Dealing With Stage Fright and Public Speaking Fear
Many people who present or perform may experience the anxiety of stage fright or public speaking fear.
Even very talented and accomplished actors, musicians and other performers can experience various kinds of stage fright or anxiety.
“It’s a misconception that just because you’re a good actor that you could be a good singer…Most of them are terrified to death to all of a sudden sing.” – Vocal coach Roger Love, who worked with Keira Knightley for her singing role in the movie “Begin Again.”
Read more in the “Voice Coaching” section below.
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Scarlett Johansson is another artist who is very dynamic and self-assured on-screen, but has said she feels panic when thinking about performing her songs live.
The actor and singer collaborated with Pete Yorn for their ‘Break Up‘ album.
Asked about the pressure of live musical performance compared to appearing in front of the camera or on a red carpet, she commented:
“I have terrible stage fright. I’ve never had to sing in front of a live audience, other than some back-up vocals.
“It seems incredibly revealing, very different from making a red-carpet appearance, where the glitz and glamour of movie stardom can mask any sort of insecurity.”
From article: Scarlett Johansson and Eric Maisel on stage fright.
Johansson has talked about being sensitive: “I think I was born with a great awareness of my surroundings and an awareness of other people… Sometimes that awareness is good, and sometimes I wish I wasn’t so sensitive.” - From post: Actors and High Sensitivity.
I don’t know if she is someone with the personality trait of high sensitivity, but in addition to helping fuel creativity and a richer experience of life, being highly sensitive can make us more vulnerable to emotional overwhelm, anxiety, self-criticism and other issues – so it can increase performance anxiety.
One related article: Ranking and Self-Esteem.
[Photo: Scarlett Johansson in the movie "Lucy."]
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“Performance anxiety is an elephant-in-the-room sized issue for everyone who spends time on any kind of a stage.”
From article Performance Anxiety by Jennifer Hamady.
She adds, “Its management is the subject of a thousand books, workshops and programs that teach how to deal with and mitigate its effects… how to ride its wave rather than have it come crashing down upon you.
“Yet only a fundamental shift in how performance anxiety is perceived will allow you to overcome and indeed, transcend it. This shift begins by considering how the majority of us view stage fright: as a barrier between a performer and an audience.
“That performance anxiety is a barrier is not news to most of you. But what may come as a surprise is that its status as such only exists when another much larger barrier is already in place: the perception of the performance as a performance, rather than as a communion, a conversation and a connection.”
Jennifer Hamady is “a voice coach and counselor specializing in technical and emotional issues that interfere with self-expression.”
She is author of the book: The Art of Singing: Discovering and Developing Your True Voice.
Comments by Hugh Jackman and Anne Hathaway (in my video above) about feeling anxiety during their work on “Les Miserables” are from the video: Les Miserables: Performance Anxiety (from the Los Angeles Times Envelope Screening Series).
According to an article, Jackman “has struggled with fear and anxiety throughout his film career.
“For guidance in dealing with the immense pressures of playing (and singing) Valjean, Jackman turned to self-help guru Tony Robbins.”
“I said, ‘I want some help. I got this job, and sometimes in front of the camera I can’t feel as relaxed as on stage,’” said Jackman in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
“[Tony] said it’s not about denying the character within you who feels nervous. That fear serves you to work hard. It’s not about going, ‘F**k you, I wish you weren’t here, get out.’ It’s about embracing that. He goes: ‘Man, you’re playing Jean Valjean. You should be scared!’”
“Robbins went further and suggested the actor give distinctive names to the secure and insecure sides to his personality.”
“‘Frank’ was the more confident, and ‘Charles’ was the other,” said Jackman. “Tony said, ‘Charles is your sensitivity. Charles makes you question. Charles makes you work harder. When you walk on set, thank Charles for everything.’”
The article adds, “Jackman believes this approach was highly effective in helping him deal with his fear and even in getting rid of it. “Tony really transformed my life.”
Trauma can be a source of anxiety
An interview article also describes his work with Robbins and quotes Jackman: “I always thought strength came from getting rid of that fear.”
Other artists and psychologists have talked about the value of using, rather than trying to suppress, fear and other strong feelings.
Jackman noted being 8 years old when his mother abandoned him and his four siblings, and he recalled being too frightened at that age to enter his house alone. “I was terrified because I was the first one home every day,” he says. “I used to walk home from school and wait outside. I just wouldn’t go in.”
