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  • Writer's pictureBarbara Mayfield, MS, RDN, LD, FAND

Stage fright CAN be overcome!

Updated: Dec 3, 2022

Woman standing with fingers in her mouth and terrified expression on her face.

Your mouth goes dry. Your skin flushes. You break out in a sweat. Your knees knock. Your heart races. You can’t catch your breath. You make another trip to the bathroom. Are you coming down with the flu?

No – you have glossophobia – otherwise known as stage fright – one of the top fears people admit to. Is there a cure? Yes. You CAN overcome stage fright.

I created a tip series listing 5 strategies you can use to tame your nerves and actually look forward to getting on stage. It is tip series #2. Let’s look at each strategy.

5 Tips for Overcoming Stage Fright

#1 Don’t undress your audience!

You’ve probably heard the advice to imagine your audience naked. Supposedly it calms your nerves. The principle behind it makes sense – your audience is human, just like you. But doesn’t the thought of talking to a room of naked people make you more nervous?! It does me. Instead, imagine your audience interested and wanting to listen and learn. After all, they came to hear what you have to say. Keep them dressed.

#2 Believe they want you to succeed!

We get nervous because we are focused on ourselves and fear we will fail. Do you attend a presentation looking to be disappointed? Neither does your audience. They came to be informed, engaged, and inspired. Believe they want you to succeed – that’s what they came for.

#3 Be prepared!

The founder of Toastmasters, Dr. Ralph Smedley, said, “The unprepared speaker has a right to be scared.” The best prevention for stage fright is preparation: know your audience, research your topic, and practice your speech until you know it inside and out. Polish and practice what you will say and how you will say it. When you are prepared there is no need to be scared.

#4 Open with a smile!

Smile with your mouth, your eyes, and your entire face. Smiling will calm you and your audience. Displaying a warm and engaging smile tells people, “I’m glad you’re here. I’m glad I’m here. There’s nowhere else I’d rather be.” Make direct eye contact with all who smile back. Smiling is contagious.

#5 Engage your audience!

When all eyes are on you, it’s easy to feel nervous. Turn off the jitters by turning the focus on your audience. Engage them in a brief discussion or activity early in your presentation. Not only will it connect them to the topic, you, and each other… it will provide you an opportunity to take a deep breath and relax with the focus no longer on you. Keep the focus on your audience – engage them!

Additional tips include:

  • Arrive early and thoroughly test equipment and know your surroundings

  • Drink plenty of water to keep hydrated

  • Do stretches and power poses to warm up and relax

  • Adopt a “can-do” attitude, get rid of the negative self-talk

My friend and colleague, Sonja Stetzler, provides 3 excellent strategies for overcoming stage fright.

Take advantage of opportunities to hone your speaking skills, such as Toastmasters or working with a coach. The more often you speak the less nervous you will feel.

Finally, a small amount of nerves means you’re alive – don’t expect to feel totally calm before speaking in public. Just channel that nervous energy into enthusiasm. Your audience wants you to succeed – give them what they came for!

Share in the comments your favorite strategy for overcoming stage fright.

For more on overcoming stage fright and improving your presentation skills, check out Chapter 21 in Communicating Nutrition: The Authoritative Guide.

"You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, 'I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.' You must do the thing you think you cannot do." ~ Eleanor Roosevelt

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