giving a presentation!” You see, we may lose our jobs someday, or come down with a terrible disease, but that presentation, replete with PowerPoints, WILL happen next Monday morning at 10! So it’s no surprise to learn that the vast majority of audience members feel that level of fear also and admire you for being able to get up in front of a group and speak.

So how do you marshal these three ideas to cure stage fright once and for all? First, act “as if” you radiated confidence. This idea goes back to the great American psychologist William James, who said that if you pretend to be something, you’ll eventually become what you’re pretending to be—in this case, self-confident in front of groups. Since now you know that you don’t look anywhere near as nervous as you feel and your audience wants you to succeed and is actually envious of you, what have you got to lose? Just get up there, take a deep breath, maybe repeat a positive affirmation to yourself, then go for it!

One other tip. You can build confidence and poise by adopting the RSVP formula we wrote about in Volume 1, #4. Check it out on our website www.talk2cei.com.

Now here are some do’s and don’t’s that will bring your body into better control:

  1. Don’t sit quietly before your speech. In private, move around and limber up!
  2. Don’t eat much before starting to speak.
  3. Avoid dairy products at all costs for four hours before your presentation. They cause phlegm build-up.
  4. Drink cool water with lemon to soothe your throat, and AVOID ALCOHOL!
  5. Let a throat lozenge dissolve in your mouth. They make lozenges specifically for singers and speakers.
  6. Have a glass of water (without ice) near you.
  7. After you get up and stand before the group, take a couple of “beats” before starting.
  8. Breathe, smile, then speak with full volume and high energy.
  9. Speak a little more slowly than you would normally; This gives you time to think, and the audience appreciates a more relaxed rate.
  10. Remember: They’ll never know what you didn’t tell them. If you forget or skip over a section you planned, the audience doesn’t know you made a “mistake,” so relax!

Taken together, you can count on all these ideas and techniques to give you a new lease on life behind the lectern. So put fear behind and career advancement ahead. Get your butterflies flying in formation, and you’ll “wow ‘em” every time!

Yours in great communication,

Jan & Neal Palmer

And that's our tip on People Skills for Skilled People for today!

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