Polishing Performance Ep05: Fear & Anxiety

To redirect your fear, take a step in any direction before you speak. Begin your dialogue as you are in motion. That will get your brain to where it needs to be to recall the material that you want to share.


  • Confront Fear

    Fear will happen. It means you care. Motion and breathing will help you move through those initial sensations.

  • Move Backstage

    While awaiting your cue to hit the stage do not stand in one place, frozen. That's when your mind starts playing tricks on you.

  • Use Story

    Open with a story that's personal to you. Lead with passion and authenticity and the rest will come.

I don't want to take your fear away. Fear is a very powerful motivating force. Alan Irwin

Kymberlee: One question I get asked more than any other question is, "How do I deal with fear?" I feel fear and it paralyzes me or I feel fear and anxiety and I can't breathe and I'm sweating and I can't even go out on stage. Alan, what are some techniques that you use to deal with fear?

Alan Irwin: First off, I don't want to take your fear away. I think fear is a very powerful motivating force. I think that the problem is that the worst shows that I've ever given were those when I stepped out and I wasn't afraid initially. That is a very strong thing. So I don't want to take away your fear so much as I want to give you the tools to move forward while you're afraid, to be able to get through that and make your presentation.

Kymberlee: Great. Let's break this down. Let's talk about backstage. So I'm backstage, I'm ready to give a really high-stakes talk, like a TEDx talk or some other high-stakes talk, and I'm feeling this fear coming on, and it's getting stronger and stronger and stronger. What can I do?

Alan Irwin: Movement. As you will often talk about, breathing. That is important behind the stage. If you can do any sort of movement, whether it's a formal set of exercises or something just impromptu where you try to walk through the presentation and reenact it behind the stage, those sorts of movements will help you get past that immediate fear.

Kymberlee: And I found that if you stay still, especially backstage, that is among the worst things you can do, because when you stay still, that's when your mind starts to play tricks on you and it gets worse and it spirals down. So you're right. I love to just move. Move in any direction.

Also, have a go-to move that you do. I love burpees. Thanks to the suggestion from my coach, Scott Mann, I do three burpees before every performance. I did them today. Burpees just change everything. It brings the blood to my face and it makes me feel good.
Let's talk a little bit more about the breathing. How would you incorporate breathing backstage?

Alan Irwin: I find the breathing resets the body. You've talked about this yourself, that just taking that moment and taking in a deep breath just helps everything re-settle and gets you ready to go.

Kymberlee: It does. It does. And it changes the cells, right? Your whole body just kind of reorients yourself when you take that moment to just breathe.

Okay, now let's talk about onstage. Let's say your name is announced, you go out onstage, huge applause, and you're waiting for the applause to die down and you feel it. And all of a sudden it's coming and you're sweating and oh my gosh and you're thinking about your line and you're thinking about the talk and you're thinking about the thousands of people out there. Now what?

Alan Irwin: For me, that's the reason we memorize speeches. It's getting so good at that first few lines that you don't have to think about it. You just go right into those lines. That's why we go over and over it again. Once you get started and you develop some momentum, you can get through the rest of it. It's getting started that's usually the worst time of all. And it is those pauses when they're applauding or whatever that makes you get out of that movement you just made and instead aware of everything else going on.

Kymberlee: Yes. I like to move. Let's say you walk on stage. You're smiling, there's your audience, and you're waiting for the applause to die down. Just go ahead and take a step in any direction before you speak. Take a step and then begin your dialogue as you are in motion. I'm not talking about walking across the entire stage. It's subtle. It's just a little movement to get you going, because that will also get your brain to where it needs to be to recall the material that you want to share.

Alan Irwin: I use the term "momentum" and I really do mean it. It's getting started. Those things will get you going, and once you get started, then everything else that you practiced and had in your head and movements, they'll start coming back to you. And that's critical.

Kymberlee: Another technique I love to do is use a story, thanks to my mentor Bo Eason. Use a story that's really personal to you. Start off your talk with something that's really meaningful to you so that the first sentences out of your mouth are something that you're incredibly passionate about and that you love as opposed to, "Oh shoot, I need to remember that line or that paragraph." No. You're just telling a story, something that actually happened in your life.

Alan Irwin: Right. Agreed.

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