Waiting on the wings, just about to go on stage, you can sometimes feel a strange fluttering in your belly. Your legs feel as if they have turned to something soft and spongy, and can’t support your weight any more.
Your throat is dry. You breathe shallow, in rasping gasps, while feeling out of breath all the time. If you have eaten something recently, it seems to have a mind of its own and tried to fight its way back up your food pipe. You are suffering from stage fright.
How do you overcome stage fright? To really answer that, you first need to think about what causes stage fright. Are you nervous when you speak to people in real life, face to face? Probably not.
Do you suffer from butterflies in the stomach when you are conversing with people you know or even people whom you can look at and form an opinion about, during your everyday activities?
I should think not. What, then, is the reason behind stage fright? You have not been asked to turn somersaults or do handstands or take a pole vault, or something else that is similarly difficult or embarrassing.
You are merely expected to speak, which is something you have been doing your whole life, practically. What, then, makes you afraid so?
It is the darkness and the impersonality that gets you. When you come up on the podium, stand at the lectern and face the audience, you find all the hard, bright lights pointed at you.
All you can see is a bank of darkness, inscrutable and menacing, and you have absolutely no idea whom you are addressing.
You do not know whether you are standing in front of five or five thousand, and you do not know who they are friend or foe, old acquaintances or strangers, subordinates or superiors. You are mortally afraid of not being able to maintain your composure in front of them, and that fear itself makes you lose your composure.
In this sense, it is like a self-fulfilling prophecy you imagine that you shall make a fool of yourself in front of everyone, and this makes you do exactly that.
What can you do to get rid of this problem, so you can become a successful public speaker? Well, the first thing is to fix on a point in the darkness.
Sounds crazy, does it? But it’s effective. Instead of becoming intimidated by a blank wall of nothingness in front of your face, select a point in it, preferably a point towards which you can look down slightly, and address your speech to it.
Imagine that you’re talking to someone with whom you have spoken all your life, and with whom you are completely at ease.
Do not be too formal; if you want to speak in too official a tone, you’ll get all messed up again. Instead, simply talk as if you’re in a crowded place, but you’re talking to only one person in the crowd.
Think of a coffee shop, for instance. There are lots of people all around you, but the atmosphere is totally informal, and you can talk to one person in total privacy. Adopt this attitude, and you’ll see that the stage fright born of the fear of the dark and the unknown shall go away, replaced by the ease of manner that is the hallmark of truly successful public speakers.