According to WebMD, millions of people suffer from performance anxiety, commonly called stage fright. In fact, most people would rather get the flu than perform. Performance anxiety can prevent you from doing what you enjoy and can affect your career because people who cannot speak in public are not considered promotion material.

The Symptoms of Presentation Stage Fright

Being the center of attention and having all eyes on you can be stressful, especially if you are an introvert. Your body reacts to this situation in much the same way as it would if you were being attacked. Your body’s “fight-or-flight” mechanism kicks in, which is why symptoms of stage fright are similar to symptoms that occur when you are in real danger. They include:

  • Racing pulse and rapid breathing
  • Dry mouth and tight throat
  • Trembling hands, knees, lips, and voice
  • Sweaty and cold hands
  • Nausea and an uneasy feeling in your stomach
  • Vision changes

Although it may be impossible to totally overcome performance anxiety, there are things you can do to control your emotions and reduce anxiety. Some are more obvious, like breathing deeply and knowing your material cold. Here are a few you might not have thought about.

The Cure for Presentation Stage Fright

Give the Stage Fright a Deadline

A mentor once suggested to me that I acknowledge my fear of giving presentations – to a point. I was allowed to be nervous in the hours leading up to each event, but at the moment I was being introduced, I was to say: “time’s up.” It was then that I allowed my confident side to take over. It took a few events of practice, but my mind eventually got the hang of it.

Pack your Schedule

When you’re very busy, you don’t have time to worry about how miserable you might feel. So on the day you’re due to give your remarks, schedule as many meetings as possible so you are running from one thing to another right up to the time you’re up to speak. Being frazzled can actually work in stage fright’s favor.

Trick Your Body

You can coax your body out of a stress response first by eating some fruit or veggies before you give a presentation. You won’t have the nausea of an empty stomach, but you won’t feel stuffed either. Chewing gum works the same way as massaging your jaw to release tension there. If you are worried your voice is going to crack when you start to speak, deliver your intro to yourself in the restroom so you can warm it up.

Become Part of the Audience

If your audience is composed of people you don’t know, introduce yourself as they’re entering the room. Making one-on-one, personal connections will help you see audience members as fellow human beings who are interested in what you have to say and want to see you do well. If you do know your attendees, making small talk can diffuse the tension that may be building on your side.

Nix the Naked

I always thought the trick of imagining audience members naked or in their underwear was a little silly, so instead I like to think about the audience being comprised of my closest friends and family. These people (presumably) are not as judgmental as strangers and are not going to fill out evaluation sheets or performance reviews. They’re simply rooting for me to nail it.

Do you have presentation stage fright? How have you overcome it in order to deliver effective presentations at work?