“Do you get stage fright?” is the question people always ask me when they learn I’m a comedian. Or… “Wow, you’re so brave to get up and do comedy in front of people!” (“I could never do that!”)
The truth is that even professional performers sometimes get performance anxiety before getting on stage.
What most people don’t know Is that performance anxiety can show up disguised as something quite different then sweaty palms, or nausea, or a sense of fear.
What’s exciting is that your pre-show anxiety, addressed properly, can be your greatest source of power, if you recognize what’s happening and learn to use it.
Maybe you’re going to address a group speaking to a bunch of oil barons about renewable energy. Maybe you’re going to tell investors your stock is down. Maybe you’re going to do a comedy show about dysfunctional parents, and your parents will be in the audience. Maybe you’re just realizing now that these could be risky ventures, at least emotionally.
In my comedy shows, I often speak vulnerably about risky topics, including politics, spirituality, and sexuality. Sometimes before a show, I will start to get quite intense back pain. Out of the blue. Or I will have to pee SO MANY times. Or, I will get angry and self-righteous about everything people are doing wrong related to my show. Perhaps the theater staff are late. Or the chairs aren’t set up properly. Or I’ll get annoyed about the lighting cues, or the sound system isn’t working properly. Or the audience has been let in before the doors are officially open.
These are all very reasonable things to want to work properly. And, in fact these are the exact things when should take notice of before getting on stage. These details are what you don’t notice until it’s time to get on stage. You may become hyper-vigilant, almost at superhero levels, and these are incredibly valuable things to take note of for every future performance or speech. Make a day-of-speech bullet point checklist for the future, too.
This is the first way you can access your power at a whole new level – by taking charge of the environment and making the room yours. Ask for what you need. Let your feelings of how important these details are drive your requests to the stage manager, staff, or anyone else in charge.
The second thing I notice is that the level of intensity with which I feel these logistical details and take them personally, signals to me that something bigger is actually driving my emotionality. It’s that performing is such a big energetic space to hold. And I am forgetting to tune in to what’s really happening for me emotionally and allow those feelings to speak to me directly. So my system tries to get my attention anyway it can.
How to Resolve Stage Fright
The way to work with these hidden fears is to build in some extra time, especially on the day you will be performing or speaking, not only for self-care, like getting acupuncture or a massage, but also just to sit quietly and have a conversation with some of your different “parts.”
As you know, public speaking is regularly named as peoples number one fear – higher on the list than death, even! Each of us has at least some mild – if not moderate or severe – trauma, when it comes to being in the spotlight. Perhaps we were once teased for getting a word wrong in school or maybe we were even laughed off stage. Or if it was a comedy show, NOT laughed off stage…
When performance-related trauma occurs, if we don’t resolve it, a part of us freezes at that age, and returns to that fear again and again. Self-criticism isn’t helpful. Stuffing emotions also doesn’t work. The long-term solution is speaking to that frozen part of ourselves. Giving that young part love, compassion, and reassurance is the best way to heal.
Carve out 30 minutes, put on some calming music, take some deep breath‘s slowly in and out. Write about all of the feelings you’re having about performing. List the fears you have about speaking, in particular list fears associated with speaking about the topic you’re about to share. Ask yourself which “part” is afraid. Ask that “part” how old it is, when it was “born” or came into being, what its oldest memories is, and what it needs from you now.
This isn’t always easy to do on your own, so ask a friend to sit with you if you get foggy or fuzzy.
After you’ve written these things out, ask yourself if any item requires action. Not only is this practice healing for every area of your life, it also may bring profound and powerful insights into the exact topic you’re speaking on, which you may end up wanting to include in your speech or performance.
If you need support with moving beyond stage fright, I have over a decade of experience coaching, directing, and performing. My coaching style is gentle yet direct and powerful. Book a strategy session with me to see if we’re a fit to take your speaking to the next level.