A Musical Way to Beat Stage Fright

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 and music

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 sure 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.

Karaoke to the rescue

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 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 stage fright. Now it’s your turn to “Start spreading the news …”

Photo courtesy of Wes Hicks

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2 Replies to “A Musical Way to Beat Stage Fright”

  1. 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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John delivered a keynote address about the importance of public speaking to 80 senior members of Gore’s Medical Device Europe team at an important sales event. He was informative, engaging and inspirational. Everyone was motivated to improve their public speaking skills. Following his keynote, John has led public speaking workshops for Gore in Barcelona and Munich. He is an outstanding speaker who thinks carefully about the needs of his audience well before he steps on stage.

Karsta Goetze

TA Leader, Gore and Associates

I first got in touch with John while preparing to speak at TED Global about my work on ProtonMail. John helped me to sharpen the presentation and get on point faster, making the talk more focused and impactful. My speech was very well received, has since reached almost 1.8 million people and was successful in explaining a complex subject (email encryption) to a general audience.

Andy Yen

CEO, Proton Technologies

John gave the opening keynote on the second day of our unit’s recent offsite in Geneva, addressing an audience of 100+ attendees with a wealth of tips and techniques to deliver powerful, memorable presentations. I applied some of these techniques the very next week in an internal presentation, and I’ve been asked to give that presentation again to senior management, which has NEVER happened before. John is one of the greatest speakers I know and I can recommend his services without reservation.

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Senior Data Scientist, Expedia Group

After a morning of team building activities using improvisation as the conduit, John came on stage to close the staff event which was organised in Chamonix, France. His energy and presence were immediately felt by all the members of staff. The work put into the preparation of his speech was evident and by sharing some his own stories, he was able to conduct a closing inspirational speech which was relevant, powerful and impactful for all at IRU. The whole team left feeling engaged and motivated to tackle the 2019 objectives ahead. Thank you, John.

Umberto de Pretto

Secretary General, World Road Transport Organization

I was expecting a few speaking tips and tricks and a few fun exercises, but you went above and beyond – and sideways. You taught me to stand tall. You taught me to anchor myself. You taught me to breathe. You taught me to open up. You taught me to look people in the eye. You taught me to tell the truth. You taught me to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. I got more than I bargained for in the best possible way.

Thuy Khoc-Bilon

World Cancer Day Campaign Manager, Union for International Cancer Control

John gave a brilliant presentation on public speaking during the UN EMERGE programme in Geneva (a two days workshop on leadership development for a group of female staff members working in the UN organizations in Geneva). His talk was inspirational and practical, thanks to the many techniques and tips he shared with the audience. His teaching can dramatically change our public speaking performance and enable us as presenters to have a real and powerful impact. Thank you, John, for your great contribution!

Sara Canna

HR Specialist, World Health Organization

John is a genuine communication innovator. His seminars on gamification of public speaking learning and his interactive Rhetoric game at our conference set the tone for change and improvement in our organisation. The quality of his input, the impact he made with his audience and his effortlessly engaging style made it easy to get on board with his core messages and won over some delegates who were extremely skeptical as to the efficacy of games for learning. I simply cannot recommend him highly enough.

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National Education Director, Association of Speakers Clubs UK

John joined our Global Sales Meeting in Segovia, Spain and we all participated in his "Improv(e) your Work!" session. I say “all” because it really was all interactive, participatory, learning and enjoyable. The session surprised everybody and was a fresh-air activity that brought a lot of self-reflection and insights to improve trust and confidence in each other inside our team. It´s all about communication and a good manner of speaking!"

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General Manager Europe, Hayward Industries

Thank you very much for the excellent presentation skills session. The feedback I received was very positive. Everyone enjoyed the good mix of listening to your speech, co-developing a concrete take-away and the personal learning experience. We all feel more devoted to the task ahead, more able to succeed and an elevated team spirit. Delivering this in a short time, both in session and in preparation, is outstanding!

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CFO European Dairy Supply Chain & Operations, Danone

Thanks to John’s excellent workshop, I have learned many important tips and techniques to become an effective public speaker. John is a fantastic speaker and teacher, with extensive knowledge of the field. His workshop was a great experience and has proven extremely useful for me in my professional and personal life.

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Senior Sales Manager, Sunrise Communications

John’s presentation skills training was a terrific investment of my time. I increased my skills in this important area and feel more comfortable when speaking to an audience. John provided the right mix between theory and practice.

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Director of the Jura Region, BKW Energie AG

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Senior Director and Talent Partner, ADP International