I remember the first time I recognized I was suffering from performance anxiety when I was about 7-years old, and I appeared on stage for my first piano recital. I dreaded this day, with the feeling of utter fright at the thought, let alone the appearance on stage. I went kicking and screaming all the way with my mother enjoying every tear streaming down my face. As my name was called, I slowly walked on stage, sat on the piano bench in front of this gigantic grand piano and just stared and stared and stared at the keyboard. Finally, my teacher came and gently leaned down and said “Lee, what is wrong, why aren’t you playing?” I whispered very softly – “Where is Middle C?”
I then got up and walked off the stage. More than sixty years have passed, and I still get a knot in my stomach every time I recall that moment of “sudden death.” The fear of performance anxiety.
Today, I am a speaker, and most people would never know that I had once suffered from anxiety and afraid to even disagree with someone in fear being noticed or making a mistake. I guess the exercises I performed to overcome my anxiety and fear were resolved and I’m not that shrunken wallflower anymore and enjoy sharing my knowledge and experiences with others.
Of course, I still have my moments of “What if I stumble,” and “Will I screw up? ” Blah, blah, blah. I immediately remind myself of my first piano recital and recognize I am still alive, chatting away and enjoying life. I do belong to the Manhattan Toastmasters Organization and attend every chance I get. This organization is an outstanding asset to anyone who wants to become a better speaker.
Things I Do to Help Derail That Feeling In The Pit of My Stomach:
- I will type an outline of my talk if the talk is one I haven’t previously performed.
- I record myself practicing my talk on a little inexpensive recorder so I can listen for clarity, continuity, and professionalism.
- I will take a walk in Manhattan and practice my talk. Talking to yourself while you walk down the street in New York is a given. People will stare at you if you don’t have a verbal conversation with yourself.
- When in doubt, I create hint cards to have handy on stage but have never needed to reference these notes.
- Never read your speech for several reasons. First, it is difficult for a speaker to connect with their audience if they are reading from cheat sheets and cards. Connecting with the audience, and looking directly at the attendees is vital to capture their listening attention and keep them connected to your message.
- Look around the room and do not stare in one particular area while disconnecting others.
- Do not speak for more than 15-minutes unless the “standing ovation.” requests you speak longer. Many times the talk is required to be longer, but you can break the lecture up with a short question and answer periods to regain the audience attention.
- Try to speak with emotion or another level of voice throughout your talk to avoid monotone in the delivery of your content.
- Exercise, eating healthy meals, and getting plenty of rest will reduce much of the anxiety normally felt.
- Practice, practice, and practice speaking. I have had my cats get up, turn their back and walk away during practice sessions. Of course, NO Treats For Them!
- Dogs are excellent listeners – at least they only doze off and stare as if they are interested in your conversation.
- Remember, people are interested in what you have to say, and are thankful for you having the ability to share your knowledge and experience.
- Remember, you are not alone, and everyone has some degree of anxiety. I now feel super energized before talking and direct my anxiety toward performance and not nervousness.