Home » How to Get Over Stage Fright: Fear Origin Exercise + Tips

How to Get Over Stage Fright: Fear Origin Exercise + Tips

You’re not searching about how to get over stage fright because you fear getting up in front of people. That’s not the root of it, at least. And, much like any other problem in life, until you tackle the root cause of the issue, there’s no stopping it.

You’ve seen people who can get on a stage and command the attention of others. They seem not only comfortable, but as if they have no care in the world that there’s a big audience hanging onto their every word. They’re charismatic. Funny. Easy to watch.

You, on the other hand? If that was you, you’d be sweating. Stammering. Turning red. Making jokes that attempt to break the tension only for them to come out wrong and lead to more painful silence. You fight the urge to flee from the stage, but doing so might just make things worse.

So you freeze, and sit there awkwardly, stumbling through the speech or song or presentation as the minutes drag by. Afterward, you swear you can’t do that again without taming your stage fright and getting rid of performance anxiety.

You think about the Tony Robbins-ons of the world and assume those people were just born that way.

No. They’re not born that way. 

Those people have gone through the same sort of steps we’ve outlined below to work on the root issue of their own unique stage fright. Because spoiler alert: no stage fright stems from the same thing.

So let’s decipher what your stage fright origin is in order to put together a plan to move past it so you can get on stage and do what it is you believe you can do. If you didn’t believe it was possible, you wouldn’t be here, looking for a solution.

And that’s the first step.

The next, is understanding what happens to your brain and body that triggers stage fright in the first place.

The Progression of Stage Fright

Before we can learn how to get over stage fright, we have to understand that it usually doesn’t start with fear. It often jumps there after you have a poor experience, and can progress through these stages rapidly, but there’s a lot happening in your mind when you know you’ll be on stage in front of people.

This is how stage fright often progresses after the engagement has been scheduled (or even imagined):

  1. Initial Excitement 
  2. Planning
  3. Anticipation
  4. Self Doubt
  5. Imposter Syndrome
  6. Nervousness
  7. Anxiety
  8. Fear

Note: You can also have these before you ever book a stage. Some of these stages occur when someone just imagines going through the process of speaking on stage, performing a song, or giving a presentation.

> Initial Excitement:

Because you want to learn how to get over stage fright, it’s likely that you are initially excited about it. You want to get over the barrier keeping you from what you’ll gain on the other side (authority, notoriety, respect, accomplishment, confidence, etc.). This is normal and the positive feeling we want to hang onto through this process of getting rid of stage fright.

> Planning:

This is the preparation stage in which you put together the plans of what you’ll be doing on stage and fine-tuning the details. You’ll probably plan your speech or presentation here, get your calendar cleared, and figure out what needs to be done to deliver something on stage properly. There aren’t many feelings here except for the topic at hand, but this very rapidly progresses to the others.

> Anticipation:

The waiting period where you know what you’ll be doing on stage, which speech you’ll be giving, or song you’ll be playing, leads to a feeling of anticipation. Normally at this stage, you’re preparing and rehearsing for the stage. You’re counting down the days, but it’s not bad yet. That occurs as you progress past this point.

> Self Doubt:

During the anticipation stages, most people will be thinking about their speech or song or presentation, imagining giving it, and even rehearsing the process. What happens to many people with stage fright is that during this process, they begin to doubt their material.

This often takes the shape of thoughts like:

Is this the best way to start my speech?

My voice sounds weird during this part?

Is this even understandable? I need to rewrite it.

I can’t deliver this part the way I hoped I could.

I don’t think I’m prepared to do this yet.

Importantly, self-doubt is specifically about your ability to perform the actions on stage. It then progresses to something a bit harder to deal with.

> Imposter Syndrome:

Imposter syndrome is when your self-doubt starts to seep into your knowledge, and specifically the value you hold in the topic or specifics of what you’re presenting on stage. Knowing how to get over stage fright (and many people’s stage fright origins) will hinge on what the specifics of your imposter syndrome looks like.

Imposter syndrome thoughts will look more like:

I’m not qualified enough to give this talk.

My music won’t speak to people the way a “real” musicians does.

If people from my home town knew about this, they’d laugh at who I’m trying to be.

People are going to think this part sounds stupid.

Do I have the credentials to back up this claim?

I need to learn more, and then I’ll be able to give a speech on this topic.

The progression from self-doubt to imposter syndrome is the progression from thoughts focused on your ability to thoughts about how your ability will be perceived by other people. 

This is what makes it even harder to deal with; the “what other people think” reaction in all humans is a strong one and leads to the next progression of stage fright.

> Nervousness:

When you start spiraling into self-doubt and imposter syndrome, it makes it hard to learn how to get over stage fright because these are very deeply ingrained. You get nervous about how you will be perceived on stage.

Nervousness is okay and expected. The problem is when we sit in the nervousness and give it “air time” so to speak. When we let our nervousness mean something about who we are as a person, it progresses to something worse.

> Anxiety:

Anxiety is the fear of anticipating something. You’re no longer nervous about it, you’re dreading it. It’s nervousness that has been allowed to fester so much that it becomes disruptive. You might not be able to sleep well. You might try to cancel the event. You might seek advice from friends and family.

At this stage, you’re actively imagining things going wrong on stage. No matter what it would be, the images you have end up embarrassing you and stem from some of your deeper fears (and your stage fright origin).

If you’ve progressed to this stage, full-blown stage fright is almost guaranteed.

> Fear:

At this point, because of all the pieces before this, you now fear getting on stage. You actively want to avoid it because you have very specific fears about what could go wrong. Specifically, these arise as certainties that your brain has decided would happen if you get up on stage.

They’re going to laugh at me.

I’m going to stammer and make a fool of myself.

I’m going to look and sound nervous and make it awkward for everyone.

Most people allow this to stop them. The fear of their imagined scenarios is bad enough that they don’t even want to risk this happening. In order to know how to get over stage fright, you have to understand how to not allow it to progress to this stage, and actually stop it when you hit “self-doubt”.

It’s important to note that all of this can happen in the span of an hour or over the course of weeks, and depends on how far out the actual event will occur from when it’s set. But if you’re trying to learn how to get over stage fright that’s pretty advanced, this could all happen before you ever take any step toward actually getting on stage.

When you’re still in “dreaming” mode. This is usually a sign that your stage fright origin is more deeply rooted in your own self-image than it is in something less severe.

But let’s find out for sure by figuring out the root cause of your stage fright.

Decipher Your Stage Fright Origin to Get Rid of Stage Fright

If you don’t know what your root fear is, you can’t work to dispel it and figure out how to get over stage fright. The truth is that most of us carry our fears as beliefs about ourselves or the world, which then just turns into a belief about ourselves.

Dillon Barr, Head of Business Accelerator here at Thought Leader, teaches an exercise that helps people discover their deepest desire. We’re going to use the root (ha, get it?) of this exercise but in reverse, to help you understand where the root of your stage fright origin lies.

In his original exercise, you write “I want _______ because I want  __________.” and repeat this exercise until you reach the end of explanations.

For learning how to get over stage fright, we’ll do it slightly differently and focus on narrowing the fear you have, though this exercise works for many facets of life and not just for getting rid of stage fright.

> Stage Fright Origin Exercise:

Write down one of the dominant fears you have when thinking about getting on stage in the format of “I’m afraid ______ because I’m afraid  _______.”

I’m afraid people will laugh at my speech because I’m afraid they’ll think I’m stupid.

Fear: people will laugh

Reason for fear: they will think you’re stupid

Take that new sentence and use it to write another fear in the same form, using the reason for fear as the fear.

I’m afraid they’ll think I’m stupid because I’m afraid my topic is stupid.

Fear: they’ll think you’re stupid

Reason for fear: my topic is stupid

Repeat this exercise until you have run out of additional fears, which will give you the origin fear of your stage fright.

I’m afraid my topic is stupid because I’m afraid nobody will care about it.

I’m afraid nobody will care about it because I’m afraid it’s not worth caring about.

I’m afraid it’s not worth caring about because I’m afraid my work has been for nothing.

I’m afraid my work has been for nothing because I’m afraid of wasting my life on something unimportant.

I’m afraid of wasting my life on something unimportant because I’m afraid I won’t live a meaningful life.

I’m afraid I won’t live a meaningful life because I’m afraid I’m wasting the only life I get.

At this point, you will be out of additional fears–and your list can go on and on and on. If you have deeper fears, keep writing. You know you’ve reached the end when it hurts excessively to write down the last fear–you might even feel it in your gut. From here, take the last fear and create a “belief”. Your fear is the belief you have about yourself.

Belief: I am wasting my one life.

Our fears and deep beliefs aren’t often based on facts. We each carry fears about ourselves that aren’t usually in our awareness, but they show in many different ways as a method of avoiding those fears being realized.

That’s all stage fright is. It’s the fear of a deep fear becoming a reality because you got on stage.

So, in order to learn how to get over stage fright, you have to first prove your belief wrong. Notably, you might feel silly for your fear. It might seem a little crazy to believe, deep down, that you’re wasting your life despite actively pursuing this every day. But fear doesn’t make logical sense.

Write out the truth of your fear. Not what you think, but the facts.

Truth: I’m pursuing something that is meaningful to me and it helps others, which cannot be a waste of one’s life, even if the only person I helped was me.

How to Get Over Stage Fright & Stop Performance Anxiety

Now, even if you have the truth, your brain and body may not believe it right away. There is a whole list of fears you’ve just uncovered about getting on stage, and you’ll systematically work through them.

The solutions to many of those other fears comes with our process for learning how to get over stage fright.

1. Write & Read Your Truth Statement 

Your stage fright origin is the most important truth you’ll have. That should always be at the top of your paper and you should read it or recite it whenever you have performance anxiety come up with the thought of being on stage.

The more you can rewire your brain to think of the truth when you feel fearful, the easier it’ll be to stop the progression of stage fright in the first place. Your truth statement will halt the progression in the self-doubt stage, so you can stay in healthy anticipation, planning, and excitement.

Note: it also really helps if your coach, partner, or friends supporting you being on stage know what this statement is. It’ll feel vulnerable to share, but if someone else can also echo this truth back to you, it helps a lot.

2. Refine Your Stage Presentation

Many suffer from stage fright because they lack experience. It’s that simple. You aren’t sure what the makeup of a quality presence on stage actually consists of. Whether you’re giving a speech to an audience, a presentation at work, or are playing music, refining your delivery is important.

For many of those things, the refining often happens in the writing of the material.

We might think that people can get on stage and wing it, but the reality is that most presentations, speeches, and music have been written and rewritten, refined, and rehearsed before anybody sees it.

Every great stage presence begins with a person who doesn’t know what they’re going to do. That’s why it’s so helpful to loop in professionals who can give you some sort of idea as to where to start, what success looks like, and provide a road map to getting there.

Just having that will give you more confidence to figure out how to get over stage fright.

3. Sets & Reps

This is an exercise reference because getting good at being on stage and getting over stage fright happens with practice. You do it again and again until you feel comfortable delivering the material as you intend.

You’re strengthening the muscle of being on stage. 

The more you do it, the easier it becomes. Start somewhere. Start with your family! Then move on to your friends. Then join a local Toastmasters group and work on it there.

The opportunities are there if you look for them, and gradually increasing your experience to wider and wider ranges of audiences will help your mind understand that the audience isn’t important. What matters is how you show up and deliver your material.

And because so many of us have fears related to what other people think, this will help rewire our brains to no longer fear other people’s opinions to levels that it prevents us from being on stage at all.

4. Get Feedback from a Coach

Not from your friends, and not from audience members. There’s a few reasons for this.

  1. Most people don’t know how to give constructive feedback.
  2. People don’t often understand your purpose for being on stage.
  3. Others can’t always pinpoint specific tendencies that could be improved.

Hiring a professional speaking coach with experience helping in this area can make a huge difference. They know what a good outcome on stage looks like, and they also know how to deliver the feedback in a way that isn’t hurtful or useless.

Plus, if you can niche down and specify the type of coach, and not just hire a “stage coach” the better. Which means if you want to be able to give quality speeches on stage, hire a speaking coach. If you want to perform well with your band, hire a coach who works specifically with bands.

You can’t learn how to get over stage fright without developing some confidence on the stage. That confidence will come from many areas, but one of them is understanding where you can improve, and specifically working to improve those areas.

When you feel like you’re actively solving an area of weakness, that alone can help you learn how to get over stage fright.

5. Keep Your Purpose on Your Mind

Most of us have an easier time doing something uncomfortable if it’s for a good reason–and usually one not tied to us.

Even though you can make significant money from giving speeches on stage, that should never be what’s on your mind. Whereas if you’re giving a presentation that will help fellow coworkers or giving a TED talk that will impact others in big ways, those motivations can drive you to figure out how to get over stage fright and do it anyway.

The more you do that, the easier it is to shut down your own fears and “do it for others”.

Stage fright is common. Almost everyone has it and all for different reasons. When you figure out your stage fright origin and work to uncover its truth, you’ll be on your way to having more ease up on stage.


Bella Rose Pope
I'm a multi-creative in pursuit of doing exactly whatever I want in life. Former speaker of book things, fiction author in progress, life figure-outer in progress, societal rule breaker extraordinaire. Smells like: homemade bread, book paper, potted plants, & potential.

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