Stage fright can strike the most competent people, used to the public eye: witness Michael Bay, Hollywood director of Transformers, who froze and walked off the stage at the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas this week after the prompter failed (he was invited there by Samsung to spruik their new curved TV). If you haven’t already seen the 1 minute clip and would like to, here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_tqRyzTvNKE.
I find it painful to watch; and while some people might criticise or judge his brain-freeze negatively, if you’ve ever suffered from brain-freeze on stage (as I have!), you’ll know what an awful experience it is to go through.
So how could Michael have given himself the best chance of success, despite his nerves? Here’s my take on some of the possible ways:
- NEVER rely on technology! Be prepared for every possible element to fail on you; usually on the most crucial occasion. Know what you’ll do when – not if – that happens. It’s foolish and lazy not to have a back-up plan.
- Know what you want to say before you get on stage: work out the 2 or 3 points most important points beforehand and plan to get a handle on them days, if not weeks, before the gig. The best way to do this is to…
- …Practise your presentation. Out loud; in the shower, in the car. I’ve written before about the best ways to practice here and why most people don’t do it here.
- Breathe! Breathing into your ribs and belly will literally bring you back to your body instead of being up in your head (don’t over-breathe though: taking too deep a breath will quickly cause you to begin hyper-ventilating). You want to put your awareness into your body, believe it or not! Doing so keeps you present in the moment and able to react flexibly. Breathing properly is a great antidote to adrenalin, which is what usually causes brain-freeze: you get nervous, you begin to shallow-breathe, adrenalin takes hold… and without strong physical movement and breath to shake out its effects, you’re stuck with it circulating around your system. Plus cortisol, another stress hormone.
- Join a public speaking course. Find a good class to help you. (Shameless plug alert!) I run public 5 week courses throughout the year which have proven very successful at helping people to overcome fear and become a much better speaker. If you’re local to the Melbourne area, the link to the Complete Presentation Skills is here.
If Michael Bay had done some or all of these things, he would have had a much better chance of getting through his appearance; and of connecting with the host also on stage, desperately trying to help him out.
What do you think? Has this ever happened to you, and if you’ve overcome it, what worked for you?