How to Overcome Stage Fright


Juliette Fang, Staff Writer

We’ve all felt it before: that nervous, shaky feeling before an audience when all the pressure that comes with the performance suddenly culminates in your mind. Sometimes this happens right before a recital, or at a sports game, or even during a class presentation. This sweaty, fearful sensation, or stage fright, is defined as “an anxiety reaction associated with speaking or performing in public.” by the American Psychological Association and can range from a minor source of anxiety to a full-blown phobia. 

Oftentimes, stage fright, or performance anxiety, is caused when we begin to worry over how we are going to be perceived and start to fear embarrassment. The body responds to this stress by triggering a fight-or-flight response, pumping the hormone epinephrine, or adrenaline, into the bloodstream. This is what causes the symptoms of stage fright, which include muscle tension, increased heart rate, nausea, and dizziness. It’s the effects of these symptoms combined with psychological fears that have a negative impact on performances. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to prevent these from happening and nail that performance without stage fright. 

Imagine Your Best Performance

Stage fright is in part caused by the worry that something will go wrong, so visualizing the opposite is a good way to prevent this. Close your eyes and take a deep breath, then picture the performance in the best possible way, with an engaged audience, no mistakes, and thundering applause. This not only expels negative thoughts and worries caused by performance anxiety, but it also steadies nerves and instills confidence. In turn, your performance will go much better once you convince yourself that you can do it.

“For me, I still get nervous when I’m on stage, but I find that ignoring everything else and just focusing on what’s in front of you really helps,” expressed sophomore Chloe Liewald. “For example, for orchestra performances, I try to not think of all the audiences and just focus on playing the music with the orchestra!”

Practice Makes Perfect!

Another way to build confidence and conquer stage fright is to prepare yourself for whichever performance or presentation you are about to make. The more you practice, the easier it will be to perform the real deal in front of an audience. There are many ways to go about practicing, depending on what is being performed. Repetition is a great way to build confidence, and it also helps identify recurring mistakes so they can be stopped. Rehearsing in front of friends or family members, or even just in front of yourself in a mirror helps you become accustomed to performing in front of an audience as well. Don’t forget to practice at the location of your performance as well, so your environment feels less unexpected. Finally, being prepared on the day of the performance ensures that you don’t have to worry about anything going wrong and allows you to focus on doing your best. 

“I prepare a…lot before I have to present [or] compete so I know what I’m doing and if I mess up I know I can fix it easily,” said Speech and Debate member freshman Arwen Aguba. 

Relaxation Exercises and Breathing

Oftentimes, one of the most crippling aspects of stage fright is the symptoms: shaking, dizziness, sweating, nausea, and more varying from person to person. That’s why physically calming yourself down by regulating your breath and relaxing muscles can help by combating these symptoms. Good ways to reduce anxiety include 4-6-8 breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, but simply taking deep breaths will do as well. Focus on your breath, even in the middle of a performance, to calm down and gather your thoughts. Skipping out on caffeine or sugar also helps the body relax and reduce tension and hyperactivity. 

Connect With the Audience

Although performing in front of an audience is what causes performance anxiety in the first place, acknowledging and connecting with them can actually help. Make eye contact, focus on the friendliest faces in the audience, have a welcoming and confident posture, and remember that they are human just like you. By putting your focus on the audience, you take it off yourself and, by extension, your fears and worries. This also has the added benefit of engaging the audience in your performance. 

Create a Ritual

Before a performance, talk to a friend or listen to music. It’s these routine tasks that help center and ground us before a performance, reducing the anxiety of stage fright. Doing calm, relaxing activities right before each performance creates a sort of artificial superstition akin to a good luck charm that calms us down. These pre-performance rituals can be anything from eating a certain snack to putting on makeup to doing a certain warm-up, as long as they put you in a relaxed state. 

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

It’s easier said than done, but acknowledging that your performance might not be perfect is key to conquering stage fright. Even though it helps to visualize a good performance, setting unrealistic expectations does more harm than good. Recognize that your performance might not go perfectly, but that it doesn’t need to go perfectly to pull it off. This reduces a lot of the pressure that you may place on yourself and make it easier to perform well. However, it is also important not to let this get overwhelming, and make sure that acknowledging mistakes doesn’t turn into negative thoughts of self-doubt. 

“If I’m not prepared enough though, I just walk in with an ‘I’m totally 100% better, without a doubt better than everyone else here’ mindset so I can fake that confidence, which kind of chills my anxiety,” stated Aguba. 

Stage fright is an inevitable phenomenon that can affect even the best of us. From John  Lennon, who once threw up out of anxiety before a performance, to Rihanna, who uses throat relaxers as a part of pre-performance rituals, everybody gets stage fright, no matter how well they hide it. But with the right mindset and good preparation, stage fright can be overcome. Hopefully using these tips will help your next performance be stage fright-free! 


Photo by Kevin Schmid