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Getting Your Message Across with Confidence
By Roger Love

© 2012 Nightingale-Conant Corporation

Dale Carnegie said that the hardest thing in the world to do is to speak in front of an audience, but I think that he was only half right. Actually, the hardest thing to do is sing in front of a live audience! And I teach people how to do that every day. I’d like to tell you how to turn fear into positive energy that’ll captivate one listener or a thousand.

And though I say “stage fright,” I don’t necessarily mean that there has to be a stage involved. You might be speaking with your boss or talking to your biggest customer or simply walking into your front door an hour later than you had told your spouse. So even though you’re not here to be neurosurgeons, I’ll still need to begin my discussion of stage fright with a very basic explanation of how the autonomic nervous system works.

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And though I say “stage fright,” I don’t necessarily mean that there has to be a stage involved. You might be speaking with your boss or talking to your biggest customer or simply walking into your front door an hour later than you had told your spouse. So even though you’re not here to be neurosurgeons, I’ll still need to begin my discussion of stage fright with a very basic explanation of how the autonomic nervous system works.

When you get in a situation that triggers intense fear, your body sends a bolt of extra energy to you to help escape from that imagined danger. For example, let’s say that you’re walking down the street on the way home and you end up taking a shortcut through an alley. While you’re in the middle of that alley, you hear a sound that somehow convinces you that Jack the Ripper is alive and well and after your hide. You get this intense rush of blood to your head that makes you feel both dizzy and turbocharged at the same time. You run like the wind, faster than you ever did in gym class, out of that alley! And when you finally get to a safe spot, you look around, and out of the alley comes the cutest little dog you ever saw. And after he licks your hand, you realize that Jack the Ripper was actually Fluffy the dog. It was the autonomic nervous system that gave you the extra energy you needed to run as fast as you could to get out of that alley.

Haven’t you ever heard stories of people doing unbelievable superhuman strength feats in times of crisis? Like the person who lifted one end of his car up in the air when his daughter was trapped underneath? Well, that was the autonomic nervous system again coming into play and allowing that person to do 10 seconds of unbelievable lifting in order to save the child.

I believe that stage fright is actually a fabulous thing and that somewhere along the line we gave it a negative connotation, and somehow it stuck. I, however, see it as the body getting us ready to do something great, giving us the power to rise above what we normally do, and allowing us the opportunity to have moments of superhuman strength so that we can rise up, be more, and achieve incredible results in impossibly difficult situations. Let me tell you a story of two superstars who shared the exact same feelings of stage fright and yet how amazingly different each situation turned out.

We’re back stage with Barbra Streisand. She’s incredibly nervous. Her stomach’s in knots. She’s feeling totally nauseated, her hands are sweaty, and she’s beginning to perspire heavily. All she can think of is, “I hate performing live. My stomach is killing me. I’m going to throw up. I can’t go on. Why do I put myself through this?” Now backstage with Bruce Springsteen, he’s totally nervous, his stomach is in knots. He’s feeling absolutely nauseated. His hands are sweaty, and he’s beginning to perspire heavily. He’s thinking, “My stomach is killing me. I’m going to throw up. I, I, I’m ready for the stage. The fans are out there waiting, and I am ready to give them the performance of their lives!”

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Two superstars, the exact same physical symptoms, and two completely different mindsets. Barbra attached the nervous feelings to a negative. She felt that the bad feelings were going to prevent her from singing and performing her absolute best. Bruce, however, decided that until his hands were sweating, his heart pounding, and his stomach in knots, and until he was ready to vomit, not until then was he really ready to take the stage and shine like the superstar that he is.


Bruce had the right idea, by the way. You can’t just walk out in front of hundreds of thousands of people and offer them the Bruce Springsteen that had a can of tuna for lunch with no mayonnaise. They came to see “the boss,” and the boss runs at a higher octane level than your average person. The boss is supercharged and superhuman, exactly what the autonomic nervous system is there to help create.

