There’s a theme emerging this month with my coaching clients: the battle of the public speaking butterflies. In a couple of cases, a more accurate description would be “Overcoming Crippling Stage Fright.” If you have your own dose of public speaking anxiety, you are in good company. Barbara Streisand and Carly Simon are two examples of talented performers who can be gripped by stage fright before a show. As Carly herself once said, “I can’t say I’m really comfortable about [performing in front of thousands of people], but I’m very positive. I know that, as nervous as I might get, or as shell-shocked as I might feel, I’ll get through it and I’ll give the audience a good show.”
Perhaps the best story I’ve heard on making lemonade out of nervous lemons is the one about comedian Steven Wright who is best known for his droll and deadpan delivery style. As the story goes, he was so nervous during his debut standup act that the audience thought he was in character and as a result, his stage persona was launched.
We may not all be as lucky as Steven Wright, but we are capable of managing the butterflies. My advice today is to print out the poem below and keep it handy so that you can recite it before your next presentation. I stumbled across it when I was researching stage fright and it spoke to me. If it works for stage and screen actors, it can work for the rest of us.
The Actor’s Vow (condensed)
I will take my rightful place on the stage
And I will be myself.
I am not a cosmic orphan
I have no reason to be timid.
I will have my throat open.
I will have my heart open.
I will be vulnerable.
I may have anything or everything the world
Has to offer, but the thing
I need most, and want most, is to be myself.
The best and most human parts of me are
Those I have inhabited and hidden from
I will work on it.
I will raise my voice.
I will be heard.
Break a leg…