Do you saunter on stage and smile reassuringly at the front row?  Have you ever cheerfully announced that most of your presentation was ‘off the cuff’?  Do you, prior to a presentation, look in the mirror and say, ‘Well if it doesn’t go well, what of it?’, and then think about what you might have for dinner later?  You do? Great. I think you’re fantastic but I’m afraid this advice is not for you.

This blog is for the wilters, standing wild eyed backstage, armpits soaking, heart thumping, for those whispering to themselves, ‘why the bloody hell did I say I would do this?’  This is for my people.  Because you have just as much right to have your story heard as those who do not suffer from anxiety around public speaking and performance.

I have experienced truly terrible stage fright.  It stymied an early love of acting. But despite a week-long nervous state before my first improv show at 38 I have grown to love performing, improv has helped me renegotiate my terrible relationship with failure and greatly relieved my tendency to drown in embarrassment over inconsequential matters.  I started stand up at 40.  My usual and rather vulgar answer when someone asks me what doing stand up comedy is like is, ‘It’s a wonderful cure for constipation.’ I still cannot put my hand on my heart and say that I love stand up, but I know that I can do it.   And so can you. 

The physical manifestations of fear are no joke; yes you are sweating, yes your heart is beating that fast, yes you might be questioning every decision that has brought you to this moment and perhaps regretting some of them.  Why? Why???

Well, congratulations, you care.  And secondary congratulations, you are going to do this because if you weren’t then why would you be nervous?  That beating heart is the drumbeat that will see you out to battle. 

Battle? Really? Seems hyperbolic.  Well, it is.  Let’s talk about perspective.  Each of us are the protagonists in our own story and the disasters that befall us are felt keenly.  And yes, sometimes despite the best of preparation things do not work out…and yet the world keeps turning.  I have in the past, as a means of avoiding failure, just avoided life and that’s a real failure and one that I wouldn’t have happen to anyone. 

I can’t promise glowing success, and managed expectations are the key to a happy life, but I can tell you that by venturing outside your comfort zone you will find your map getting larger, and when you go back into your comfort zone for a bit you will find it luxuriously reupholstered, less of a bolthole and more of a comfortable residence from which you can plan future expeditions.

Performance terror decreases by doing more shows, it really does.  A week of nerves becomes two days becomes two hours becomes two minutes, and then it’s back; ushered in by an unfamiliar venue or a new audience.  Tapping you on the shoulder and reminding you once more that you care.  You care about telling your story.  And (especially at Bright Club) we like hearing it.

This post was written by Denny Mac Dermott, who is one of our Bright Club speaker trainers as well as a comedian and improviser with Underthings.