It’s not uncommon — most of us get nervous at the thought of going up on stage. The prospect of being at the centre of attention and up for scrutiny by others can be nerve-wracking. Many of us try our best to make excuses and avoid it one way or another.
However, what you need to remember is that the ability to speak in front of others and cope with this fear of being mocked is perhaps one of the most important life skills to learn. The first time you go up on stage is never easy, but these situations present themselves time and again.
Whether in the form of a debate, a recital, an interview, a viva or a presentation — this fear can interfere with every sphere of your life if you allow it to. If you want to succeed in life, you need to stop avoiding the stage and confront your fear head on. The feelings of anxiety might never go away, but it’s never going to be as bad as you might fear it to be.
1 It’s natural to feel nervous on stage: Even the most confident public speaker or performing artiste is nervous on stage; you just might not be able to see it. No matter how often you’ve been on stage or how much it’s practised, it’s perfectly natural to feel nervous when on stage.
2 The only way to deal with stage fright is to confront it: Avoiding speaking or performing in public is only going to make you fear the stage more. Be it a debate at school or a presentation to a client, you need to confront your fear of evaluation. The more you’ll try it, the less you’ll fear it.
3 Other people can’t see your fear: As humans we have a tendency to over-estimate what we think others know about our frame of mind. Even the most confident people can still be nervous, but you just can’t see it. The same way, others around you won’t be able to see your nerves either.
4 Be prepared: Before you go up on stage, be sure to have practised and prepared well. Whenever possible, try and rehearse in a similar setting so that you get accustomed to it. If you trust your preparation, chances are you’re going to pull through and do well.
5 Take one step at a time: If you’re afraid to speak or perform in front of others, start out slow. Start by reading or performing alone in front of the mirror. Slowly begin to include your family and a few close friends. Then try reading in front of your entire class and finally, when you’re comfortable, move on to the stage.
6 Remember, it’s ok to make mistakes: Being up on stage is a high-stress position; even the best of artistes and speakers may fumble or make mistakes when on stage. Remember that one mistake does not mean the end of the world.
7 Don’t be afraid to try again: Don’t get caught in the trap of brooding over a past mistake or avoiding the stage for fear of repeating the mistake. Learn from your mistake and move on. The only way to overcome stage fright is by trying over and over again.
8 Seek professional help: If you’re still unable to overcome your stage fright and you feel like your fear is debilitating and getting in the way of your personal, academic or professional progress, counselling with a mental health professional can enable you to overcome your fear and anxiety.
The author is director, mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare