08 November 2011

Stage Fear

Are orators born? Are they blessed with an innate talent to address an audience with ease & confidence? I feel, from my own experience, that it comes with practice. And passion.


Little children don’t fear the stage so much. Tanvi is in UKG & has already put in more than 4 appearances, each with a smile.

Stage fright & the self-consciousness that causes it, comes much later, when you become aware of your classmates’ snide remarks & when they start making fun of what you said or how you stood.


I began participating in extempore during my high school, mostly during my 11th & 12th standard. It was not easy. I remember I used to be SO scared. I didn’t know how to hold the mike, how to speak into it, how not to breath into it. I learnt everything by trail & error & over many years & many attempts. But the overriding emotion I still remember was that of feeling extremely self-conscious. Of what people would say, will they comment, will they pull my leg, will I be a laughing stock, or will I be the joke of the century? As opposed to what people think that bachche bhagwan hote hain (children are like God), they can actually be very mean. They can jab into a classmate’s confidence with their cutting comments. The bullying can easily break whatever little courage one has tried to muster.


But, thank God & my teachers that I stuck on. Once I had tasted success, I never looked back. Every year, every competition, I was up there on the podium. The topics, the time, the audience nothing mattered. The high of being out there was a great draw. Today, I enjoy the energy in the room, the fact that I’m the center of attention, the spirited interaction that follows, the Q&A, the thoughts & ideas being thrown back & forth. It’s a high like no other - the thrill of holding the mike, facing the crowd, looking around the hall & knowing that your voice is reaching out to many. Some may concur, some may not, but most are listening to you (if you speak sense, that is).


But one must prepare. There is no short-cut. Practice at home. In front of the mirror, door, people, & wall – till you’re comfortable with your body, with the very act of standing, with your hand movements, leg positions, & various other gestures. Your body language is important to establish a connection with the listeners. You can’t stand like a robot & speak like one. Your enthusiasm, or lack of it, will get transferred to the audience.

Extempore is relatively harder. “No ideas” –is the common hurdle people face. “My mind goes blank. What do I do?.” The solution lies in reading -lots of reading. Read all kinds of stuff - books/magazines/newspapers. Reading can make you wax eloquent on “Sky is blue” just as on “Utopia is surreal” No topic is easy or difficult. It’s the way you approach it that matters. No one is interested in a PhD thesis style explanation, but what you “feel” & “think.” Who likes a human Wikipedia?


The jittery feeling before a presentation or speech is a good sign. Shows you’ve taken the task seriously. The nervous excitement keeps you on your feet & stops you from being complacent or arrogant. You try & give your best. And succeed. I still get butterflies in my stomach every time I go on a dais & start speaking. But once I start, there is no fear, & so, no stopping. You never really overcome your stage fear. You just get used to being on stage.

111 comments:

  1. Very well written! Even today when I look at photos of my childhood speeches I am really surprised as to how I did it. I am a lot more circumspect now. Really nice tips on mastering the art of public speaking! And glad that you have become very good at it! :)

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  2. I used to be shit scared..when I became conscious of myself while speaking on stage....when I was small..it was ok...but..along the way...I understood...that you have to shed the inhibitions and its ok to be nervous a bit...I have not done too much public speaking...so..i don't know..if I am good at it...when I started working...there was a kind of get together...and since..I was a junior most..there...the anchoring task came to me...and I remember..I wasn't that bad..and I actually enjoyed it! :P

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  3. Even I had a lot of stage fear in my childhood. Over a period of time, practice and consistent efforts have paid. Now I anchor, present and debate in a gathering with ease. Practice makes man perfect!

    Its really good to know that Tanvi is getting use to stage appearances at such an young age. When I was in UKG, I never knew all these. Wishing her all the very best :o)

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  4. i never had stage fear. But speaking publicly is an art which as you said can be nurtured with practice. I used to practice a lot for hosting functions. Nicely written...

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  5. @Raj: those are some memories - as a child behind a lectern giving a speech. sure it must feel very good now to look at those pics

    @Kunal: yes, Kunal 'along the way' is when we either keep at it or give up. Anchoring can be lot of fun. good luck star employee :)

    @Prashanth: that's great Prashanth - multi-talents - anchor, presenter, debater
    yes Tanvi & her classmates are doing very well. they began early. our generation took more time :) but we've all been good students alwa - practicing hard?

    @Saru: no stage fear! that's really nice to know. it's very rare. and hosting functions is lot of behind-the-scene work

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  6. True,stage fear can be overcome with practice and patience,it is because we focus on perfection,not performance,first try to perform and then focus on perfection.

