I have always had confidence, and the thought of having stage fright never really occurred to me. So when I experienced stage fright a few times, it came as a complete shock.
The first time I can recall being nervous was back in the ’90s. I was working as a Dealer Sales Rep at Epson Canada, I was in my mid-twenties at the time. I sold computers and printers to a bunch of retailers in the Ottawa area. For some reason, my boss invited all of the local dealers to a meeting at our office. I was excited about meeting these people face to face as I had dealt with them over the phone for years. However, I did not think to prepare anything of substance to say to this group of middle aged men. In my mind, the words would flow out of my mouth like the expert that I was. When I was called upon to speak at this meeting, and I stood up and was about to begin speaking when I realized that I had complete and utter stage fright. All my trembly voice could manage to get out was something to the effect of “I will make sure you get your orders quickly.” I believe I said this twice, and my brain completely froze and I couldn’t think of anything else to say. I can’t remember any other details about that meeting, but I will never forget how embarrassed I was to have been so ill prepared. I promised myself that I would never just “wing it” ever again.
Twenty years later I was called upon to give a presentation at work. I was definitely prepared. However, during my presentation I noticed that same familiar trembly voice. It was if someone was choking me while I tried to speak. The stage fright had returned. It was horrible. There was no escaping this room full of about 50 people who came to hear me speak. I had to suffer through it with my trembly voice. All the while I just wanted to hide behind the podium.
Now you would think that I would be wise enough to avoid public speaking after these two episodes, but no, I am not that wise. The next time I experienced stage fright and my trembly voice was at a huge presentation that I gave at work, on stage, in front of about 250 people. This was something that I volunteered to do. What is wrong with me? Thankfully my colleague was on stage and was able to run some interference so my trembly voice was less noticeable. We got through the three minute presentation, and I was extremely relieved when it was over.
After this, (stupidly) I volunteered to speak at a conference. The idea I pitched was selected. Naturally, I worried about stage fright rearing it’s ugly head again, so I practiced over and over again with my colleague. Thankfully this time we hit it out of the park, no stage fright.
The secrets I have learned to avoid stage fright are 1) know your material inside and out. 2) don’t “read” your slides, just “speak” to them. 3) rehearse, rehearse, and rehearse some more.
“According to most studies, people’s number one fear is public speaking. Number two is death. Does that sound right? This means to the average person, if you go to a funeral, you’re better off in the casket than doing the eulogy.” Jerry Seinfeld