I would prefer to write my blog posts from the distant perspective of offering insight, encouragement and strategies to others for public speaking preparation and performance. But life isn’t always so neat and I walked into the fire of my own performance anxiety this past weekend and it really sucked. I thought I would share my insider’s Q&A view of what was going on “behind the scenes”, (i.e. in my own mind) in the hopes of unearthing truth, insights and learning.

Q: Hello Charlotte. We love to attend the annual fundraiser you sang in this weekend. The show is always a big success. You seemed to be having a great time until your solo occurred. Can you tell us what happened?

A: I’m not entirely sure, but during rehearsals the song had been a bit hit or miss. Sometimes I nailed it and sometimes I didn’t, so I went onstage with a feeling of…”Is this going to be a hit or is it going to be a miss?” And I think I was just hoping for the best, which is no foundation to launch from.

Q: So then what happened?

A: When the spotlight hit me I felt some sinking energy and thought, ”Well if I get through the first section of hard notes, everything will be fine.” But the first section wobbled and like shifting sands, it felt as if the rest spiraled downwards, and I couldn’t put myself in front of my performance. It was like running a catch-up race.

Q: Geez, I feel agita just hearing this. What kind of self-talk was going on?

A: Unfortunately, a lot. It vacillated from “Come on, you can do this” to” OMG, just get through this,” to “I’m melting…melting”.

Q: What could you have done differently in the moment?

A:  Lightened up.  Breathed in relaxation. Tell my inner critic who was yelling, “This is a disaster” to get the freak off the stage.  Smile.  What interests me most about all this is the feelings part, since that dictated my experience and I know very well that what people feel and what others are experiencing are wildly different.

Q: What have you learned from this?

A: Three things to share right now.

  1. Every person has experienced moments of excruciating public vulnerability that sear into their hearts and psyches (usually for the worse). I am not going to let that happen.
  2. I can learn. I can deconstruct what happened and do it better next time.
  3. I am sharing this experience, not shaming it. The compassion I have received from sharing has been extraordinary, a gift in fact.