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  7. Even during my college, I memorized speeches (written by me) and rendered it on stage. I was afraid of extempore, unless it was conducted in a smaller setting - A group of students in a class, for example. I thought that preparation and keeping the ideas jotted down and ready would make a better speech as I tend to go into all directions (sometimes without making sense) during an extempore!

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  8. What an extremely well written and very true blog post! I don't think anyone doesn't go through at least a little bit of nerves and anxiety when faced with speaking or preforming in front of a crowd.

    I took speech class when I started college and before each speech I had to give (a total of 4 I believe), I was scared out of my mind!

    But once you're up there, everything just flows if you are all prepared and know your stuff :)

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  9. some children are shy and some are very extrovert and love the attention..I had one of each type in my home:).As you have said, one has to prepare.practice and have knowledge about the subject one is going to talk about...

    Today in my home the shyone is fabulous on dais, because he has has mastered his subject..

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  10. very well written as you always write...
    but ya, stage fear is still going on with me :-(

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  11. @Ravi: very well said

    @Destination: yes, jotting down ideas helps to stay on track & make a sensible speech

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  12. @Kayla: true, the flow depends on knowing the stuff & being prepared.
    your speech classes must be etched firmly in your mind

    @Renu: one of each type !! :)))
    good luck to your 'shy one' & a round of applause for his efforts

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  13. @indu: :) no worries,it will go
    what about your poetry recitations Indu? how was your experience there?

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  14. You know what? Tanvi's snap, I thought it yours in childhood. Closer observation made me realize that it is Tanvi. Such a sweet-heart she is :) Some children are born shy. Some don't care a damn.
    But, ultimately one can overcome the fears in them. The simple mantra is "To err is human".
    Wonderful write-up. Good topic. Loved the flow of your thoughts.

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  15. @Sahana: i am all smiles at hearing that :) - Tanvi's pic to be me

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  16. Things were exactly same with me. I remember running to the loo just after my name was announced for the extempore while in 7th or so. :).
    But now, I love public speaking and I do it almost every week. But the stage fear is always there in the beginning.

    "Read all kinds of stuff - books/magazines/newspapers" BLOGs too.

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  17. @leo: ya when the name is announced there's like a sudden numbness we feel

    yup, blogs too :)

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  18. Awesome So True,

    My father had a biggest challenge when I was child :D he had to make sure no one utters the word Stage in any family gathering or get together, Just in case if someone does so I would jump and start showing my dancing and talking skills ;)

    The same nature has still not gone... ;)

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  19. @magic: thanks

    @Ramya: haha then if we ever meet, that would be the first word i'll utter. i want to see your dance :)

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  20. When I was a kid, I used to love going on the stage. Whether it was for a poem, or for a dance, I loved being on the stage.
    But later, after getting into high school, I eventually stopped. I would get nervous, and was scared of becoming a laughing stock. I'm trying to over come it now :)

    Nice post :)
    Take Care..

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  21. Sujatha Bingo! It is only till we utter the first word and then stage is all mine - the difficulty is only to keep my big mouth shut:) liked your post!

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  22. I used to win lots of prizes till fourth standard when I was ill and had to recite a poem. I forgot the poem half way and could not speak till seventh standard. I forgot one more time and later I managed! I was back to winning prizes but, it did take me a while...

    Now, when I speak in meetings, take presentations I manage pretty well....

    I completely agree with the practice bit, when I worked in tech sales, my manager used to assert on this point a lot. We did actually practice even while having lunch :)

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  23. Right post at right time..next week I have to give speech for our company event and I am having butterfly in my stomach because for a long I did not do this and I am praticing daily for last 15 days & still I am confuse & doubtful how my speech would be. I think God has compelled you to write this post for me.
    Thank you so much for your tips & suggetion:)

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  24. This one really reminds me of my school days and the way I went up on the stage holding my head high! Though it kind of gets you nervous at first, it also gives you a thrill and immense pleasure. :)
    P.S- Your daughter seems to be following your footsteps! Such confidence! :)
    typo check trial.

