Lesson Tutor: Enter Stage Fright… I mean Right

Enter Stage Fright… I mean Right
by Joanne Mikola

You know the signs.
Heart pounding. Hands trembling. Knees knocking. You don’t quite trust your voice to sound familiar. You would love to avoid shaking hands, ’cause the sweat is sliding over your palms and you’re not wearing your sweats and can’t rub the excess off on the brand new suit you bought just for this interview. You wish you had tried that new deodorant that guarantees success in these aromatic moments.

When I had a window of opportunity to play at runway modeling, there was a camaraderie of all of us waiting in the wings. Our hair and faces were lacquered into position, and the smell of the crazy glue hairspray overpowered any offensive body odors. We practiced smiling, for ourselves and each other, because there were no other options available to see us through the next few minutes. Evening gowns made rustling as loud as waves crashing, but they hid the knees knocking together or the crossed legs hoping to delay that other flow. If only flats could be worn instead of spiked heels, all thoughts of tripping on a hem or snapping a heel would be banished.

Not everyone has a chance like this to play to an audience, whether it’s a small group or a room of five thousand. Blind dates come to mind as more familiar territory. Interviewing for a coveted position or starting a class in a new school are also possibilities that may lie in your future.

“Try to think of stage fright in a positive way. Fear is your friend. It makes your reflexes sharper. It heightens your energy, adds a sparkle to your eye, and color to your cheeks. When you are nervous about speaking you are more conscious of your posture and breathing. With all those good side effects you will actually look healthier and more physically attractive.” -Tom Antion  Learn how to be a Professional Speaker

Interviews: Be Prepared.

When you make your reconnaissance trip to the place your interview and ultimate hiring may be, in search of a position description or more information of this potential employer, ask someone if it would at all be possible to take a peek at the interview room. Note the table and chair arrangement, the colour scheme. Is there a single chair that looks like the CEO’s chair, different from all the rest. Imagine that you will NOT be sitting there. Where might that one person place you in order to stare effortlessly and intimidatingly? Then imagine that the interview panel does seat you there. Over the time between this preview and your actual interview, place yourself mentally in any of the chairs and imagine addressing every person with direct eye contact and nodding sagely to their replies.

Organize a folder with your resume and questions you would like to pose of the panel if opportunity permits. Include copies of your references ready to hand out if asked. This is especially important if you had noted “References available on request” on your resume submitted. Remember that the interview process should be a two way sharing of information and have a couple of questions ready. Get a friend or relative to role play an interview with you and ask a list of sample questions and evaluate your responses. Another method of practice is to tape your responses and listen for ‘stumbling’ words or noises, like “mmmmmmm” , “huh” and “ahhh”, and explosive breathing.

Dress for success. Do you own an particular outfit that seems to draw more compliments than anything else in your wardrobe? The style may not be the one of choice, but you can bet that the colour is the most flattering. Stick with it. I’ve heard it repeated often that the reason a woman takes care of hair, makeup, clothes and accessories is so that when she leaves the house, she knows she looks great, thereby freeing up her mind to be critical of others. Meow. But, it’s true.

Arrive early. Plan on at least 45 minutes ahead of schedule to allow a leisurely pace to get lost on the way, find parking, and get ready. Take your time.

Go to the bathroom on arrival at your interview destination. Check your hair and make-up. Smile at your reflection. Try again and be convincing. That’s better. Use the facilities. Note where these facilities are so you can run right on back if the urge strikes you before you have to enter…. The Room. Once you have convinced yourself that your bladder is well and truly empty, take off your watch and pack it away somewhere safe.

In an interview situation, it should be one of the first duties of the ‘host’ or ‘hostess’ Interviewer to try to defuse your tension. No one wants to see you fail. A touch of humor would not be out of line, but don’t overdo it. Now is the time to repaste the smile on your face and leave it there.

