The science of stage fright is a Ted-Ed lesson about our difficulty to speak in public. As Ted-Ed points out, "But the better you understand your body's reaction, the more likely you are to overcome it. Mikael Cho advises how to trick your brain and steal the show."
Watch the lesson and say whether the statements below are true or false.
The activity is suitable for (strong) intermediate students.
Also remember that if you drop by the lesson on Ted-Ed you will be able to do another listening comprehension activity together with some other suggestions to explore the topic.
1 What you feel at a podium is called stage fright.
2 Public speaking can threaten our reputation.
3 Charles Darwin experienced an uncontrolled reaction at the London zoo.
4 We have difficulty in seeing distant objects when affected by stage fright.
5 Stage fright is all psychological.
6 Practice may help us to control stage flight.
7 Some exercises might help us reduce stage flight.
Palms sweaty, heart racing, stomach in knots, you can’t cry for help. Not only is your throat too tight to breathe but it’s so embarrassing. No, you aren’t been stalked by a monster, you’re speaking in public, a feat some deem worse than death. See, when you’re dead you feel nothing, at a podium you feel stage fright.
But at some point, we all have to communicate in front of people, so you have to try and overcome it. To start, understand what stage fright is. Humans, social animals that we are, are wired to worry about reputation. Public speaking can threaten it. Before speech, you’re frightened. What if people think I’m awful, that I’m an idiot. That fear of being seen as an awful idiot is a threat reaction from a primitive part of your brain that is very hard to control. It’s the fight or flight response, a self-protective process seen in a range of animals most of which don’t give speeches.
But we have a wise partner in the stage of freaking out: Charles Darwin tested fight or flight at the London Zoo snake exhibit. He wrote in his diary: My will and reason were powerless against the imagination of a danger which had never been experienced. He concluded that his response was an ancient reaction unaffected by the nuances of modern civilization.
So to your conscious modern mind, it is speech. To the rest of your brain, built up to code with the law of the jungle, when you perceive the conscious the possible consequences of blowing speech time to run for your life and fight to your death.
Your hypothalamus come to all over the brains, it triggers your pituitary gland to secrete the hormone ACTH, making your adrenal gland shoot adrenalin to your blood. Your neck and back tense up, your slouch, your legs and hands shake and your muscles prepare for attack. You sweat, your blood pressure jumps, your digestion shuts down to maximize delivery of nutrients and oxygen to muscles and vital organs. So you get dry-mouthed, butterflies. Your pupils dialate is hard to read anything up close like your notes, but long range is easy, that’s how stage fright works. How do we fight it?
First, perspective. This isn’t all in your head. It’s a natural hormonal full-body reaction by an autonomic nervous system on autopilot. And genetics play a huge role in social anxiety.
John wanted to play live thousands of times. Each time he vomited beforehand.
Some people are just worried to feel more scared performing in public. Since stage fright is natural and inevitable, it will never go, focus on what you can control.
Practice. A lot, starting long before in an environment similar to the real performance. Practising any task increases your familiarity and reduces anxiety so when it’s time to speak in public you’re confident and you’re yourself at the task in hand.
Steve Jobs rehearses epic speeches for hundreds of hours starting weeks in advance. If you know what you’re saying, you’ll feed off the crowds energy instead of letting your hypothalamus convince your body is about to feed lunch for a pack of predators.
But, hey, the vertabrate hypothalamus has had millions of years more practice than you. Just before you go on stage, it’s time to fight dirty and trick your brain. Stretch your arms up and breathe deeply, this makes your hypothalamus trigger a relaxation response. Stage fright usually hits hardest right before the presentation, so take that last minute to stretch and breathe. You approach the mike, voice clear, body relaxed. Your well-prepared speech convinces the wild crowd you’re a charismatic genius. How? You didn’t overcome stage fright, you adapted to it and to the fact that no matter how civilized you may seem, in part of your brain you’re still a wild animal. You’re a profound, well-spoken wild animal.
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