A lot of people are scared of speaking in front of large groups. And that’s when you’re not even trying to get them to laugh. At one of the open mics I go to, a newer comedian asked me how I overcame being nervous on stage. (My hands used to shake while holding the mic and I would never pause after punch lines.)
Tip #1: There’s no real shortcut, getting over stage fright just comes with reps. The more you’re on stage, the less nervous you get. If you can get comfortable with complete silence (when neither you nor the audience is talking) you’ll be well on your way.
Tip #2: Practice deep breathing for five minutes before getting on stage. Focusing on taking deep breaths helps calm the adrenaline and still the mind. Picturing your performancein your mind and hearing the laughs and pauses works well in conjunction with breathing, as long as you can remain positive.
Tip #3: Read “The Inner Game of Tennis” this will help you with most of everything you do in life, not just getting comfortable on stage. The basic summary of the book is to turn off your conscious, questioning everything mind and to trust your subconscious. This book is basically about how to get in, and stay in, “the zone”. I highly recommend reading it even if you have no intention of getting on stage (or playing tennis).
Tip #4: Use external mood alterers. A pro comic I know said he uses alcohol as his crutch and has been doing it for over 10 years. He mentioned that the first few times he did comedy he was sober and wasn’t funny, so he started drinking, felt more at ease and got funny. He said many pro comics he knows use alcohol, pot or cocaine to get into a good state of mind before getting on stage. I don’t recommend this strategy, as you never know when an entire state can run dry on coke. This tip may also be an issue if you’re overcoming stage fright to present at a work conference at 9am…
Tip #5: Channel the nervous energy in a positive way. Being nervous in and of itself isn’t bad, it’s what you do with the nervousness. There was a recent ESPN article about Tiger Woods who was quoted as saying, “The day I’m not nervous is the day I quit… Of course I’ll be nervous. That’s the greatest thing about it, just to feel that rush.” If the greatest golfer still gets nervous (and he doesn’t even have to speak!), it’s okay if you get feel it too. Just try to turn it into something you can use while speaking.
In conclusion, accept that you’re going to have some nerves. Acknowledge that it’s natural, know you’ve gotten through it before (unless it’s your first time on stage) and this should already make you less nervous. Then when the adrenaline occurs, either turn that nervousness into a positive, or do your best to ignore it.
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