Dealing with stage fright can be summed up in one simple equation:
E+R=O…The Event, plus our Reaction to the event, equals the Outcome.
Notice the specific order of the letters. Notice that the R comes before the O – not the other way around. Most of us walk through life thinking that the equation is E+O=R; that our reaction is determined by the outcome. The truth is, we choose our reaction to a given situation. We have a say in whether the audience sitting before us will activate a salvo of sweaty palms, shaky voice and debilitating brain freeze. In reality, the audience did nothing to cause those reactions. Our thoughts are the problem. Our backstories are the perpetrator.
E+R=O was made famous by Jack Canfield in his book The Success Principles. It derives from the work of psychiatrist Albert Ellis who spent many years studying resilience. According to Ellis, we are constantly interpreting “Activating Events” (A) that result in specific Beliefs (B) about the event, and our role in it. Once we have developed this Belief, we experience the Emotional Consequences (C) based solely on that belief. In other words, we undermine ourselves.
The remedy to stage fright starts with the letter D: Dispute the irrational belief. Instead of thinking that you are going to fail, or misspeak, or be “found out,” why not spend some time gathering evidence on how well prepared you are, how much you care about the topic, and your purpose for speaking in the first place? My guess is you have something valuable to share. Once the evidence is collected, make an effort to gain some perspective. For example, a nervous, yet wise speaker once said, “If I bomb today, will it matter 100 years from now? No – so let’s stop the catastrophizing and go for it.”
This method works. It’s just that most of us don’t take the time to work through the process because we are too busy being nervous and working ourselves into a tizzy. Having just wiffed a recent performance by making this exact mistake, I now wish I had allowed myself time to work through this process. And while I can’t take it back, I can learn from it and move on. Who benefits from wallowing?
So now you have two parts of the trifecta: 1.) if you are still nervous right before you speak, acknowledge those feelings rather than stiff-arming them into submission (hint: the nerves will win), and, 2.) our thoughts are the problem, not the audience. Try gathering evidence to counter the negative thoughts and gain perspective by looking at the situation from 30,000 feet.
Next up: Trifecta of Fear,Part III