A Musical Way to Beat Stage Fright

You have to speak in front of an audience. Perhaps you know the people, perhaps you don’t. Perhaps it’s a big audience, maybe it’s not. It doesn’t matter, because all of a sudden, the heart beats faster, the palms get sweaty, the butterflies start bouncing around in your stomach, the throat dries up. Stage fright has arrived!

It happens even to the most seasoned of speakers. And it happened to Joe Kowan, a graphic designer and folk singer. In a very candid TED Talk, Joe talks about how he learned to get the better of his nerves when performing.

Joe makes two important points about dealing with nerves. At 2:50 of his talk, he says:

And something good did happen—I had the tiniest little glimpse of that audience connection that I was hoping for. And I wanted more. But I knew I had to get past this nervousness. That night I promised myself: I would go back every week until I wasn’t nervous anymore. And I did. I went back every single week …

Now, Joe gets a good laugh by saying that he still couldn’t get over his nervousness. And I don’t doubt that he was still nervous. But by going back again and again, I am fairly certain that Joe was, at the very least, learning how to deal with the nerves on stage. Most people, myself included, never banish nerves completely. And that’s OK. You learn to live with them and focus that nervous energy in a positive way.

Joe’s second main point for me comes at 4:05 of his talk. He thought about his audience, which is essential, and he came up with a creative way of tackling his fear head on.

By thinking about my audience, by embracing and exploiting my problem, I was able to take something that was blocking my progress, and turn it into something that was essential for my success. And having the stage fright song let me get past that biggest issue right in the beginning of a performance. And then I could move on, and play the rest of my songs with just a little bit more ease.

I realize that not everyone has the talent to compose songs and play an instrument. However, there is another musical trick that will help you overcome your nerves and you need no musical talent at all to do it … karaoke! Yes, karaoke, a wildly popular form of entertainment in Asia that is gaining popularity in Europe, North America and elsewhere.

My good friend and fellow speaker, Florian Mueck, swears by it. Years ago, he forced himself to sing karaoke in seedy bars in Barcelona. He shares a bit of his experience in the short video below.

Florian, as you can tell, is a big Frank Sinatra fan. My favourite song from Old Blue Eyes happens to be New York, New York, which is appropriate because with karaoke, if you can make it there, you’ll make it anywhere! The best part is that nobody expects brilliant singing; it’s all good fun. And, if you can carry a tune, you could be an overnight sensation … at least in one bar.

So there you have it. A musical idea to help you overcome your speaking nerves. Now it’s over to you. “Start spreading the news …”


About John Zimmer

International speaker, presentation skills expert, lawyer, improv performer
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2 Responses to A Musical Way to Beat Stage Fright

  1. bonn2504 says:

    Hi John,

    Yes, I believe music can help us beat stage fright. And become better on stage if we already do it frequently. I swear by karaoke.

    And as a newby on the ukulele, I was pleased to see Joe Kowan.

    Long live the uke!

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