Stage fright. Part 1.

15th of October 1997. This is Broadway, New York.

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Heather is a young actor. She is approaching stage entrance in New Amsterdam Theatre. She plays Nala, future wife of king Simba in Broadway world premiere of the Lion King musical. In 10 seconds she will be right there, on the spot, facing the audience. She does not know she is about to give the performance that will be a turning point in her career and will earn her standing ovations. She feels a little bit dizzy and her hands are cold.

– How do you feel Heather? Asked technical man.

Good question. And how do you think you would feel, if you were Heather?

5th of November 1987. This is Zabrze, Poland.

Zbigniew is a heart surgeon, he is standing with a scalpel in his hand. The operation will start in 10 seconds and another human life will be in his hands. He does not know that he is about to perform the first successful human heart transplant operation in Poland. His breathing is a little bit shallower and faster than usual.

– How are feeling professor? Asked his assistant.

Good question. And how do you think you would feel, if you were the Professor?

18th of October 2000. This is Warsaw, Poland.

The International Chopin Piano Competition. Yundi is a young pianist from China. He can hear from behind the scene an oboe giving an “a” note and then an orchestra getting tuned. The audience is clapping. Everybody is now waiting for him. In 10 seconds he will be sitting behind a piano and everybody’s eyes will be fixed upon him. He does not know that he is just about to perform Frederic Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1 in e-minor op.11 in a way that will secure him Grand Prix. That will make him the youngest winner ever in that prestigious competition. He feels faster heartbeat and that his hands are a little bit sweaty.

– How do you feel Yundi? Asked conductor standing just next to him.

Good question. And how do you think you would feel, if you were Yundi?

Three examples above have one main thing in common. All of the characters mentioned are going through a stage fright.

What is stage fright?

Stage fright is shortly speaking a fear of standing in front of an audience and performing an action exposed to this audience’s opinion. Stage fright is linked particularly to an exam situation where other person or people are watching and rating us. Either formally or informally. Stage fright in many cases affects our performance in a negative way.

Audience does not have to be there.

We can be going through a stage fright even if there is no audience who bought their tickets. Our audience can be people at the meeting who are listening. A stage fright will often occur before or during an interview with just one or two people listening. Sometimes we will be afraid of an audience not physically present at all like a radio speaker during a broadcast can be.

Stage fright is very common.

We tend to think that artists like actors or musicians are the only ones who are exposed to stage fright. It is not true. Stage fright is actually a very common thing affecting all, or nearly all of us. It is not reserved for only certain professions.

Here are a few more professions and situation where a person can experience stage fright:

  • Formula One driver before a final contest,
  • a lawyer before entering a courtroom, where he will be going through a difficult case,
  • a television journalist before or during a live broadcast.
  • a manager before a 1 to 1 meeting with his team member, or before a team meeting

12th of December 2015. This is Krakow, Poland.

Anna is a young manager. Piotr who is the Department’s head asked Anna to lead a team managers meeting. It will be held towards the end of January 2016. There will be all team managers present and she will need to deliver 15 minutes long presentation talking about the department’s performance.

Heather, Zbigniew, Yundi felt mainly two things: they were feeling scared but also proud. Anna is feeling the same way. The question remains, how will stage fright affect our young manager.

It is good to take a step back and have an outside look at yourself in a stage fright situation to see how we react. It is also important to know that stage fright can be managed and also can be one of the factors of a successful and breakthrough performance.

Paweł Piwowar

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