How do I get my stage fright under control?
Practice makes perfect. This also applies to professional presenting. In our Presentation Bootcamp, which we are already holding for the second time, we provide professional support in optimizing your own performance.
Among the professionals supporting us at the Presentation Bootcamp is Michael Rossié. He has worked for 25 years as a speech trainer and coach on behalf of well-known radio and television stations as well as in all areas of business. He is also a busy speaker and keynote speaker on the topics of communication, presentation and media training. We interviewed him on a topic familiar to all people who are on stage: stage fright and how to deal with it.
Why do many people break out in a sweat from stage fright when they have to speak in front of an audience?
Michael Rossié: The only situation in which a single creature faces a group of other creatures and is viewed with interest by that group is when the group wants to eat the creature. And that is deeply rooted in all of us. We want to stay alive.
What distinguishes the situation of speaking in front of many from a situation where we talk to only one or a few (known) people?
Michael Rossié: The differences in terms of group size only play out in the mind. Some people tell me they get nervous at 20 people, some at 100 people. The number is completely arbitrary. Fear is something very subjective and difficult to control. As long as my sound is amplified enough and I can be seen from everywhere, the size of the group or room doesn’t really matter for stage fright. However, if I’ve never spoken in front of such a large group before, the fact that I have no comparison whatsoever can significantly increase my tension. Everything we don’t know scares us, even if the differences are theoretically minimal.
They say you have to remain authentic even in front of many people and should not pretend. Why do we often find this so difficult?
Michael Rossié: We think that acting is easy. If it were easy, it is very tempting to pretend to be secure and sovereign. If that really worked, then I could look totally confident with just a few tricks. It’s only when I’ve realized how hard it is to pretend believably that I look for another way. In addition, we were always told at school that we must not do anything wrong. Weakness is for losers, we always have to be perfect. And when we show ourselves as we are, we are human beings with lots of flaws. And it takes a lot of courage to show it. An entire coaching industry thrives on offering to rid us of our faults and weaknesses.
What tips do you have against stage fright?
Michael Rossié: When you go on stage in front of the group, you will always have stage fright. I know from my own experience that you can’t remember your own mother’s first name.
Stage fright is something natural. And no one will hold it against you if you are nervous. The nervousness disappears after a short time. But it will be there. Count on it. Then you will be spared a lot of bickering with yourself.
Imagine starting your speech with “Ladies and gentlemen first I would like to apologize for my nose” or “I am insanely sorry for being nervous today”. No one says something like that, because no one apologizes for something they can’t do anything about. Make stage fright one of their strengths. Don’t waste unnecessary energies with any superfluous perfectionism beforehand. Whether you’re worried about a pimple or constantly thinking about what your life partner might say about your blouse, it’s all distracting. And you are no longer one hundred percent focused. It will never be perfect. They are doing it now in perhaps the second best version possible. Stage fright also has a lot of benefits. First, you will be much better prepared if you suspect that you are very nervous. And that benefits everyone.
Secondly, the great speaker seems quite personal and human when he is a bit nervous. And the third reason is the most important one: You are only nervous because exactly these spectators are sitting there. Because of this, you may not have slept for a few nights. Isn’t that a great message to your audience: I’m so nervous because YOU are sitting here. Stage fright is basically something quite wonderful.
What do you want participants to take away from Presentation Bootcamp 2015?
Michael Rossié: The special thing about the Presentation Bootcamp is that we don’t yet know who we’re going to give what to. Live coaching means also letting the situation carry you a bit. Someone is doing something, and now a group of trainers or coaches are discovering things that could be done better, and they’re working on those. That’s what makes it so exciting. I don’t know exactly what’s in store for me yet either. And for the participant we coach, this means that the tips are absolutely tailor-made for them. And the audience can experience live how someone improves. Imitation allowed.