On stage or off it, you just need to be yourself, and no one else. That’s all that matters
Chaddha ji’s son wrote me a mail saying he has a problem. I wanted to reply back saying that after being born as the son of one, he shouldn’t have a problem with problems anymore. But then, you know, I studied moral science in school. And we were told not to be impolite to people. Thankfully it didn’t say anything about not poking fun at them in a national daily. Anyway, Santoor wanted a solution to what’s worrying him. Okay fine, Santoor is not his real name but the day Chaddha ji named his first born Bansuri, I decided to not pay attention to the real names of any of his many children, and have a little fun of my own. Please allow me now to focus on Santoor’s worry.
"Please help me, Di. I have to give a speech in my college fest and I am soooo nervous about being on stage." My perplexity at being addressed as Princess Diana lasted exactly five seconds before I recollected that Di is young peoples’ way of saving that extra second that goes waste in saying the good ol’ ‘didi’. Hope they spend all these extra seconds thus saved on charitable causes but looks unlikely since they seem to be spending time in adding extra o’s, just as in the ‘sooooo nervous’ bit. Anyway, what Violin is going through is nothing new. I’ve written about this stress before but clearly he believes more in writing to me than reading me. So taking it up again just for Guitar Chaddha and all those who get nervous butterflies fluttering in the stomach when they have to be on stage.
1. It’s OKAY to have stage fright: Everyone from Winston Churchill to Obama, and Mahatma Gandhi to Rahul Gandhi have had it. Stage fright is one of the most common fears people have, and you first need to remember that it’s absolutely okay to feel a bit jittery before addressing a large gathering. However, having a fear is not as important as deciding what you need to do about it, and whether you need to do anything about it or not. I would opt for the latter. In my rather short life span (C’mon, don’t roll your eyes so much, kisi din upar hi reh jayengi!), I have been on stage hundreds of times, and the butterflies in the tummy still refuse to leave. The only positive thing is that at some point, I decided to accept this fear rather than fight it. That helps in shifting the focus from trying to avoid being on stage to having fun with that fear while you are at it.
2. Know your importance: Dekho, there is a reason why you are on stage and no one from the audience is. That fact itself should keep you from worrying how the audience will judge you. They can’t, especially at that moment, because they were clearly not good enough to be where you are. So, stop bothering about what they will think if you fumble. It’s so easy to laugh at a speaker while sitting in the audience, it is so tough to be in that speaker’s position. Always remember that you have chosen to do the tougher thing, and that better make you proud of yourself.
3. Practice well: One thing that never fails, especially when it comes to public speaking, is practice. Without making it a big issue and telling everyone from the postman to your best friend about how nervous you are, just stand in front of the bathroom mirror and rehearse what you are going to say. That really, really helps. And hey, don’t bother Google baba for too many tips to deal with it. I tried. Google equates stage fright with ‘performance anxiety’ and kind of websites that are likely to pop up on your screen will either make you verry calm or will get you thrown out of the house. Don’t risk it.
4. Look out for positive faces: Somehow I’m stumped by our strange fascination with the negatives in life. So much so that most speakers end up looking at that one person in the audience whose girlfriend probably nagged him all night and he’s now yawning @ 5 times per minute. And then the roller coaster of negativity begins and you think the audience are getting bored or irritated. That adds to the nervousness like nothing else does. Arrey yaar, in even the most pathetic audience, there’s always a friendly, smiling face. Please look for it. And look at it. The moment you start to interact with just that one person, every face in the audience starts to seem positive. I remember once in school while I had to deliver a speech, I asked a close friend to sit in the second row, and smile and nod so that I could just look at her and feel confident. It’s another thing that she took her responsibility of being the best friend too seriously and changed that smile to the most idiotic grin in the world. I hence became the only speaker that evening who was laughing while explaining how global warming is going to kill all of us in thirty years. Please remind me to write next week’s column on how to choose sensible friends.
5. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes: Our biggest worry, when on stage, is what will happen if we’ll forget, or stammer or fumble. Just remember two things. Firstly, one-third of the audience is mostly busy thinking about when the event will get over and they’ll get to leave. So they’re not really listening well enough to even spot any fumbles. One-third of the audience is busy texting the whole world and its uncle on the silent mobile monsters in their hands. And the rest one-third that’s actually listening to you is doing so because they are genuinely interested. They will not laugh if you’ll make a mistake. They’ll only love you more if you’ll come across as a normal human being who can fumble, rather than a ratta machine who’s reading from a paper or throwing mugged-up words without even looking at them.
Go for it with confidence, Saxophone Chaddha. Despite the limitations of progeny, I know you’ll rock it. On stage or off it, you just need to be yourself, and no one else. That’s all that matters in life.
Sonal Kalra just read up on the stress of performance anxiety and realised that stage fright is no stress at all, compared to the other fumbles in life. Thank God for small mercies, Santoor! Mail her at email@example.com or facebook.com/sonalkalra13. Follow on Twitter @sonalkalra.