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Jon Beaupré is a voice and performance consultant for radio and television performers. Under the name Broadcast Voice, he provides private training and workshops for reporters, anchors, sports and weather casters, and others working in electronic and broadcast media. He teaches in the Broadcast Communications program at California State University at Los Angeles, and conducts workshops and seminars with the Associated Press Radio and Television Association. He has been a fixture on the convention circuit, teaching workshops at a wide range of specialty journalism and broadcast conventions and stations on both coasts of the U.S.

A Frightening Experience

January 21st, 2002

Stage fright is an absolutely common condition, and if you don’t suffer it on a regular basis, you may at some time in your broadcasting career find that your words fail you, your blood pressure increases, your heart beats faster, and you find that you are struggling to just get words out - and often feel that you are sounding like a lunatic.

First off, everyone suffers it at some time or other, so be easy on yourself. Remember, even if you totally screw up on your story, it is only one of 20-30 in your news cast, on only one cast of the day, only one day of the week, at only one station in one market in the country (unless you are working for a network!).

Second, the spiraling nature of this kind of anxiety make it particularly hard to stop. You hear your voice, sounding stupid. That makes you more tense. That blocks your ability to think clearly. Your words and voice come out even more strangled. That makes you feel more stupid, more tense, and on and on it goes.

On the other hand, by comparison, when you are doing well, your voice sounds good, you feel confident, you know what you are talking about, which makes your voice sound good, etc.

While there are no quick fixes for this kind of awful, painful experience there are a number of observations which might help.

1. While you can’t wish your stage fright away, you can interrupt it, physically, at least. Simply by taking in your breath - a big healthy one - and as you release it, let your body go limp. Each succeeding breath, relax your body even more. After two or three breaths, you should be as limber as an old rag.

2. Make sure you know your story inside and out, not only the copy, but the subtext, meaning, and context in which it is told. The fear mostly comes from the unknown, and the more you take charge, the more your own confidence will increase.

3. When you screw up on a story, take that story and work on it well after the fact, when the smoke has cleared. At that point, it is impossible to screw the story up more, since you’ve already done that. Use this low pressure, low risk setting to gain valuable insight and experience.

4. While there are short term fixes that MAY help, in general, familiarity is what ultimately triumphs over stage fright. If you are tense on your first ten stories, I assure you, by your thousandth, or ten-thousandth story, it will be old hand to you. In fact, after much experience, the harder thing is to capture some of the freshness and urgency of those early stories.

5. Don’t underestimate the effects of relaxation exercises, such as you might find in Yoga or a meditation class. Over a long period, they can give you an inner tranquility and sense of perspective that will inform your stories with a confidence and enthusiasm that would otherwise be missing.

And, of course, keep breathing!