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  25. Schools & colleges were all super easy for me.. I would just slide through.. talking in public has never been an issue..But my first board presentation was a jolt..I was working on an IPO with my CFO.. on the day of the presentation.. his son had a fall and was hospitalised.. so as he was on phone .. he looked at the directors and the bankers and then said So Sunita will take forward from here.. I had 10 international bankers, 5 directors in the room.. Chairman and other directors from 4 countries connected on Video all staring at me.. SHOCKED is an understatement.. the first sentence that I spoke..even I could not hear :( :( ...But phir jo tarifon ke pool bande gaye humare liye wah wah wah.. I basked in that for years.. ;) .. stage fear ya i know what it is O_O

    ur gal is cho chweet :) :) :) ..

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  26. beti seems so confident! A good post. We all remember how scared we were when on stage. My son had an Assembly Program today, and he came home and said that his knees were shaking so badly, but he did well. Kids today have many opportunities in school to overcome stage fear. My younger son though is mortified.

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  27. hee hee hee.i can so understand what you are trying to say.once i prepared a speech and when the time came to face the crowd, i chickened out by stepping on the wire so the sound wont come :( i was shivering from fear literally

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  28. Reading helps a lot to overcome stage fear....I agree with it totally. Most of the times, our voice stumble because of nervousness; we get a bit shaky and the next thing that happens to us is, 'Forgetting the points'. At that time, reading helps a lot to make up with ur lost points. Once we gain some momentum, we can occupy the stage space easily!!!
    So folks, better get used to stage fears and don't forget to appreciate this blogger for posting this wonderful story.
    From: www.sriramnivas.com

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  29. I remember my first day as a lecturer in an Engineering College. I had to take class in front of 80+ high-spirited youngsters. I was holding the syllabus sheet in my hand and my hand was shaking so badly, I was scared my students would see it too. Thank God, I was wearing Sari, cos my legs were shaking badly too. But as time passed, I enjoyed interacting with students. There was never a dull day in teaching. In fact I think, since I took up teaching as a profession my confidence level in public speaking has increased tremendously.

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  30. I am loaded with stage fear! Infact I could probably be the queen of stage fear!! And it is mainly because of feelings of what people would think after my talk or what ever I am about to perform!!
    But definitely practice makes perfect!! But I wish I get over with this stupid stage fear fast!!

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  31. Talking in engineering college was easy but I still have that stage fear when I have attend my companys meetings...

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  32. @Philo: right, that happens a lot. high school is a trying time. hope you get back to enjoying your time on stage :) thanks for your comment, welcome to my space

    @Sunita: haha same pinch :)
    two motormouths i say

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  33. @Chintan: i can totally see you winning the prizes & later rocking the meetings but the 4th to 7th std lull seems like a big strain, years of wait & recovery there but you being you, you've always fought back - for small or big

    @Mithlash: you are welcome :)
    since you've been practicing so earnestly since 2 weeks, i am sue you will do really well
    just keep the SMILE on:)

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  34. @Nikita: hey your school days were like just a couple of years ago & most of ours out here are a few decades ago :))

    @Sunita: that situation was a horrifying one. i'd have surely wet my pants! girl, you rock :)
    no wonder you are the undisputed queen of bragbin :))

    @Nikita & @Sunita: no surprises there both of you - you on stage, head held high, enjoying the limelight. the confidence oozes out of your writings too

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  35. @Rachna: that's true, today most schools stress a lot on these activities & Sid seems to be doing his best & putting in all his efforts. Gautham will shine too. he is toooo young :) just a matter of time

    @Madhav: you stepped on the wire? hey bhagwan hard to imagine you like that. agli baar phaadu speech dena :))

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  36. @Sriram: surprised to see u here today. i thought you were busy with your exams!!
    yes, correct,the catch is in gaining back the lost momentum
    thanks for your comments & all the best for your exams :)

    @Prasanna: yes teaching helps immensely in the 'confidence to face large crowds' department

    i couldn't help imagine your shaking legs in the saree. true, thank god for saree :)

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  37. @Deepthi: i am so surprised to hear that.
    i always thought of you (because of your writing of course) as the BOLD, CONFIDENT, DARING & FEARLESS Deepthi
    come on, you need to live up to my image of you :)

    @DS: the more you present, the easier it becomes. cheers :) i am sure you will do just fine. good luck

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  38. I remember how jittery I was when I was to give my final thesis presentation. I knew my stuff, had done the work... but like you say... you start off stuttering and then the flow is set in.

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  39. I used to participate a lot in school in elocutions and drama. I actually enjoyed the butterflies in my stomach just before going up on stage. Little did I know that my participating in all these elocutions would later help me with my career as a model in India.