Think back to a time when you went on a date with someone whom you were absolutely crazy about. Let’s say you’re a guy, and you waited all week, and now it was finally Friday night. Over and over you imagined every aspect of the date. What she was wearing, what she said, how you held her hand, what happened when you kissed her goodnight. Now the big day’s finally arrived, and you’re on your way to her house. The car’s clean and waxed, and you consumed about a half dozen different breath mints. As you drive, you start to feel a little rumbling in your stomach. You start to get even a little bit more excited because you can’t remember the last time that you even had these amazing butterflies dancing around in your tummy. The fact is, when it comes to butterflies in the stomach, most of us only have positive things to say. I remember a woman who told me that after 25 years of being married to the same guy, she would do just about anything to rekindle the butterflies she felt for hubby when they’d first started dating.

My point here is that there’s no difference between the positive butterflies in the tummy feeling and the just-swallowed-an-alien feeling you get when you’re nervous. The only difference is the way you attach a positive or negative imprint to it. So the first step to overcoming stage fright is to realize that it’s a positive thing and look forward to the feelings in the same way you feel excited about something great about to happen to you. Easier said than done? Let’s look a little bit more at stage fright, and then I’ll give you some specific exercises to accomplish that task.

So what’s going on in your head when you get nervous? What are you really thinking? What’s the worst thing that can happen to you if you get up in front of an audience and start to speak? Well, I guess the worst thing is having the audience really hate your guts, because when they’re disinterested or disappointed in you, it of course makes you feel horrible. You feel like a loser. You wish that you’d never ever put your neck that far out on the chopping block.

Whether or not you’re conscious of it, too many times before you get up and speak, you’ve created a very negative perception of your audience. You’ve somehow attributed all of the worst traits in the world to this gang of lynch men waiting with a noose, and it has your name on it. Well, this type of negative perception can never lead to confidence. If you’ve already imagined failure, it’s too late to succeed. Once that little voice in your head starts feeding you negative lies, you can’t help but feel apprehensive and nervous. So the only thing to do is change your perception of the audience from negative to positive, and the rest is a piece of cake.

So let’s do a simple visualization exercise. Read through this first, and when you can, close your eyes and imagine yourself standing on a stage with 100 people sitting in the audience in front of you. Imagine the look on some of their faces. Are they smiling? Frowning? Are they sitting still in their seats, or are they fidgeting all around? Are they happy or sad? Do you know these people? Are they friends of yours? Have you spoken to them before? If so, do you remember the last time you saw them? Do you remember how they reacted the last time you spoke to them like this? Did they like you?

When you’re finished, go ahead and open your eyes. If I assume the worst answer to every question I just asked, the scenario would be you on stage with 100 sad people in the audience who already don’t like you even though you’ve never met, they’re fidgeting all around in their seats and they never, under any circumstances, want to be your friend.

Now read through the following, then again you’ll close your eyes and turn that into a positive visualization. There you are again, back on stage, and there are indeed about 100 people in the audience. They look very sad. They’re all frowning, and some of them look as if they’re about to cry. But something strange happens, and suddenly one by one they begin to smile. Some of them even start to laugh. You thought that you didn’t recognize them, but now you realize that they’re your buddies from Sigma Delta Nu, your old fraternity. They look so good and young and healthy. You were the president of that fraternity, and for four sweet years on that campus, you were god.

When you open your eyes, you’ll find it clear that there are often two ways to look at any situation. It’s all simply a matter of perspective — and you choose the perspective. When you’re nervous about the speech you’re about to make, you’ve got to continually remind yourself that you make your own reality. Your fear has nothing to do with the truth. It’s based on choosing to envision a negative scenario. But the choice is yours. You can imagine the best or the worst. How long would a fortune teller who only predicts the worst stay in business? Not long. So why do you want to be an out-of-work soothsayer?

Before you get up on stage or stand in the conference room or get down on one knee to propose to your fiancée, close your eyes and take a few minutes to visualize the absolute best scenario you can imagine. If you start to see anything negative, simply change your perception. You are the author of your own book, and you decide the plot and the ending. No matter what the actual outcome is, you do yourself no harm walking into the situation having already imagined the best results.

Roger Love has helped Anthony Robbins, Suze Orman, Alicia Silverstone and more.

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