Stage fright

They shake, they shiver, they giggle, they hop around or they go quiet and grey – we have seen all these responses to having to go on stage in  SA Idols. It's starting again soon. What causes stage fright and how can it be overcome?

For the majority of people a certain level of stress is necessary in order to perform at their best - whether they are singing, dancing or delivering a speech. But for many others, the stress of the moment becomes just too much. The conditioned and inherited responses we have to extreme stress are often referred to as the ‘fight-or-flight syndrome’. If you were out in the veld collecting berries and you suddenly heard a lion roaring close by, your conditioned responses could be what your survival depended on.

Your sympathetic system, which is adrenalin-based, gears your body up to either fight or run away in a life-threatening situation. Blood is diverted from bodily functions deemed unnecessary in the heat of the moment, such as bowel movements, to the muscles, to enable you to run away fast or to fight hard.

Because of this increased blood flow, your heart starts beating faster, you shake and you start breathing faster. This is also what causes the feeling of your heart beating in your throat, and what makes you sweat more than usual.

So what can you do to reduce this feeling of terror in the face of having to perform?

Tips for performers

  • Stop concentrating on what could go wrong and start thinking about what you do best.
  • Visualise yourself in a peaceful place far from where you are finding yourself.
  • Make sure you are very well-prepared. A lot of stage fright comes from inadequate preparation.
  • Breathe deeply and slowly for a few minutes before going on stage.
  • Stay away from caffeine, sugar and alcohol – all these will only make you heart beat even faster.
  • Practise what you have to do on stage over and over beforehand – find out what you look and sound like, so that it does not come as a surprise to you when you are in mid-performance.
  • Don’t see the audience as enemies – they want to be entertained by you and everyone loves a confident performer.
  • Be natural – no one is perfect. A little joke on stage about something which has gone wrong will get the audience on your side.
  • Make eye-contact with your audience and smile at them – this will also make you feel as if you have allies among the people sitting in front of you.

If you are absolutely terrified of speaking in public, the following tips from the Depression and Anxiety Support Group could help you:


Fear of speaking in public

  • In any group situation, while sitting down, make a one-sentence comment.
  • Make a 3 to 5 minute comment while sitting with a group.
  • Standing up in a small group, make a 30 second comment.
  • Announce to a small group that you will be giving a short comment at every break.
  • Join Toastmasters.
  • In a familiar group, stand up and make a comment.
  • In a familiar group, stand up and make a short statement.
  • Present a short talk on any subject.
  • Make a comment at any meeting you may attend.
  • Return to the group some time later and comment on your progress.

(Susan Erasmus, Health24, updated July 2010)

Read more:
Fear of public speaking

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