Whether it is a big stage or just having to make a point in a conversation, “stage fright” can creep up on us when we least expect it. It doesn’t even matter whether our audience is big or small, it is the “public” bit of speaking that can trip us up.
Because going “public” means speaking up, being seen and being judged. It means we become exposed and potentially vulnerable. And if we had such an experience before in our lives, then small reminders can catapult us right back to our younger self that was mocked in a school play or gave a wrong answer in class.
This is my topic at this year’s German-language Tapping Conference, the Klopf-Kongress 2018. As the title of the conference suggests, I will be using elements of Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT) or Tapping to address this kind of nerves.
But Tapping isn’t the only tool we have to get better at speaking up without the fear of muddling our speech and thinking. I work as an integrative coach and combine a variety of coaching styles, depending on what fits client and situation best. In this instance, cognitive-behavioural coaching can be a very useful starting point. Understanding what happens to the person just before and during such an episode of “stage fright” is important. It helps recognise early warning signs and shines a light on unhelpful thoughts or behaviours while in the situation. This is the basis for change.
Such change will quite likely not happen over night. In fact, practising new behaviours and learning communication skills (basically: getting a toolkit for 1-to-1 conversations or big speeches) is essential to making change happen. In this phase, the old nerves can still catch us out. (And yes, it even happened to me recently!)
But the good thing is: Now we recognise and understand what is going on. We also have a toolkit of tricks that can help us through these situations. This immediately puts us at an advantage, because now we can govern our nerves rather than the nerves governing us.
The most important tools in this toolkit? Breathing and Mindfulness in my opinion. When we get nervous, our breathing becomes shallow which affects the oxygen supply to brain and body. It also makes it more difficult to project our voice. Mindfulness helps us keeping the mind’s focus on the present without judgment. So I forgot what I wanted to say next? I acknowledge the thought without judgment and either look in my notes or continue with what I do remember. I am the only person who knows what I was going to say next anyway.
A way to combine the practice of breathing and Mindfulness is Laughter Yoga. Not only do we exercise deep breathing, we also learn to laugh at ourselves in a situation where we trip up and would normally be beating ourselves up (and making the situation worse).
“Public” means different things for each one of us. For some it may be a family circle around the dinner table, for others it is a big audience in an auditorium. If somebody experiences “stage fright” in one of these settings, it is the same basic experience in both scenarios – and any scenario between.
What we define as “public” defines when our nerves trip us up. Understanding our personal concept of “public” helps us recognise our personal stumbling blocks. We can then either find ways around them or clear them from our path altogether. The size of the stage doesn’t matter.