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November 23, 2005 11:13 AM   Subscribe

Glossophobia aka Lalophobia or, more commonly, stage fright is allegedly the biggest fear for Americans. If you experience it, you are hardly alone. Many well known performers, including Sir Laurence Olivier, Barbara Streisand, Donnie Osmond, Dusty Springfield and Andy Partridge of XTC, share your fear. Indeed, all kinds of performers suffer from it, including musicians, jugglers, and public speakers. Many people have (sometimes contradictory) advice about overcoming your fear of speaking in public. However, in a pinch, one can always use a Beta Blocker. Drinking booze, however, is not frequently recomended.
posted by Joey Michaels (17 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
FYI: Scroll down in the "biggest fear" link for Jerry Seinfeld's frequently cited quote about "fear of public speaking" being the biggest fear of Americans. I could find no data to support this, but it is frequently trotted out as fact by public speakers. Most likely, public speakers who watched a lot of Seinfeld.
posted by Joey Michaels at 11:14 AM on November 23, 2005

Interesting. Beta blockers? I have been in bands since my adolescence and was in student government in high school and college, and have constantly taken jobs as an adult that required significant public speaking. I am by nature an introvert, and I remember being scared to death when I first got started in these enterprises, but the anxiety is something (to me, at any rate) that decreases in inverse proportion to the number of times you put yourself in this situation. Over the years, I came to develop a fondness for it, and now, I try to do it every chance I get.

I remember early on reading various books on "overcoming your fear" of public speaking, and not one of them helped. If anything they made me feel more self conscious by giving me too many things to remember. After a while, I pretty much rejected all the advice I read and was given, and just tried hard to focus on being in the moment and one or two other themes, and all the anxiety went away.

I am fascinated by the number of careers of seemingly seasoned performers that were ruined by this, and have no explanation for it. I understand Steve Perry pretty much ended his singing career because of it (not that we shouldn't be thankful for that... just kidding).

I think there may be a big difference between garden variety fear of speaking in public, and something more insidious like what some of the folks above went through. The worst I've ever seen first hand is Chan Marshall of Cat Power. She is so painful to watch, I almost wonder why she even bothers playing live.
posted by psmealey at 11:24 AM on November 23, 2005

psmealy: ...the anxiety is something (to me, at any rate) that decreases in inverse proportion to the number of times you put yourself in this situation.

I'm with you on this one. The fear of embarassment is intense until you've embarassed yourself enough times to realize that life still goes on. I've given academic talks in front of some seriously intimidating audiences, but the worst stage fright I've ever felt was in high school band performances.

Mind you, I can see how some performers would find the fear both chronic and debilitating.
posted by simra at 11:48 AM on November 23, 2005

I remember early on reading various books on "overcoming your fear" of public speaking, and not one of them helped.

Same here. It seems to be one of those things that only make sense once you "get it". And once you get it, you want to write a book about it. But stage fright is truly insidious, something that gets worse with each attack. But it gets better each time you defeat it too, so I guess the key is to build on positive experiences and do your best not to have bad ones.
posted by jimmy76 at 11:51 AM on November 23, 2005

stage fright is allegedly the biggest fear for Americans.

Anecdotally, it would appear that the biggest fear for most Americans is being out of the spotlight for more than a minute. Or rather, never "being discovered" as the [musical / theatrical / creative] superstar you know, deep-down, you really are. The cultures of entitlement and instant gratification meet the society of the spectacle and all we get is American freakin' Idol.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:54 AM on November 23, 2005

decreases in inversedirect proportion

tripped over my algebra there.
posted by psmealey at 12:04 PM on November 23, 2005

Wow, incredibly well timed, as I have a 90 minute class I have to teach at a conference in one weeks time and I'm worried about having to talk in front of 60 people for 90 minutes.
posted by SirOmega at 12:39 PM on November 23, 2005

bob weir, formerly of the grateful dead, is booked at the venue where i work on december 6th. i spoke with a local reporter who interviewed him, and she told me that he's had chronic stagefright his entire career, and yet he's overcome it sufficient to have performed in front of millions of people over the decades.

just thought you'd like to know.
posted by Hat Maui at 1:42 PM on November 23, 2005

The fear of embarassment is intense until you've embarassed yourself enough times to realize that life still goes on.

This was so true for me.

I had a few fantastic bombs in my early career that I credit for (nearly) erasing my stage fright. The hallmark of a good performer is as much graceful recovery from mistakes as it is avoiding them in the first place.

