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  • Overcoming the stage fright

  • This is the first part of the blog series: "Speaking at tech conferences - From zero to hero".
    Go ahead and take a look at part 0 if you haven't read it yet.

    In the last part I talked about my story on how I overcame stage fear, way back, during my school days. Recently, I conducted a mini survey on the people in my circle who was hesitant about giving talks in conferences. As expected most of them stated one primary reason for not speaking at conference: stage fear.

    Stage fear a.k.a stage fright. Okay, Don't panic after hearing those words. Stage fright and performance anxiety are the normal things for normal people to possess.

    First let us understand what stage fear is, so that it will be easier for us to over come it. Because, you cannot solve a problem without understanding it in depth.

    Science behind stage fear

    Worrying about reputation is one of the major inherent nature of human beings. To make it worse, the parts of the brain that controls your reaction for the physical threats also controls the reaction to the threats to your reputation.

    This reaction to the threat is nothing but the "acute stress response" or "fight or flight response". The fight or flight response was developed by our ancestors when they lived and hunted out in the wild.

    This syndrome is associated with certain physiological actions in the nervous system. Acetylcholine gets released from preganglionic sympathetic nerves, which in turn releases adrenaline from the glands near your kidneys.

    These hormones triggers some immediate physical reactions:

    1. Increase in heart rate and breathing
    2. Constricting blood vessels and tightening muscles
    3. Shutting down digestive system to reroute all energy to other vital organs

    Phew, thats a lot of science over there. But, now lets connect the dots. The above three physical reactions that are triggered in fight or flight syndrome also happens to someone on stage with a stage fright.

    When you get on the stage, or some one asks question to you in front of many people:

    1. Your heart rate and breathing increases
    2. Your neck and back muscles contract and you will appear to be in a slouched position to others
    3. Your have a feeling of dry mouth and butterflies flying inside your stomach

    You see, all the symptoms you get while you are experiencing a stage fright is just science. And if you can understand the science, you can experiment, test and modify the results.

    I know right, our nervous system is an idiot. It has been 200,000 years with all the human evolution and all, but still it can't tell the difference between a saber tooth tiger and few audiences sitting in front of you to listen to your talk.

    It gives you these useless tingling spidey sense when you're trying to speak in front of people.

    Task mastery

    Amateurs practice until they get it right. Professionals practice until they can't get it wrong. - Julie Andrews

    The first time you started driving a bike or a car, you were terrified if not at least nervous. You drove for first time with increased heart rate and hesitation. Then slowly you started taking your vehicle to nearby stores.

    One day, you decided to commute using your vehicle instead of using some other transport. Then eventually it became a simple thing to do, like working or cooking. More or less driving became an involuntary action to you.

    You already have proven to yourself over and over with the practice of simply driving made your mind to think it as a "non-threat" and an involuntary action. Now you don't get increased heart rate, tightening muscles and butterflies in the stomach while driving.

    See, you already have a proven solution: PRACTICE. Practicing will increase your familiarity with your talk's presentation. The more you get familiar, anxiety feelings decreases and negative impact on the performance will be way less.

    Visualize the outcome

    Imagination, visualization, meditation. Whatever you call it, just do it. Spend some time visualizing yourself giving an awesome presentation filled with intelligence, confidence and humor.

    We eat various fruits and vegetables to be physically healthy. In the same way, having variety of positive thoughts makes us psychologically healthy.

    Experiencing positive imaginations while preparing for the talk or before appearing on the stage will increase the production of Serotonin in your nervous system.

    The secretion of Serotonin will give a warmth and nourished feeling to your mind and body, which in turn will reduce your anxiety on stage. Again, Its all science.

    Embrace the embarrassment

    When you appear for first time on stage. There are high chances that you might get embarrassed. This is not something that happens only to you.

    Take this blog. What I enjoy most about it is that I have developed a writing habit.The downside is that you see my spelling errors, grammar mistakes, and dumbass ideas or rants in their raw form.

    I barely go a day without embarrassing myself in public. It might be in my home, office or sometimes when I am out with my cycling friends.

    At times being shameless helps you to move forward. It is one of the way that helps you not to think what others think about you.

    Don’t fight your stage fright

    Yes, Don't fight your stage fright. One cannot completely get away from stage fright. Learn to live with it.
    Because every time you go up on the stage there will always be some anxiety.

    It is not that the experienced speaker doesn't have anxiety, they will know how to handle it.
    Even after so many talks, every time I go up on the stage, my heart rate rises and pupils dilate.

    When I am on stage, I lose track of the time. Sometimes I rush up, thinking that I have limited time, sometimes vice versa. Once I got used to my anxiety by more practice and getting often on the stage with the mind to handle embarrassment, things changed.

    I will get on the stage. After taking a deep breath, I will take a look at my audience to know their curiosity level. I will give an introduction about the topic as well as myself and ask few questions to them.

    That's how I spend my first few minutes on stage, to get to know my audience. To get ahead of my anxiety. To build confidence. Trust me, you will also be able to do it with enough practice.

    We saw the science behind the stage fear and how to overcome them. Now its your turn. Your turn to take some steps. I will give you few action items:

    [x] Choose any topic that you are comfortable talking about for just 5 minutes, to your friend or colleague.

    [x] Goto, find a local meetup of interest in your city.

    [x] Submit a lightning talk for your favorite meetup.

    [x] Practice, Practice and Practice until meetup day.

    [x] Chuck all your feelings, Get on stage. Give that 5 mins talk. May be get embarrassed?:)

    Let me know, how things went or if you want some help moving forward. Be in comments below or through twitter DMs.