Being and Stage Fear
I don’t know why people are so surprised by my live performances. My approach is so simple; every song I sing, every story I tell , every move I make, must move the audience to laughter, tears or inspiration. Otherwise, why should I do it?
– John Davidson
How many times have you heard people say; I could never do that – I could never get up in front of people – I have severe stage fright? Or how many people approach speaking in public to ask a question at a meeting or to give a presentation with dread, fear and loathing?
It is clear how these fears limit our lives. They deprive us expressing ourselves in any group of people be it a PTA meeting, a classroom, or seminar. What is the fright all about in stage fright? What are we really afraid of?
Basically, we are afraid that we might fail and be ridiculed and embarrassed. It is as simple as that. Most likely, it is because we have, at some time in our past, experienced embarrassment when expressing ourselves in a group of people. So, we have learned not to repeat the experience by avoiding it. Is there a way to unlearn the negative feeling of embarrassment? Yes of course, and as you may have guessed from the bold heading above, it is by understanding the relationship of being and stage fear.
We began our entrance into being through playing with image and, in so doing, we moved out of the irrelevant emotional baggage of our recent past to find ourselves in touch with our playful self. That same emotional baggage of our past is the very luggage or large trunk keeping us from speaking up in a group of people.
The trunk is full of unconscious memories, of third or fourth grade reading, or being made fun of and ridiculed at some past instances in our life, and this past fear has made us self conscious in the present. Now, every time we are up in a situation where the possibility of speaking before a group arises, we bring out the bag of memories filled with our past memories.
We are self-conscious. We are focused on ourselves. We are remembering the bad from our past when we were faced with a similar situation. The key to unlearning this behavior lies in understanding and working out the differences between: self-conscious, playful, and being.
Self Conscious vs. Playful
Self-conscious is when we hold the thoughts of fear of failure from our past. Playful is when we do the actions which move us out of the fear of failure. Being is the result of shifting from self-consciousness into our playful self or throwing away the bag of fear.</block quote>
This shift is not some mystical, out-of-reach goal. It is really quite simple. In fact, you are already practiced and experienced in this transition from your work in sharing an image, and being and listening. All you need to do is apply the same approach to the new problem; your fear of speaking in public. You are merely applying what you have done to a new situation or raising the stakes.
When we raise the stakes by approaching a new skill, we tend to regress away from the playful or the intuitive by judging, thinking, and conceptualization. This regression is so engrained that we may not even be aware of it. This knee-jerk reaction is our way of protecting ourselves. We want to be in control. This nearly unconscious reaction is understandable. Our past experience of pain and discomfort was the worst kind of unpleasant and it is only natural for us to avoid another similar experience.
Holding on to personal control in face of the new, untested, and unknown – like speaking in front of a group, is our learned way of protecting ourselves – from what?
The Trap of Control
A habit has been formed to shield us from humiliation, embarrassment, and failure. Yet, this pull back into conceptualization or analysis, judgment, evaluation – AJE, prevents us from moving into the intuitive and playful place, which we have demonstrated, IS the path to real safety. Do you see the ironic whirlwind in which we are trapped? We move into the control mode through conceptualization while we know this AJE is the very force that is keeping us from succeeding.
Getting to the intuitive and playful is familiar now, through sharing an image and being and listening. You have found freedom from the AJE clog in the spigot. Now you only need to follow the same paths to the playful and out of AJE, in this case -conceptualization of our fears of humiliation, embarrassment, and failure.
So how do we get past the knee jerk reaction for control to get to the playful and intuitive? We can follow a sensory path instead of a conceptual one. We can experience the moment through the senses; taste, touch, sight, hearing, and smell instead of conceptualizing and thus replaying the painful thoughts of the past.
Here are two examples that clarify the difference between a conceptual approach and a playing with image approach as we stand before a group to speak:
Example of conceptualization in speaking before an audience.
You are standing in front of group prepared to speak, and if you follow a conceptual path you will be thinking thoughts: here I am – everyone is looking at me – that man is coughing.
You are thinking about your self as you stand up before the group. You are self-conscious.
Example of “sharing an image” in speaking before an audience.
Now, you are standing up, and you follow a playful path.
Let’s just use the same one as we did in sharing an image; you are experiencing an important image of your life: you see yourself receiving your diploma – making a snow man with your father.
You are bringing yourself into the situation. You are being playful.
Have you heard of the cliché advice for what to do when you get up in front of an audience to speak? Just pretend that everyone in the audience is naked. This advice is really accomplishing the same thing as sharing an image. It is taking you off the path of conceptual and self consciousness, and bringing you on to the sensory path of playful.
Through your actions and by your intention you are moving into the sharing an image place – a place where you cannot think – a place where you can only BE.
Action You Can Take
I just read a bit of advice in a book about public speaking; one should not be nervous but poised. That was it. The author went on to describe what being poised looked like and the effect it had on the listener, but I could not find a single word describing how one was to become poised. Even though I understand what the word poised means, I cannot just suddenly decide – Oh, I am going to be poised now. If the transition were that simple we could decide any number of states: I will be loving now – I will be patient now – I will be happy now.
The paths – sharing an image and listening and being – are the actions you can take. You are practicing things you CAN DO to become not only poised but all of its synonyms; assured, confident, self-possessed, calm, serene, tranquil, dignified, elegant, and graceful.
To overcome your fear of speaking in front of a group, you can continue to practice sharing an image and listening and being, to strengthen your ability to move into the playful. Then you can apply the practices to your fear of speaking in public.
Experiment # 7
Sharing an image when speaking in public
The next time you want to ask a question at a meeting, or make a presentation before a group, bring the skills you have practiced with you.
Before you get up to speak, focus on sharing an image and listening and being.
As you are able to move out of the conceptual and into the playful through the use of these paths, your fears of expressing yourself in a group or before audience will begin to evaporate.
You will BE poised.
Remember the story of Ann at the beginning of this book? She came into her first audition a nervous wreck before practicing the skills that allowed her to create the transformation into a strong, confident woman.
In doing this work, I have seen so many people who were stage frightened; tentative, nervous, or shy in the workshops, become transformed. Once they enabled themselves to find a release from their conceptual, AJE opinions, they were noticeably more self-assured, humorous, and comfortable in their own skin.