You have been directed to take a seat. You are asked a question. Your mind flashes through all the information you want to impart. You have practiced. You have convinced yourself that yours is a really complete, informative response. Take a deep breathe. Exhale slowly and as discretely as you can. Then start your answer verbally. Make eye contact with each person in the interview before you proceed around the room to the next. You’re golden. Sit up straight and enjoy the process. This job is all but yours.

Your own first class and classroom.

Be prepared. If all your physical material is ready, you can concentrate on how you are going to defuse yourself in your potential frozen moment. Think you might forget your briefcase? Pack it the night before, prop it in front of the front door, and know you would have to trip over it in the morning to miss it.  A pessimist would applaud your efforts to imagine and prepare for the worst… then they can surprise themselves with a ‘without a hitch’ presentation.

Be there first. Set the stage. YOUR Stage. In fact, try going in the night or day before to accomplish this. Then you have more than a few minutes to mentally picture the day ahead. Rehearse.

  • Arrange the furniture to your preference.
  • Plug in, load and test any AV aids for function, clarity and distance. Mark the floor with tape if you are afraid someone might move them before class.
  • Have your handouts piled and compiled with a plan as to how you are going to distribute them.
  • Posters, flip charts, markers, chalk, and all the other extras you deem necessary for your class: have them ready in a container and at hand. (Or foot, if you need to clear some space to work)
  • Take a break. Take a stroll. Have a snack. Have a comfortable pair of shoes waiting to change into. Smile.

Greet the first few eager beavers and put a mental label, or even a written one, beside their names on a tentative class list. “Red sweater” might help, but may not last past this day. “Glasses” might be a clue that works, unless you’re holding a group eye exam.

Once everyone is settled in your pre arranged seating, let them know that your homework is to try to learn all of their names before the end of the day, or class. Test yourself frequently when asking or replying.  “Julia,… mmmm, no, I’m sorry. Mark…” You get the gist. Keep it light but take it seriously. The most important thing a person brings to a class is their name. To use it is a sign of respect. To practice, and even to make mistakes, is proving you find it an important enough task to try to master. Good things, all.

If you think your knees might give out, one of the following strategies may work for you.

  • Stay sitting. Hide behind the desk until you have yourself under control.
  • Walk and talk. Pace back and forth across your ‘stage’ addressing your audience. They’ll never notice. They will be too busy following your eyes and voice and that gorgeous suit you’re wearing. Or the shine of your polished shoes.
  • Use the podium to your advantage. Yes, you are bodily hiding behind it. Yes, you are holding on to the sides for dear life. Your notes are close and there’s no rush to leave the security it offers. When you’re ready, advance.

Another tactic to cover up your nervousness and less than optimal dealing of the stress, is to plan an extremely physical activity as your introduction or ice breaker.  Perhaps asking for ten jumping jacks from everyone instead of dry book work would pep up everyone. This is not an exercise to necessarily get you giggling, but to activate everyone. You are not “normal”, you don’t fit the “mold”, you are not to be dismissed outright. You will hold their attention when you do the unexpected and this could be a welcome relief for some. A riddle or a tasteful joke can also get everyone’s attention.

Save your nervousness for that lull in the class when everyone seems to be tuned to the clock rather than your voice or text. Signs and symptoms appearing now are actually clues to how effective your teaching plan was and where you may need to reform it.

Of every class, every semester, the first day was always the worst for me. I knew my material. I was organized. I practiced and tried all these strategies, but the nervousness never left me until I felt I was in control and had the entire classes’ attention. To have gained their respect at the same time was a bonus. That was something I had every day to work on. Once I recognized and acknowledged that, yes, I got stage fright and yes, it would go away, it was so much easier to deal with. Class by class. Year after year.

Now. If only I could do all these things whenever I disembark from a flight. I swear I’m the only one in the line to truthfully state that I do, or do not, have anything to declare, but whose knees knock so loudly the Customs officers always pull me aside to inspect my bags.

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