Biology The Cause Of Stage Fright? Experts Shed Light And More…

I read with ardent interest what Msn.com recently reported about public speaking. The article mentioned about the fear of public speaking and stage fright goes back to biological reasons with ourselves.

Yes, we are talking about the moments of trembling, fast-beating heart pulsations, the increased sweatiness in your palms and the blankness in your mind.

You are standing on the stage raised above, with tens, hundreds or even thousands of eyes scrutinizing you all over. Those images of hungry carnivores seem ready to pounce on you at the mere uttering of your words, if you should mispronounce them or abuse your phrases.

Feels like live meat, isn’t it?

Indeed, we are referring to these and more…

According to the report, the 3 most common symptoms of stage fright include dry mouth, short-term memory loss and sweaty palms.

And biologically speaking, Mary Fensholt, a consultant and author of “The Francis Effect: The Real Reason You Hate Public Speaking and How to Get Over It,” attributes this to “the digestive system temporarily shutting down, the adrenal gland-produced hormone cortisol flooding the body and our primate ancestors’ need for increased traction in the forest canopy.”

To take it further, “even blushing can be understood as a form of arousal to perceived danger; the reaction carries increased oxygen to all parts of the body.”

She tapped on the theories of sociobiologist Edward O. Wilson, and argues that “historically, being intently scrutinized and singled out was a prelude to being eaten by a predator, so human ancestors evolved a strong fear response against setting themselves apart from the protection of the group.”

Neat huh?

Shara Sand, clinical assistant professor of psychology at New York’s Yeshiva University adds that “stage fright represents the fight or flight response.”

“What primitively is going on is that there’s a kind of exposure and vulnerability,” she says. And even though there isn’t any real danger, it can feel like there is.

Well, it may not be such a bad thing

“A little bit of stress, a little bit of anxiety actually makes you a little sharper,” says New York clinical psychologist Lubna Somjee. “It heightens your arousal, it makes you cognitively more quick.”

What then, can we do about minimizing stage fright?

Somjee advises to do breathing exercises, visualization, focusing on relaxing your muscles and drinking a glass of grapefruit juice to stimulate the salivary glands.

And since “if you can relax your body, your mind simply follows.”

One of the key is realizing that your responses are completely normal, Fensholt says.

For even the best speakers and performers do experience stage fright. They just control it better.

Speak well to Excel!

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Explore posts in the same categories: Communication Competence, Excel Beyond Excellence, Presentation Dynamics, Public Speaking Success, Stress Management

One Comment on “Biology The Cause Of Stage Fright? Experts Shed Light And More…”


  1. Here’s a personal story that will give comfort to anyone who experiences stage fright or fear of public speaking.

    Some years ago, I was asked to be master of ceremonies at a dinner in which legendary Dallas Cowboys coach Tom Landry was to give the keynote address. It was a fairly small gathering of about 300 people at St. Mary’s University in San Antonio, Texas.

    Landry is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and he played and coached in some of the biggest games in the history of the NFL. Not only that, but as a 20-year-old bomber pilot during World War II, but he flew missions over Germany. He had been shot at. Now that can scare you!

    As he delivered his speech, I was privileged to sit directly next to the podium.

    What I saw really surprised me.

    Tom Landry was speaking to an audience that admired and probably even idolized him. There was no reason to be nervous in the least. In their eyes, he could do no wrong.

    Yet, from my seat less than three feet away, I could see Tom Landry palms sweating and his hands trembling as he read from a stack of index cards containing his notes. He was literally shaking.

    Like millions of other people, it seems Tom Landry was not immune to stage fright, or halophobia.

    After the dinner ended, I got up some courage and approached him. “Coach,” I said, “would you mind if I asked you a question about your speech?”

    “That’s fine,” he replied.

    “Do you get nervous when you have to make a speech.”

    Landry smiled. “Almost every time,” he replied

    “How do you overcome it” I asked.

    His response was memorable.

    “I remind myself of what I often told my players,” he said. “Walk through your fear with faith. And you never let the fear of failure become the cause of failure.”

    That’s certainly great advice from a great man for anyone who has to deal with a fear of public speaking.

    And by the way, next time you get a little nervous because you have to make a speech, remind yourself that if someone like Tom Landry can get stage fright, or halophobia, the rest of us certainly shouldn’t be ashamed if we do too.


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