Top three tips for overcoming stage fright; get off the roller coaster

Roller coaster

Get off the roller coaster of stage-fright

Your heart beat pounds loud enough for your audience to hear (surely…), your mouth is giving the Simpson desert a run for its money in dryness, your hands sweat, or shake, or both.

No matter how confident we are with our presentations, there will be one time or another where the stakes are raised, and our adrenalin hijacks our entire system.

In a recent book, The Organized Mind; Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload┬áthe human brain is described as a house renovation from different eras, that don’t often don’t communicate well with other parts.

What that means for us as presenters, is that the same system that saves us from being run over by a car, or eaten by a large predator, engages when we just have to get up in front of an audience and present. This is not ideal….There are a few things we can do to help balance this reaction out.

  1. Hold a Power Pose for two minutes.

  2. Breathe evenly

  3. Use the interrogative: Can I do this?

    Hold a Power Pose for two minutes

    When we open up our body language and take up more space, our physiology reacts by changing the hormone levels in our body. Researchers from Harvard University found that standing in a power pose for two minutes (think Wonder Woman or Superman) raised the level of testosterone (gives us a sense of confidence and capability) and reduced the level of cortisol (the hormone responsible for our reactivity to stress. There is a full post, and links to the work of the researcher, Amy Cuddy, here.

Breathe Evenly

Try a breath that goes in for two, and out for two. This doesn’t stop our heartbeat from racing, but it does stop it from being erratic- which is enormously helpful. There is more information on this in the last ten minutes of this video on How to Hack Your Biology.

Can I do this?

When we use declarative statements like ‘I can do this’, it opens up our mind’s favoured activity, which is problem-solving. That means that we look for reasons to dispute this statement. When we ask, ‘Can I do this?’ and write a list of the reasons why we can, we use that activity to help us. There is more on this research in Daniel H. Pink’s book, To Sell Is Human.


Which of these strategies can you use this week to get off the roller coaster of stage fright?

Instant Confidence

Want to boost your confidence and reduce stress for free, in two minutes, with no special skills?

Well I do, and that’s how social psychologist, Amy Cuddy presents her research in her Ted talk, ‘Your body language shapes who you are.

The premise is that our physiology affects our psychology. In other words, it’s not ‘fake it till you make it’, but ‘ fake it till you become it.’

And how long does that take? Got a couple of minutes?

After two minutes standing in a power pose (think Wonder Woman), study participants tested higher on testosterone and lower on cortisol. These two hormones are key in facilitating our leadership qualities. The higher the testosterone, the higher our confidence, the lower the cortisol, the lower our reactivity to stress.

This is such an effective and portable tool for changing our relationship to how we think and feel through our bodies. Perfect for a space a small as a bathroom (or even a toilet cubicle) before a high-stakes presentation.

The infographic below, from Brazilian magazine Superinteressante illustrates how we shrink and expand, and what that communicates to others. The study results showed that post power-pose, participants were rated more highly in an interview situation.

Some extra interviews with Amy Cuddy are worth checking out.

The take-away here is to check if you are shrinking or expanding. If we can expand your body-language, we can expand out confidence, and others’ perception of us.