He has since re-united with his mother, but commented, “When I was around my mid-20s, I was probably guessing that I had repressed anger, so I would bring it up. Mom was fine to talk about anything. But instinctively, as I grew up, and as I was in relationships where I had my heart broken, and I broke other people’s hearts, you realize people have breaking points. Mom, at the time, was not well. And she made decisions that, on some level, she regrets.”
From Hugh Jackman on His Surprising Hollywood BFFs and Mother’s Abandonment by Stephen Galloway.
Trauma takes many forms, and has different sources and levels of impact for each of us.
See quotes by and about many well-known artists such as Sarah Polley, Halle Berry, Lady Gaga, will.i.am, Jennifer Lawrence, Jonathan Safran Foer and many others, in my article Creative People, Trauma and Mental Health.
Emma Roberts - like many talented actors – seems to be very confident on-screen, but a news article reported she’s uncomfortable performing in public.
“And doing a music video is so embarrassing. I don’t think I’ll be doing [another] album unless I write it for someone else. I have stage fright. I can’t ever do theater because I would pee my pants,” she says, laughing.
“It’s way too nerve-racking. There’s a comfort in being able to mess up when you’re on a movie set.”
From article: Stage Fright and Fear of Public Speaking
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Creativity coach and therapist Eric Maisel, PhD talks about “letting go of correctness” in performing music in this video: Let Go of Correctness
“Most people actually need some bridge from their perfectly sensible daily way of doing things correctly to this different way being confident, bold and creative.”
[Also see multiple articles on Perfectionism.]
Book: Mastering Creative Anxiety: 24 Lessons for Writers, Painters, Musicians, and Actors from America’s Foremost Creativity Coach, by Eric Maisel, PhD.
From book description:
“In his decades as a psychotherapist and creativity coach, Eric Maisel has found a common thread behind what often gets labeled ‘writer’s block,’ ‘procrastination’ or ‘stage fright.’
“It’s the particular anxiety that, paradoxically, keeps creators from doing, completing, or sharing the work they are driven toward. This ‘creative anxiety’ can take the form of avoiding the work, declaring it not good enough, or failing to market it — and it can cripple creators for decades, even lifetimes. But Maisel has learned what sets successful creators apart.
“He shares these strategies here, including artist-specific stress management; how to work despite bruised egos, day jobs, and other inevitable frustrations; and what not to do to deal with anxiety. Implementing these 24 lessons replaces the pain of not creating with the profound rewards of free artistic self-expression.” [From Amazon.com summary]
The pianist images in my video at top are from this video: Motivational Strategies – Overcome Creative Anxiety.
“Dr. Maisel shares some motivational strategies to overcome your creative anxiety. Most everyone is creative in one way or another, yet the success of your creativity is often dictated by your ability to get around the ‘blocks.’ These motivational strategies have been worked out by Dr. Maisel to help you be more creative and successful with your endeavors in the long run.”
Related book: Making Your Creative Mark: Nine Keys to Achieving Your Artistic Goals, by Eric Maisel, PhD.
Cyndi Lukk, a working mom, talks about the challenges of anxiety. Maybe you can relate.
“When I used to speak in public, it was very nerve racking, I used to practically pass out.”
Then she talks about using the Undo Public Speaking Fear program.
Video: How Cyndi Lukk Overcame Fear of Public Speaking
Emmy-Award winning screenwriter Neal Rogin talks about using this program, based on The Lefkoe Method, by Morty Lefkoe.
“Why did I wait this long. Why didn’t I do this sooner?” Neal Rogin.
Changing limiting beliefs can defeat anxiety
One of the images of Morty Lefkoe in my video is from his TEDx presentation – posted in my article: Morty Lefkoe on how our strong feelings get conditioned.
See list of articles by Morty Lefkoe.
He is author of the book Re-create Your Life: Transforming Yourself and Your World.
You can use The Lefkoe Method to eliminate at least one of your limiting beliefs, for free, at ReCreate Your Life.
A profile by the Institute of Noetic Sciences says that Morty Lefkoe “made a series of discoveries” on overcoming limiting beliefs “that allowed him to help people make permanent changes in their emotions and behavior.”
Read more about his program and get free course:
The Five Common Myths About The Fear Of Public Speaking at the site:
Research with some members of Toastmasters found the method worked. Dr. Lee Sechrest, Professor Emeritus, Univ. of Arizona, noted that two years later, “We had expected that the fear would come back but it didn’t. They had, in fact, changed. Their fear of public speaking was gone.”
