TED Talk Review: How I Beat Stage Fright


What’s your biggest fear?

Think about it. Now think about standing on a stage, in front of 500 people, about to pitch an idea you’ve been working on for the last month.

What’s scarier?

When situations like this happen – public speaking – there’s two things that can happen: You place those 500 people in a state of awe, or you place yourself in a frozen state of fear. This familiar state of terror is known as stage fright and with it comes an increased heart rate, sweaty palms, shaky voice, and even nausea. What’s the key to overcoming this? Finding a strategy that works for you.

Finding your own strategy is the hard part. But, rest assured, it can come from an unlikely place. At least that’s what TED talk speaker, Joe Kowan, found out. In January, TED premiered a new discussion about conquering stage fright. This gave Joe Kowan the opportunity to tell the story of his own fear of public speaking and the journey of conquering it.

Judging from Kowan’s speech you‘d never guess he had a fear of speaking.  He was cracking jokes left and right, and was beyond entertaining. Whatever strategy he found must have worked. During the discussion, Kowan talks about his struggle singing at an open-mic night. In efforts to resolve his stage fright, he decided to sing at the event every week until he was no longer nervous. The problem was that this strategy proved unsuccessful, and Kowan continued to struggle with sweaty hands and a shaking voice.

It would seem Kowan was doomed to forever suffer from stage fright, until he eventually had an epiphany to write a song about it. Believe it or not, the song actually worked. So before Joe would start singing, he would open his act with the stage fright song. By singing the song Kowan was able to address his fear to the audience and turn them into a (as he puts it) “one big happy, nervous and uncomfortable family.”

After singing, Kowan says he would feel less nervous and more prepared to continue his performance. The tactic worked so well that eventually Kowan didn’t even need to sing the song anymore.

The most important thing to learn from this is that, in order to conquer your fear of public speaking, you’ve got to find the right way to calm those nerves. Kowan points out that cliché advice of imagining the audience with no clothes on or people saying you’ll do fine doesn’t work for everyone. Like Kowan, you have to find your own strategy of controlling stage fright. Kowan suggests picking a tactic that embraces your stage fright. This is what makes Joe Kowan no longer a stage fright victim, but instead a stage fright champion. So the next time you’re in a sweaty kind of spot, ease the pain with the stage fright song.

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