This advice isn’t only for storytellers, it’s for all of those who have ever had to present before a group of people. It doesn’t matter if it is a group of 10 or 1,000; the physiological reactions are universal. First, the mouth may get a little dry, then the palms might start to sweat and finally, the butterflies begin a free-fall in the belly. These are a few examples of what is commonly known as “stage fright.”
The funny thing is that none of us ever seems to escape this phenomenon. No one is immune. Just when you think you will never have to stand before a group of people again, there is it: That teacher telling you that you have an oral report to present, an office manager requesting you to do a PowerPoint presentation before the top execs, or the local amphitheatre requesting your performance to fill 1,200 seats.
I’m going to tell you a little of how I’ve managed to deal with this form of stress.
The first step I took in understanding how to cope with this ever present stressful associate was to examine it from different angle. I simply became an audience member. I sought out various types of performances and went to see them as an “audience member.” While in the audience, I paid very close attention to how I was feeling during each performer’s performance. I noticed that I felt really at ease when the performer was relaxed and comfortable on stage. I noticed that I felt a touch of anxiety whenever a performer seemed ill equipped or uncomfortable on stage. With every performance I attended I seemed to experience vicariously the power, or lack thereof, of the performer. During performances I recall wanting the best possible outcome for everyone on stage. It seemed as though my humanity was greatest at the possibility that something might go wrong during the performance. I never wanted anything to go wrong.
After attending a number of performances I decided to reflect on them and see if I could gain any new insights. I began questioning whether I was hyper-sensitive because I was a performer myself or were my feelings common of a typical audience member.
I sought out friends and associates who were not performers and asked them a series of questions related to their experiences at live performances. I was really glad to learn that they all, well almost all, had similar experiences to mine.
Here’s the lesson, or advice if you will. I don’t believe that people who voluntarily come to see you perform are coming to witness your downfall. Nor do I believe that these same people are entering the theatre disgusted with you as a person, they don’t even know you. I prefer to look at it this way: The people who come to my performances come in support of me. They believe that I will deliver what it is that the brochure of promotional material says that I will deliver. Their hopes for me are high. They are affirming my choice to engage them with music and narrative. There is no downside to this.
If you keep these things in mind whenever you have to perform or present before a group or audience, it becomes an empowering perspective.
Your only responsibility in this equation is to deliver what is expected of you and, if you love what you do and you have prepared appropriately… strap in and enjoy the ride!
“Dooni dooni kononi bè nyaga da.”