To put it another way, showmanship and technique are two vital skills all performers should master. It's why I make my students practice not only their music, but everything from walking out on stage to the bow at the end.

I can see how some performers would find the fear both chronic and debilitating.

I can recall at least one professional classical musician whose stage fright elicited, er, spontaneous bowel movements. He'd have to duck out to use the bathroom before any piece that involved solo work. And yes, there are a few stories of him not being able to find a facility, forcing him to, um, sweat it out on stage.
posted by Sangre Azul at 2:01 PM on November 23, 2005

Speaking for myself, what I had to get past was the concept of "Them VS Me" - as if, as speaker, I was somehow in opposition to the people listening. The first couple of times I had to do it, I was a trainwreck.

After a while (and granted that 70-80 percent of the people I've spoken in front of are statistically probably the same folks, I finally found a place where I could come from a "host" point-of-view and feel pretty much fine with the job.

That being said, I hafta say there is NOTHING in this world worse than laying a major flop moment down in the middle of one of these things. You want to run, you can't run, you've made a major screw-up, people are laughing... urg. You have to shrug it off, play through it, and for the most part folks will forgive you just because you proved you're a trooper.

Considering I've seen one of my "flop" moments listed -In Detail - as one of the highlights/lowlights of a convention in a review, believe me when I tell you that 1) it's eventually inevitable 2) it's completely surviveable. Just life reminding you that you ain't Phil Donahue.
posted by Perigee at 2:06 PM on November 23, 2005

Yeah, I totally agree with the experiences related above--my whole job is teaching/performing/speaking to groups of people, and I hardly even think about it anymore.

But that first time I had to walk out and play solo...man, I was so nervous, my knees (and everything else) were literally shaking.

I've had lots of embarrassing moments in rehearsals, performances, classes, lectures, etc....the biggest key to getting past performance anxiety for me, is just not to take yourself too seriously. In teaching and rehearsing, there is of course much verbal extemporization, and that lends itself to fairly regular slips of the tongue--some of which are more unfortunate than others.

When I finally learned that it's not about me when people laugh, but rather the funny thing I just said, I learned how to laugh along with them, and just move along. I've sent batons flying into the audience, stabbed my hand in a dress rehearsal once, dropped my baton on the floor right after a bow (BEFORE the concert, so that, during that exquisite, expectant silence after the applause and before the music starts, I had to bend down in front of hundreds of people and pick it up!), and other incidents best left forgotten, and none have had any lasting negative effect.

sangre azul gets it just right:

showmanship and technique are two vital skills all performers should master

Every mistake or gaffe I've ever made I've followed up with two indispensibles: a warm (preferably witty) self-effacing remark, followed by a stellar performance. Then, people walk away not remembering any mistakes, but the warm, genuine person who just shared a terrific experience with them.
posted by LooseFilter at 2:37 PM on November 23, 2005

I recommend Klonopin for public speaking, sort of gives you the confidence you would have after a lot of drinks, without the stupidity.
posted by snoktruix at 4:46 PM on November 23, 2005

I am a musician and I have performed in front of a few thousand people. L-theanine works great for this and it is not a drug. It is an amino acid--derived from food.
posted by free pie at 5:38 PM on November 23, 2005

Funny thing with me is that the more people I'm talking to, the easier it is. When I'm only talking to half a dozen people, each person is an individual threat. When I'm talking to huge numbers of people, the audience is dehumanized and it's a lot easier. until they start asking me questions.

I find the other important thing is to know what you're doing - giving talks at highschool on books I couldn't give a shit about was difficult. Giving talks now, on things I know about, am interested in, and don't even need notes for, is easy.
posted by Jimbob at 8:22 PM on November 23, 2005

carly simon gets stage fright too. she's cancelled performances because of it.
posted by brandz at 9:42 PM on November 23, 2005

Funny for me, I have no problem performing music for an audience. No fear acting, either. Teaching was different. My fear isn't extreme, but I'm quite uncomfortable.

I get the same fear about having people over to my house, especially if I have to cook, only much worse. This is the true reason why I tend to style myself as reclusive, and hate social obligations. Funny enough, it doesn't apply one-on-one.
posted by Goofyy at 11:43 PM on November 23, 2005

what is the argument against musicians taking beta blockers, if the side effects are minimal?
posted by jcruelty at 12:44 AM on November 27, 2005

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