How To Slay Performance Anxiety

In honor of Halloween, I want to talk about a spooky subject that constantly graces my inbox...

Performance Anxiety.

You know the feeling. You step up to the mic or turn on your camera and suddenly it hits you:

  • The racing heart
  • The sweaty palms
  • The tunnel vision
  • The sudden deer-in-the-headlights look in your eyes

It's like you've just seen a ghost.

And then the spookiest thing of all happens...

Despite all the preparation you put into this presentation, you have this horrific realization:

You don't remember what you're supposed to say next.

👻 😱 👻

If you've ever experienced performance anxiety around public speaking (and I know I sure have), it really can feel like a supernatural event.

Especially if you normally have no problem speaking in front of a group.

I can't tell you how many times a client has come to me distraught and confused saying,

"I have no idea why I froze up during that presentation. I don't normally get nervous during those kinds of things!"

They're understandably freaked out about this sudden inexplicable occurrence.

Because, without knowing why this particular experience triggered their performance anxiety, they're constantly left wondering...when will this happen again?

Those are not the sorts of spooky thrills any of us are seeking this October.

Which is why I intend to do some serious ghost-busting on the blog today!

If you're ready to exorcise performance anxiety from your life, here are two simple steps you can take.

Step One: Identify Your Ghost

Are we dealing with a poltergeist here or a banshee?

As I mentioned, one of the things that stresses folks out the most, is not being able to identify what specifically triggered their fight or flight during a given presentation.

That's why it's important to slow down and do a little investigating. Once you've identified what kind of specter you're dealing with, you'll have a much better time finding the appropriate spell to cast it out.

Here are some common mischievous spirits that you might encounter:

  • Over-Caffeination (the Evil Pixie)
  • Sleep-Deprivation (the Zombie)
  • The Size of the Audience (the Army of Gnomes)
  • A Perceived Authority Figure in the Audience (the High Wizard)
  • A Judgmental Co-Worker in the Audience (the Self-Esteem Vampire)

Now obviously some of these ghouls are easier to battle than others. But the first step to defeating them is to figure out what exactly you're dealing with.

Now that we've identified your adversary, let's talk about how to cast it out!

Step Two: Cast It Out!

Let's start with two of the more benign spirits: the Evil Pixie and the Zombie.

Sometimes, performance anxiety isn't that deep. It doesn't always require an in-depth exploration of your inner psyche. Sometimes, you just need to skip the second cup of coffee!

If you have an uncharacteristic bout of performance anxiety, first ask yourself if you've got anything unusual going on physically.

Did you drink more caffeine than usual or have a particularly bad night's sleep?

If the answer is yes, don't feel like you need to keep searching for other ghosts!

Just make a note for next time.

The Evil Pixie and the Zombie won't bother you if you keep them on a regular feeding schedule.

Don't give that Pixie that second cup of coffee and make sure you're giving that Zombie plenty of brain-nourishing sleep.

But what about those other peskier spirits?

Sometimes our performance anxiety is audience-specific.

We get nervous because the audience is larger than we're used to (the Army of Gnomes), or because there's an authority figure in attendance (the High Wizard), or because there's a specific person in the audience that we fear is judging us (the Self-Esteem Vampire).

What can you do about these evil spirits?

These creatures feed on your attention. The more you give them, the more powerful they become.

In my experience, the best way to deal with any of these anxiety-triggers is to place your attention elsewhere. And this is actually easier than ever over Zoom!

If there is a particular person in your audience who makes you nervous, hide them from your view.

Change your Zoom gallery to show only the people you feel confident speaking to. (You can even pin a particularly friendly face to your speaker view!)

And I always say, "If speaking to a crowd makes you nervous, don't. Speak to one person."

Your audience will not know the difference.

And there you have it!

That is your Speak Masterfully guide to busting ghosts.

If you're looking for more strategies on how to vanquish performance anxiety, make sure to grab your free copy of my Speak Masterfully guide, cheekily entitled "Don't Picture Them in Their Underwear."

This workbook will take you through my 5 favorite strategies for stepping into the spotlight with less fear and more fun.


Till next time, wishing you an October filled with only the most enjoyable kinds of spooks and thrills! 🎃 

Photograph of Sara Glancy on stairs
Headshot by Jessica Osber.

Sara Glancy is an NYC-based actor and public speaking coach and the founder of Speak Masterfully, a service that helps professionals take the stage with less fear and more fun! 

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