Conquer stage fright by changing your focus and facing your fear.
In a new BBC documentary, England’s Prince William sat down with Premier League soccer players to discuss mental health issues that often go unspoken–and untreated.
In one scene, a player asked William if he experiences anxiety in public.
“There’s no doubt about it,” William responded. “Especially on some speeches … you definitely get a bit of anxiety.”
The Duke of Cambridge went on to explain the unusual–and unplanned–set of circumstances that helped him overcome his public-speaking anxiety. Although he didn’t know it at the time, the tactic he stumbled upon is the closest psychologists have as a cure for stage fright.
As he grew older and his eyesight began to decline, William didn’t wear contact lenses as he does now. “When I gave speeches, I couldn’t see anyone’s face. And it helps, because it’s just a blur of faces. I can see enough to read the paper and stuff like that–but I couldn’t actually see the whole room. And, actually, that really helps with my anxiety.”
Although some British magazines called William’s strategy a “trick,” there was nothing intentional about it. The prince’s bad eyesight forced him to do two things psychologists recommend to anyone who wants to overcome anxiety of almost any kind–change your focus and face your fear.
Before a speech, William would say to himself: This has got to go right, I can’t mess it up, there are a lot of people watching. I’ve got to get this right. I’ve got to nail this.
Since he could not see the audience clearly, Williams focused on the speech instead. The Duke of Cambridge didn’t realize it at the time, but he was using a time-tested strategy to conquer the fear of public speaking: eliminate negative thoughts by focusing on something else.
Negative self-talk is more common than you might think. We all do it, and we tend to turn up the volume at the worst time–right before a presentation.
Over the past 20 years of coaching CEOs, executives, and entrepreneurs, I’ve seen a correlation between the most accomplished people and a heightening fear–or anxiety–about speaking in public. It seems as though the higher a person reaches in his or her career, the more pressure they put on themselves to put in a perfect performance.
According to cognitive scientist Sian Leah Beilock, “When the pressure is on, we’re often concerned with performing at our best, and as a result we try to control what we’re doing to force the best performance. The end result is that we actually screw up.”
When we’re under pressure–like the pressure we feel in front of an audience–Beilock says our thoughts are so filled with controlling every aspect of our performance, it actually leads to worse performance because “we, as humans, only have the ability to pay attention to so much at once.”
If you’re focused on the content of your presentation and the joy of delivering the information, you’ll be less likely to be consumed with all those negative voices in your head.
The only way to really get over a fear is to face it–one step at a time. The best public speakers do it over and over. They start by speaking in front of a mirror, followed by one or two people, small groups, and eventually build up to speaking to large audiences.
Most people, however, who have a fear of speaking find every excuse to avoid saying anything in public. The result is they don’t get better.
Prince William is the future king of England. He has to give speeches. He doesn’t have a choice. The fact that his blurred vision made it easier to speak in public meant that he gave more speeches and, with each speech, his confidence grew.
Public speaking anxiety is real, and we all face it from time to time. For many people the fear is so paralyzing that it cuts down their chance to rise in a career or to attract the kinds of partners they need to build a business.
The good news is that there is a way to overcome stage fright. Prince William found it by accident, but you can be intentional about conquering the fear.
IMAGE SOURCE: Hello Magazine