Kafui Dey column: Stage fright—shift focus to beat it!

Kafui Dey column: Want to be more confident? Here's How!
Photo Credit: Kafui Dey/Facebook

Welcome! In this week’s piece, I’ll show you how to beat stage fright and I’ll give you five tips you need to remember. If you can spell the word S-T-A-G-E you’ll remember those five steps.

But before I get there, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I’ve been on the stage since I was twelve in class six when I played the part of Lawyer Bonu in a school production. Fast forward to now I am a TV presenter. I am a former host of ‘Who Wants To Be Rich’, the game show. I also co-hosted ‘The Morning Show’ on GHOne TV for three years.

I have a radio background as well. I was a morning show host on Star FM (Accra) for one year, and on Kapital Radio (Kumasi) for close to three years. I worked on Choice FM also in Accra.

I have an MC background too. I’ve emceed over thousand events over the past decade and a half. And so I am pretty used to being on stage and talking to strangers. I do that for a living. But it wasn’t always like this.

There was a time when I was really really scared of opening my mouth to express myself and state what was on my mind. I was afraid of meeting strangers and talking to new people. I was afraid of opening my mouth to talk. I had stage fright. You can imagine that prevented me from doing things that I wanted to do. You have all these ideas in your mind and you can’t bring them up because you’re afraid of what people will think or say. And you know the signs of stage fright.

I am not the one to tell you. But for those of you who are wondering or haven’t yet experienced it, I wonder whether there’s anyone in this world who has not experienced stage fright. Your heart pounds like a big drum, you sweat even though you may be in a very cool environment, your hands and fingers shake, your legs wobble, you feel like running away, there’s a sense of panic and anxiety. And it often happens when you’re called upon to deliver a speech, make a few remarks, or say something to a group of strangers.

Over the next five weeks, I will teach you the STAGE method of dealing with the fear of public speaking. And you can use it if you’re a musician who or an actor.

So the five tips are:

S for Shift focus
T for Train your brain
A for Achieve calmness
G for Get prepared
E for Express yourself

Let’s start with the first letter of the word: STAGE, which stands for Shift Focus. Now think back to the last time you had stage fright. What was going through your mind? Were you probably thinking “Hmm if I get on the stage will they like me, and if I make a mistake won’t they laugh? Won’t they boo me off the stage? Won’t they make fun of me? Won’t my life be miserable?”

These are the kind of thoughts that we get when we are about to do something that we haven’t done before or something strange. Which in this case refers to getting on the stage to speak to people. And it could even be people that you know but you’re just scared of talking to them.

What I suggest to you right now is to shift your focus. What am l talking about? Well think about it carefully. All those thoughts that pass through your mind. All those negative thoughts are because you are focusing on you. “What would they think about me? Would they boo me off the stage? Laugh at me? Will they make fun of me?”

So it’s all me, me. You’re thinking about you, you, you which can only put you in a worse state than before you were called to come and speak.

What’s happening is a bit like looking at your phone in constant selfie mode. You’re always looking at yourself and admiring yourself. Worrying about that pimple here, that mark there and “My hair is out of place”. It’s all about me, me, me, me, me, me, me. And I’m suggesting that you shift your focus by switching that selfie camera, making it a regular camera which looks out at the audience.

Instead of you focusing on what could happen, what could go wrong, what would people think about you if you were to fall flat on your face, rather focus your attention on the people in the audience! What do you want them to get out of your speech? Remember public speaking, two words. Public and speaking. The speaking part is what you do when you get to the end of this series where the E in STAGE stands for “express your self”. But the public part is the focus that you have to put on your audience.

Focus on your public. Who am I speaking to? What do I want them to achieve or get out of what I’m about to say? How do I make my speech such that they will get what I am trying to say? There will be complete comprehension. There will be complete understanding of what I want to get across. So the focus is no longer me me, selfie mode; but you, you, you, the person I’m speaking to. Or them, them them, the audience, the people, the crowd. And if you just make that shift in your focus, it will take away the pressure from you.

The way our brains work is that we can only focus on one thing at any particular time – you cannot have two thoughts at once, at the same time. You can only have one thought at a time. So instead of focusing on you and making yourself nervous and tense and anxious and scared and worried, focus on what you want to deliver to the people who are listening to your speech. The people who are watching you on the stage. So a shift in your focus is what will help you control, master or beat your stage fright.

Remember, ‘shift focus’ is the first of the five steps that I’ll show you in this series for dealing with stage fright. Come with me next week to Part 2 where I’ll show you how to train your brain to beat stage fright.

Leave a Reply