How to Overcome Stage Fright

How to Overcome Stage Fright

I still remember the day when I made my first appearance on stage. it was at the school of course! I had to dictate the “national pledge” during the morning assembly. It was on that day, that I realised my “fear of the stage”. Since that day, I have tried my level best to avoid all kinds of stage appearances. I crawled through the college days without much problem dealing mostly with small symposiums and seminars, without deepening the old stage scars. Little did I know what God had planned for me in my “Doctor” years.

Image Courtesy – Andrew E Larsen

If you have read my article on the duties and responsibilities of a Medical Officer (MO) in public health care, you might be aware of the various meetings the MO has to attend. This is how I walked into the world of “Public Speaking”.

The very first speech which I had to make as the Medical Officer is quite unforgettable. It was a medium sized hall on the top floor of an old shopping complex. When I first walked into the hall, I didn’t know that I would be required to talk briefly on the topic for which the meeting was being conducted. So, I found a seat close to the window on the third row and started playing with my phone. There was a banner made of cloth on the front wall which was gently moving with the wind that came through from the open windows on the side. The dais was filled with about 10 chairs which were all empty when I screened the room initially. The Health Inspector of our area was with me when we entered the room. Many ladies were taking up seats in the hall and making a small group of their own. In about 15 minutes, the room was almost half filled, mostly with ladies. Then the Health Inspector came closer to me from nowhere and told me that I was supposed to sit in the dais and not in the audience. With a sluggish smile I stood up, and walked to the dais, found a chair at the end of the platform, and made myself comfortable.

Thaha, who was one of the most active Junior Health Inspector (JHI) was introducing me to some of the elder persons who had just arrived and were taking up seats next to mine on the dais. Apparently, they were the “Panchayat President”, the Vice President, some Ward Members, Standing Committee Chairmans etc. The President of our village (Panchayat) was sitting next to me and she started to ask my whereabouts. After a brief introduction, she asked me about the plans for the “Pre-Monsoon” activities. I had no clue about those activities and so inorder to make her happy, I said, “everything is going well according to plans”!

I then glanced at Thaha who was sitting on the front row of the audience. He quickly came over to my side. I asked him about the “pre monsoon” activities which were usually done well in advance of the onset of monsoons. He gave me a rough idea on the various sanitation works, cleaning works, education classes etc which were all planned as part of the programme inorfer to prevent the outbreak of communicable diseases like malaria, dengue fever, leptospirosis etc. Just before returning back to his seat, he told me that I would be asked to talk briefly on these activities during the meeting. It was only then that I realised why the President had asked me those questions earlier. Till that second, I had thought that I just had to sit there and listen to the boring speeches made by these politicians and be done with it. At that time, when I looked at the audience, I thought the room was packed. I could hear my heart pounding against my ribcage. What was I going to talk about? I was trapped.

I turned back to look at the banner which had the message of “Pre-Monsoon Preparedness Meeting” written in big bold letters printed on it. I knew, I had to make a speech and there was no way out of it. I took a few deep breaths, took out a paper and pen and started to think about what Thaha had told me a few minutes ago. I scribbled down few bullet points from Thaha’s words. Then added a few more from my own side, elaborating on the dangers of Malaria, Dengue fever, Leptospirosis. I listened to what two of the Ward Members had to tell on the topic, copied few relevant points from their speeches. I made a note on the top of the paper to first introduce myself as I was a new face to all of the audience. It was the President who was now on the podium giving her views on what all activities were needed. At the end of her speech, she invited me to the podium to talk briefly on the topic. I never knew my heart could beat so fast till that day!

I realised that my sympathetic system was working normally thanks to the “Monsoons”. I stood in front of the podium for about a full minute looking at the paper in my hand. There was absolute silence in the whole room. The audience was enjoying my discomfort it seemed. I felt a thousand sharp eyes closely observing me. There was an unusual heat which I could sense only at the back of my neck. I cleared my voice, looked up from the paper and started talking with a trembled voice. I cleared my voice again, took another deep breath and introduced myself to the audience. There were only about 40 odd persons in front of me, all of them waiting eagerly for my next move. The room was not even half full, I thought. 

I was not getting the right words at the right time. I had to speak in my mother tongue, which was Malayalam. I admitted that I had never before in my life made a speech in Malayalam. The ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activists) were the main bulk of the audience. Talking about the mosquitoes and the diseases which they spread was relatively easy for me. I wrapped up apologising for my mistakes, and asking the help of everyone present at the meeting for their cooperation in making these plans into real activities. By that time, I was gaining some confidence and when I finished my first ever public speech, I felt relieved. There was room for improvement and I was sure that I would be able to do it better the very next time.

Since that day, I have conducted numerous inaugural talks, meetings and education classes even at primary level schools. The more classes and meetings I participated in, the more my confidence grew. I cannot say that I have overcome my stage fright completely. But, I have learned to hold it under my control on stage and while giving public speeches. I can hold it only because I didn’t hide behind my fear and tried to attend more such meetings and occasions. Try to face your fears, and do not worry about the results. Some of the points to note before making a public appearance are as follows :-

  • Make a bullet point of just the concepts, the ideas, stories, events instead of writing down whole content.
  • Engage the audience by interacting with them during the presentation or speech.
  • Make use of Audio Visual mediums whenever available. A picture can speak a thousand words, they say!
  • Think more about the audience rather than yourself or the speech.
  • Try to use simple words so that everyone can understand.
  • If you have a bullet list prepared, do practise the speech or presentation once or twice in front of the mirror. Believe me, it really helps.

Always keep one thing in mind :- you are giving the speech or doing the presentation so that you can share valuable information with the audience. It is their loss if they don’t pay attention. Even if you make one person grasp one valuable lesson from your speech, it’s a win-win for you! If you have any more points to share, do let me know in the comments.

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