Imagine being in a situation where your whole career and life will be at stake. You’re preparing a presentation, and the audience is hundreds, maybe thousands of people. You try to focus as hard as you can on every move you make and every word you say out loud.
You try to do everything as perfectly as possible. If you take one odd step and land with your foot in a strange position, you’ve failed. Hopefully nobody saw it, but you feel like you made a mistake. This may change how people think of your performance: you are supposed to prove your worth but you can’t even walk normally!

You have no idea how everyone is reacting. Whenever you can, between sentences and changing slides, you try to take a look at the audience. You look for any signs, any hints of how the presentation is going. Are people impressed? Do they think you’re good or bad? Does someone think you look like an idiot? In those few seconds when you take breath you scan as many of the viewers as you can, spotting the ones that look like they have an opinion of you. The ones that seem supportive and interested make you want to focus on them, to try to talk to them more than everyone else.

Those who look at you with disappointed, bored or otherwise negative expressions make you want to hide. Try not to look at them – try to forget them – because the more you see of their judgemental faces the less confident you become. And you don’t just lose confidence in your presentation. You feel like you lose your worth. If these people think you are not good enough, that is the reality. It can’t be helped. Must try avoiding them, otherwise nothing is purposeful when you have no value.

Have to keep focus on how you act. Keep up the person you want to be. Make yourself believe it, and try to make everyone else see him instead of the person hiding within. Don’t make mistakes, choose some weaknesses to show. Carefully think which ones are acceptable, which ones degrade you the least. After showing them it’s easier to hide everything else. Nobody believes in a flawless person. They must see some or they’ll try to dig them out themselves. You don’t want that.

Monitor your body and how you feel. Are you sweating? Is your heart rate rising? Try to calm down. Don’t let it past the point where it’s visible. Try to lose focus of your body. Try not to feel your legs or tongue. If you let yourself be aware of them, you can’t control them. They start to bother you. Forget about the body, but keep up the exterior. Pretend that you don’t care how you are standing. Put your hands somewhere as if they’re in a natural place to keep. Use them to shift the focus of your face while talking, point things out by waving them in the air, empower your verbalics with their movements. Make sure everything looks fine on the outside. Try to do this without anyone noticing, and fix anything you can so that it seems like normal movement. Don’t touch anything too many times. Try to fix your hair with one handstroke.

Don’t show that your hands are shaking. Put them on the table, on anything solid so that they stay still. Try to make it seem like a normal position, or hide your hands behind your back if you can’t justify keeping them on anything. Don’t let your legs tremble, that will make it impossible to stand still. Try moving and making it seem casual. If your legs are too stiff, just stand still. Move your upper body with your arms so that it seems you’re not frozen.

Why is this presentation relevant to anything? Because that’s what my life is: a neverending show where I’m unwillingly the male lead. Every moment of every day when I’m not alone or drunk, these are the things going on in my head. Every decision to leave home means that I’ll have to put my game face on and start being a professional actor again. It makes me postpone or avoid very basic things when I’m feeling unusually anxious or vulnerable – such as going to the store to buy food or pretty much doing anything outside my apartment. Even going downstairs to the basement to reserve a time to do laundry has the risk of meeting a neighbor on the way. I can’t help it.


~ by Ndprs on February 12, 2012.

One Response to “Stagefright”

  1. Wow! This was a wonderful description of what social anxiety feels like. The worst part of it for me is definitely when I become too hyper attentive to my body and have to think about making natural, fluid movements so I don’t look stiff or awkward. Then while all those thoughts race through my head verifying that my body language and speech are perfect, I’m also desperately trying to hide the fact that I’m having an anxiety attack all at the same time while I try to hold a normal conversation.

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