Dr Glenn D Wilson: Stage fright is no problem if you know the audience aren't tigers

Share
Related Topics

Stage fright or "performance anxiety" is a more or less debilitating fear of public appearance. It ranges from mild distress to total panic and frequently impedes career development in the performing arts and professions that require public speaking. Like other phobias it is not amenable to reason. Exhorting a sufferer to "pull themselves together", like a pair of curtains, is unlikely to help.

Among the many techniques recommended for disarming the audience is to imagine them all sitting there nude; but nervous performers are more likely to feel as though they are themselves exposed in all their glory. In public speaking classes, it is often advised to ask yourself if there is anyone in the audience who knows more about the topic on which you are speaking than you? Unfortunately, if the answer is yes, you might be worse off than you started.

Stage fright is felt by most amateurs to some degree, but it does not necessarily diminish with experience. Some top pros have been troubled by it well into their careers. During a run of Othello, Laurence Olivier was so terrified of his soliloquies that he asked another actor to stand just offstage so he "would not feel so alone". Carly Simon used to stick pins in her hand before a performance to distract herself from her anxiety and once asked the entire brass section of the band to spank her just before the curtain rose.

Perhaps the problem faced by famous performers is that expectations are raised so high that they doubt their ability to live up to them. Once on the top of the pedestal the only way left to go is down.

Stage fright is part of the general fight/flight emergency system, which would have survival value if fighting or running away from an audience were appropriate. It is as though, in the human world, social isolation has such serious consequences that fear of sabre-toothed tigers has given way to a dread of public humiliation.

For our ancestors, being intently scrutinised was often a prelude to being eaten by a predator, hence our dread of losing the protection of the group. It is therefore important to keep a sense of proportion. The audience may kill us, but they almost certainly won't eat us.

Dr Glenn D Wilson is Visiting Professor of Psychology at Gresham College, where he was speaking last week

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: how to spell BBQ and other linguistic irregularities

Guy Keleny
 

South Africa's race problem is less between black and white than between poor blacks and immigrants from sub-Saharan Africa

John Carlin
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own
Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England