Turning Stage Fright Into Stage Might

By Peter Jeff
The Leadership Mints Guy

Here’s an idea to help better endure stage fright. Reading time: 4:05

        For the first time in your career you will be making a company-wide presentation to the largest audience you have ever faced. Sure, you’re nervous. Maybe even a little scared.

Astronaut Gus Grissom (center) flanked by Glenn (left) and Alan Shepard (right)

Astronaut Gus Grissom (center) flanked by John Glenn (left) and Alan Shepard (right)

          You know your material. You spent more than a month researching, writing and rehearsing. Yet now –two hours from show time —the butterflies in your stomach are tearing you apart. (WTF!)

         Your heart’s thumping. Your lips are quivering.  Your voice is quavering. Your head is swirling. Your knees are knocking. Your palms are sweating. Your face is reddening. Your throat is choking. And your eyes are tearing.

       Whoa there Mealy Mouth! Take a breath. And take comfort: You’re not alone.

       In fact, stage fright inflicts the best of leaders but it doesn’t get the best of any leader, especially those leaders as prepared as you.

       And you can take some solace knowing that even the most pioneering and courageous leaders suffer from those butterflies. Even if they can perform admirably out of this world. In outer space.

      Astronaut Gus Grissom for example struggled with stage fright at the podium. “Asking Gus to just say a few words was like handing him a knife and asking to a main vein,” writes Tom Wolfe in his book The Right Stuff.

                Actor James Cagney who played a tough gangster in the movies suffered stage fright. As a dancer in vaudeville, Cagney got sick to his stomach so often he kept a bucket on the side of the stage.

             bill-russell-reed-block300400   Bill Russell, a legend in professional basketball known for his aggressive defensive play, suffered stage fright.  The 6-foot 9-inch Hall of Famer recalls getting so nervous before games he would vomit. Yet he won 11 NBA championships with the Boston Celtics.

               Sir Laurence Olivier, the legendary actor would try to scare his butterflies away before going on stage. Just before his entrance, he would peek out of the curtain and scorn the audience, whispering to himself “You bastards.”

              Think of your stage fright as if your body is gearing up to meet the challenge, shifting you into a higher gear where you’ll operate with more grace and speed. In fact, you may not believe it, but your fear right now is helping you focus your thinking to perform even more professionally.

             At least that’s the insight of author Taylor Clark in his book NERVE, The Brave New Science of Fear and Cool. Fear is a “blunt physiological tool designed to automatically supersede every other bodily function and ensure our continued existence RIGHT NOW,” Clark observes.

             You have already conquered the famed flight or fight response to fear first coined in 1915 by Harvard University’s physiologist Walter Cannon.

            You decided to fight–to stand and deliver. And you’ve prepped for the battle. You’ve  completed all the required researching, writing, rehearsing and timing to meet the audience’s expectations of your presentation.

    Running Towards Fear

Boxing Champion Muhammd Ali consults with his trainer Gus  D'Amato

Boxing Champion Muhammad Ali consults with his trainer Gus D’Amato

         Take it from Muhammad Ali’s famed boxing trainer. Gus D’Amato says heroes and cowards feel fear the same way. Cowards run away from it. Heroes run towards it. Heroes like you: prepared & practiced. Leaders like you primed & purposed. On the fly and in control of those butterflies!

       But even knowing how prepared you are you’re still nervous. In fact as your stage call nears, you still feel weak and you look even weaker.  But take heart.

        Your pale complexion could be part of your body’s plan for you to perform like a hero today.

        You look pale because your body’s natural fear response constricts the surface level blood. That’s a good thing. That’s why for example “gunshot victims often don’t even notice their injury at first. It is only when their blood vessels open again that the bleeding begins,” Clark notes in his book NERVES.

        Rest assured your pale face will fill with more color as you begin your presentation. See 7 Ways to Combat Stage Fright. Begin forcefully with a passion for your material. Gesture to stretch your muscles and shoo those butterflies away. Breathe out forcefully in emphasizing key words and you will naturally breathe out more of the lactic acid that builds up in your body when you’re nervous.

      You will feel better as you perform. In command. And maybe even have your audience eating out of your hand instead of eating at you.

Today’s ImproveMINT

Conquer stage fright to keep your leadership thinking in mint condition.

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