Presentation Skills: 6 Hacks to Overcome Stage Fright

The President, an opera singer, a ballerina, a stand-up comic and you. Know what these five have in common? They all experience stage fright.

The President, an opera singer, a ballerina, a stand-up comic and you. Know what these five have in common? They all experience stage fright. Job interviews, project presentations and proposals are a common cause of nerves and anxiety. Stage fright can grip you during these times and make you lose focus, which is why career training institutes like YTI find it necessary to counsel their students on ways to beat job interview anxiety.

So when your heart is pounding, palms are sweating, and hands are trembling, how do you steer clear of losing it in front of your audience? There are a few little tricks you can use, the most important of them being preparation.

  1. Preparation may not exactly be an interview hack, but it does help immensely. It’s an effective way to counter the threat of the “unknown”. You don’t know what the audience is going to be like, but you can control what you’re going to say and how you’re going to say it.Prepping can be done in several ways:
    • Know the exact location and how long it takes to get there
    • Research the company or persons who will attend your presentation
    • Make sure you’ve got all your papers/presentation tools in working order

    Identify the main points you’ll be making

  2. Get there early: If you’ve done all your prep beforehand, you should arrive at the location of your presentation at least 15 minutes early. Some of the anxiety you are feeling will dissipate as you become familiar with your surroundings. You’ll feel less threatened. It will also give you a chance to freshen up in the bathroom. Admit it – everyone likes to relieve themselves before a stressful meeting – unless you have it in you to do some “Joey magic” (like that audition scene with Jeff Goldblum from the American sitcom Friends)!
  3. Be comfortable: Stress and nervousness can be managed. While you’re waiting for your presentation or interview to begin, make yourself comfortable. Read a book you like, play a game on your cell phone or listen to some calming tunes. This will prevent you from thinking about what might happen and psyching yourself out.
    You should also dress comfortably. Don’t wear shoes that hurt your feet or a shirt that makes you feel a little too warm. If you feel uncomfortable, you’ll look uncomfortable. That’s the last thing you need when you’re trying hard to make a good impression.
  4. Stretch and breathe: Stage fright doesn’t mean you’re not a skilled performer. It is simply a biological reaction that has developed in animals to deal with danger. Walter Cannon termed it as the fight or flight response. The science of stage fright is a fantastic TED-Ed video that explains some more about the experience.
    If it’s an automated reaction, what can you do?
    • Right before you ‘go on stage’ you can stand up and stretch your body and hands backwards. This will trigger a relaxation response.
    • The next step is to slowly exhale and let all the tension out of your body.
    • Then breathe deeply in and out to calm your nerves and lower your heart rate.
  5. Get over yourself: It’s not all about you. Whether you’re giving a speech or promoting yourself in an interview, your audience is not looking to criticize every move you make or every sentence you say. Once you’ve begun, what matters is that you are making points that resonate with your audience – that you are being earnest and making sense.
    Those ‘what if I stutter,’ ‘what if I forget’ and ‘what if they hate me’ thoughts should be squashed. If you mess up, so be it. Laugh it off, admit you’re nervous and keep going.
  6. Ask your own questions: The best way to take some attention off yourself is to ask questions. Ask your audience questions they can easily answer like, “Don’t you hate it when…?” and “How many of you have experienced…?”
    If it’s an interview, ask questions about the company and how the interviewer felt when he/she first joined it. If you’ve done your prep work, you should already have some questions in mind. Questions take pressure off you to talk and give you an opportunity to connect with your audience.

Everyone experiences stage fright. It’s a natural instinct so fighting it will only make things worse for you. But you can overcome it. Be thoroughly prepared, breathe, forget about ‘what ifs’, and connect with your audience. One day, stage fright may even help you perform better!