In my twenties I had the good fortune to work for an events company that was run by somewhat of an eccentric, who let me develop my wild and whacky ideas ready for pitching to mainly unsuspecting clients and with a good degree of success. It was a small company, and entailed my having a finger in most pies – from original concept, to pitch, to development – and hence I would find myself in the strangest of situations, in the strangest of lands, at the strangest of times, and I would have had it no other way.
But by far and away the most common thing that I encountered was that all the presenters – whether they were corporate guest speakers paid by the thousands, or the Marketing Director of a small firm – had to cope with their stage fright. Some of them (a news presenter, a Sports celebrity and a sky sports presenter) would ask constant questions and seek reassurances, others (a Singer, a Radio DJ and a Business Troubleshooter) would sit quietly and make notes, and others, like me, would have to have five minutes before going on to that stage and becoming the public persona that made them money.
Another of my jobs was to limit the pre-stage nerves for those clients unaccustomed to public speaking, and to teach them coping methods, reading the autocue, breathing, imagining people naked etc. Of course, because I too suffered from stage fright, my crew became accustomed to my Taking Five in a corner backstage before a show, and once someone came and joined me, her hands shaking in companionable silence. She’s recently appeared as a Loose Woman, with no show of nerves at all in front of the camera.
My two eldest sons are very successful in their chosen sports – but before any sports competition Eldest Son asks a litany of questions which sound nonsensical to someone who does not realise that it is his way of channeling his nervous energy. Middle Son prefers to take himself off and Take Five – and sports teachers and coaches have learned to leave him to it.
But up until this weekend Little Man was to a certain extent an unknown. Of course we knew that he is ultra confident on the school stage and in life in general – but this was the first time that he had been on an unknown stage, and in an unknown medium, a tap solo. He had practiced and practiced and practiced, and was a veritable Happy Feet in the supermarket, at home, even in his sleep. But our one worry was whether he would be like those unfortunate x factor auditionees and freeze once on stage, facing an unknown audience and a panel of judges.
Being the only boy contestant in his group, he was in a changing room on his own with me, and began pacing up and down, asking me constant questions. His dance teacher came to join us and she ran through a couple of things. ‘Don’t forget to Smile’ she said, ‘they like you to Smile’.
The time came, Little Man walked on to the stage with a taut toothy smile etched on his face. ‘What is he doing?’ hissed Middle Son, who had come along with my husband to support. I felt sick, and began to shake as the familiar music started up. ‘Oh God’, moaned G at my side. I looked at him, he had his eyes shut, unwilling to watch. Little Man tip tapped away, his smile unfading, and then loosened up a bit and threw in a few wide mouthed Oohs and Aahs shapes. Eventually he finished, bowing with a smile and coming back on stage with a smile as the contestants stood for a few minutes whilst the judges made their decisions. He didn’t get the coveted first prize, but came away with a silver medal, and only I could tell that he was a tiny bit upset as he stood on stage, smiling as if his life depended on it as he congratulated the pretty and confident Pink Panther who won. And never was I more proud of him.
It doesn’t matter who you are, or what you do, or what situation you are in, but when the nerves get the better of you the trick is to utilize those nerves, harness them and turn them to your advantage. Stage fight that stage fright, and things will always turn out ok in the end.