Video: 3 Tips for Overcoming the Fear of Public Speaking
Tips from speech instructor Steven D. Cohen, who “has delivered more than 75 courses and workshops on the art of public speaking. He teaches several speech courses at Harvard Extension School.
Cohen’s book: Public Speaking: The Path to Success.
Vocal coach Roger Love comments that even for actors, singing in public is scary.
“It’s a misconception that just because you’re a good actor that you could be a good singer… Just because they’re used to having cameras in their faces doesn’t mean they can open their mouths and sing or that they’ve had any experience with that. Most of them are terrified to death to all of a sudden sing.”
He worked with Keira Knightley for her singing role in the movie “Begin Again,” “both over Skype and in the recording studio in New York to teach her vocal techniques before filming.”
Love said confidence was a key for the actor.
“I don’t know what kind of voice I have, I don’t know how to use it or anything like that, and he was just completely great and kind of always going, ‘This is going to be easy. This is going to be brilliant,’” Knightley said.
[She has also talked about having stage fright working on film sets.]
Love also “worked with Reese Witherspoon and Joaquin Phoenix to prepare them for ‘Walk the Line,’ with Witherspoon’s performance as June Carter earning her a 2006 Oscar for lead actress. He also coached Jeff Bridges and Colin Farrell for 2009′s ‘Crazy Heart,’ for which Bridges won the lead actor Oscar.”
From article Vocal coach Roger Love helps put the sing in Hollywood performances by Haley Goldberg, Los Angeles Times June 25, 2014.
Roger Love teaches many professionals – actors and others – how to overcome fear of public speaking and create more confidence to improve communication.
He has been the voice coach for the TV show “Glee” and instructed performers including Maroon 5, John Mayer, Mandy Moore, Tyra Banks, and well-known leaders such as Tony Robbins, John Gray and Suze Orman.
A coaching example – from The Perfect Voice site:
“Do you know who Anthony Robbins is? Well, he’s an amazing presenter who orchestrated his own meteoric rise to become one of the richest men in the world.
“Today, Tony’s motivational seminars and money-making programs have made him millions and millions of dollars.
“Here’s a secret. Tony wasn’t always that successful, especially sound-wise.
“A few years ago, Tony felt overwhelmed by his busy schedule, and noticed that it was taking a large toll on his greatest communication tool, his voice.
“During a seminar, he’d feel tired and worn out, like he was straining to get his message across. No doubt, his audience probably sensed it, too.
“Tony feared that people might start shutting him off, because his voice was starting to weaken. After talking to clients, sometimes they’d say, ‘I’ll think about it.’ As you know, in the business world, ‘I’ll think about it’ usually means ‘No.’
“That’s before he met Roger Love. Roger unlocked Tony’s perfect voice, the unique sounds that only Tony possessed, that only Tony could use to present his ideas. After just a few sessions, Roger helped him maximize the sound of his voice; a voice that now convinces, compels and inspires confidence without tiring and without compromise.”
Learn more about Roger Love’s voice coaching series on how to improve the sound of your voice, your stage presence and power:
Includes comments by Carrie Underwood, Helena Bonham Carter, Alison Pill, Hugh Grant, Colin Firth and many others about various forms of anxiety. Opera star Cecilia Bartoli says she is still anxious ahead of every performance. “Stage fright never stops. One cannot and must not be calm before a performance. It helps if you are musically confident and accomplished in terms of technique. But there is always anxiety.”
Related book: “Stage Fright: 40 Stars Tell You How They Beat America’s #1 Fear” by Mick Berry, Michael Edelstein, PhD.
Public Speaking for the Quiet Person by Jason Lange [source of image above]. “According to a new study published in Clinical Psychological Science, rethinking the way we perceive stress may actually improve our physical and mental performance.”
A Quiet Person’s Guide to Effective Public Speaking by Victor Lipman. “I’m just a quiet person by nature who, over time, gained a functional knowledge of speaking and presenting because I realized it would be helpful (indeed essential) to my career. So what I’m not passing along is a system that can work for everyone, but simply four insights – nothing profound or difficult – that proved valuable to me. And I believe can be of value to others.”
Getting Over Stage Fright: Introduction By Janet Esposito, MSW