Three Notes on Stage Fright

The Mechanical Fix: A good prescription will short-circuit the physiology of stage fright and get you through a performance. You may feel, however, oddly disconnected from yourself and your audience. Wonder about that. What do you really want?

The Spiritual Fix: Stage fright is acute self-consciousness, the ego folding in on itself.  The antidote is not to provide the ego with some other object, but through generous surrender to the needs of the audience, to deactivate it as a subject.  Stage fright persists because the ego fiercely resists being switched off

A manager who suffered from crippling stage fright met with a gifted coach.  He had to present to his company’s executives a plan to bring their manufacturing process into regulatory compliance.

“When they look at me, I see judgment, and I’m sure I’ll say something stupid or go blank.  I’m a terrible speaker.”
The coach asked, “When did you speak in front of people and it go OK?”
Nothing came to mind.  Then his aunt’s funeral, his best friend’s wedding, his daughter’s 21st birthday.
“Weren’t you scared?”
“I was terrified.”
“And you did it.”
“But that was my family.  They needed me.”
“These executives need you.  Can they join your family?”

Self-conscious dissolves when you get engrossed with someone else’s need.  (A mother rescuing children from a burning car experiences a range of intense emotions, but performance anxiety will not be among them.)  Stage fright depends critically on seeing the audience as judges to impress.  If you can cast them as friends to serve, people to help, the energy with which you anticipate meeting them will take a more hospitable form.

The Existential Cost:  A frustrated mentor once asked me: “When are you going to take responsibility for your power?”
I remembered his challenge years later when a client who had successfully overcome his anxiety about speaking up at work said, “I miss stage fright. It was a good excuse.”

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