So many entertainers fear those first few words, those first few moments that can make or break your credibility with a room full of wedding guests. “Owning the room” from your first words can certainly make a world of difference in the successfulness of your performance.
Earlier this month, Graham Armstrong of Expressions Entertainment in Brandon, Manitoba, Canada wrote to me to ask “One MC to another… What do you do get to get over that first crack of the mic?” Well, Graham: this one’s for you.
As a stage veteran, myself, I’ve definitely developed some techniques for managing those titters of nervousness, but — yes — even I still suffer from some affliction of performance anxiety — and I’m not alone.
Glossophobia (or fear of public speaking) affects about 3 out of every 4 peoplei, and it is also the most commonly-cited top phobia among Americans – more than spiders and even more than death, itselfii! In other words — if you’re feeling a touch of “stage fright” in anticipation of speaking on the mic, rest assured that you’re totally normal.
Chances are that most of the very best public speakers you’ve seen have felt this way, too. The difference between them and you? Practice.
While there’s no “magic bullet” solution to overcome the very real physical effects of plain and simple stage fright, there are many strategies you can employ to help smooth the transition into speaking in front of a group. Here are a few of my favorites:
- Contextualize: Think about your motivations. What are the reasons you’re speaking? If you have a couple depending upon you with whom you’ve developed a relationship, focusing on their need may help humanize the obstacle you face. Serve your couple’s needs and advocate for the best interests of their celebration, and you will naturally endear yourself to their guests. Be fake, out-of-the-know, or disrespectful of boundaries, and risk alienating them.
- Individualize: break the room down in your mind into zones or even to individual people and speak to one or a few at a time. Know your own tolerances, and play to your strengths.
- Realize: Reality check: you’re not personally as important as you may think you are to the average wedding guest. This isn’t about you. They didn’t come to see a Broadway show, and (if you play your cards right) this is one of the friendliest groups of people a public speaker could possibly face. No one is judging you… they’re thinking about the couple, unless you do something notable to make yourself stand out — positively or negatively.
- Normalize: Make public speaking less unusual by doing more of it. Get involved in Toastmasters, join an improv troupe, audition for a theatrical production, become a featured speaker at a trade luncheon, or sign yourself up for stand-up comedy. Trust me: no group of wedding guests will ever be so scary as the hecklers in a comedy bar, and (over time) the experience you’ll gain will help you feel more comfortable speaking in front of a group — or at least help you learn to look that way.
- Prepare: Make a real effort to be prepared. Well-prepared. Over-prepared. Get your planning paperwork together early in the week, pack ahead of time, budget some time to rehearse while imagining how well it will go on event day, and get a good night’s sleep. Hydrate. Arrive early — in time to leisurely set up, sound check, have a snack, and change clothes. Don’t load extra pressures on your plate by planning to scramble at the last minute or by ignoring your body’s basic needs.
- Thank goodness: Being nervous means you still care. It means you’re not jaded and that you’re still challenging yourself — the only real way to grow as a performer.
Bottom line: feelings of anxiety before or during a performance are normal. Developing a strategy to overcome the worst of it is what largely distinguishes all the best from all the rest.
Have you ever suffered from “stage fright”? What did you do to overcome your performance anxiety?