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  40. @Aathira: yes, in-spite of the initial hiccups, the flow sets in if we know our stuff inside out

    @Asmita: wow that's great to know - the growth curve

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  41. I have been an active participator in school CCA activities and wont deny that its only when u r well prepared can u deliver a good speech or perform well. But somewhere I also feel that some people r naturally gifted just like any other talent to 'steal the stage' :)


    sarah

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  42. I think it is a combination of both - talent and practice. I suppose we grow nervous as we grow older as we know that a lot more is at stake as compared to when we were kids.

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  43. @subtle: charisma does add its charm to the overall experience

    @Raajii: yes, kids have relatively fewer things to worry about. talent has a role to play, no doubt

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  44. A little reading of some quality stuffs won't harm my studies..........that's why I'm here!!!

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  45. Hey Sujatha, try joining ToastMasters .. its really cool if u like speaking.. am sure u wud enjoy it ...I so agree with u on the thrill of the speech..the podium, the audience, the butterflies.. amazing :)

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  46. I dont beleive orators are born.. look at me I have been on stage .. managed the whole show participated in debates and other places at youth festivals .. SO you see I guess I should also say Thank god and my teachers :)

    Bikram's

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  47. Nice post - definitely brought back many of my personal struggles on stage fright. Not just fear. I still perspire before speaking, but that's just it. Once I start speaking, there's no turning back :)

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  48. @Sriram: :)) point taken

    @Raj: thanks,yes, i guess its time i did that

    @Bikram: right on :)

    @Kiran: haha yes for some of us it's just the starting problem :) & then we are on a roll

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  49. In 7th standard I was asked to give a speech on Swamy Vivekananda in Swamy vivekananda auditorium.Singing,acting and other activities on stage were fun in front of my school mates,but for the first time i was to speak before strangers.Big auditorium with large audience comprising of students of various school plus dignitaries made me nervous.When i reached podium a sudden fear gripped me and i was faltering...Luckily my fav maths teacher was sitting in front row,i saw her ,her eyes were clearly giving me confidence,i regained composure within few seconds and spoke very well and got second prize.

    How strange we are..we never know how we will react in certain situations...

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  50. @Vinod: true, certain situations can bewilder us

    and that's a valid observation. sometimes we do derive confidence from a familiar, encouraging person in the audience. like your teacher

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  51. Sujatha, My experience is quite similar to yours.In spite of steering many corporate meetings and addressing many conventions I(at 62 years) do get a bit of churning just before the start even today- but once you get going things go on smoothly.Yes it all boils down to practice and extensive reading which builds confidence.
    Ram

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  52. Now that's a booster :P!!
    But I find myself a lot lot lot more comfortable with words!!

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  53. @Ramakrishnan: true Sir, the churning is inevitable, a positive sign :)

    @Deepthi: :))

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  54. it is a fiction :) I have posted the next part :)

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  55. it reminded me my time back in school..well its all about taking the first step right..I remember when I had to take part in a comedy drama , I was shivering like anything..but then when I went out there..I forgot everything..stage fear for me is that one moment only when you are waiting for your turn back stage..stage works for me when em on it! very well written Sujatha:-)

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  56. Nice post..i had a big stage fear during school days:) great blog!cheers!

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  57. All skills in life are learnable. I can relate to you. Once you taste success, you never look back.
    Pappettean

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  58. It is an art that can be mastered by practice.

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  59. Your post made me remember the childhood days when I was (due to my plump build) asked to be the elephant for some performance.. the elephant tag and the jibes haunted me for the rest of my school life.. I was off stage for so so many years, but finally I have learnt to face my demons, am taking public speaking lessons, hopefully will be able to entrance audiences some day..

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  60. "You never really overcome your stage fear. You just get used to being on stage."

    This can be used in the quotation books.

    A marvellous write-up to inspire and fight the fear of stage inside.

    You have so smoothly explained what even I used to feel but could have never narrated with so much of beauty and confidence at the same time.

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  61. Nice and useful piece. I am an orator and wellknown at that. My little daughter of 7 seems to be folloeing the footprints. following u now on.

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  62. @Philo: m going there now. all eager :)

    @Mishi: 'stage works...when i am on it' - that's so nicely put Mishi :)

    @ashok: thank you so much & welcome here

    @Pappetean: Nona? that's you right? yes all skills can be learnt if we put our mind to it

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  63. @Rajesh: an art alright :) that can be perfected

    @Suvi: i know how it is to be at the receiving end of nasty comments while growing up. sometimes we may forget the exact words but the feeling somehow sticks on for a while
    m so glad you are taking public speaking lessons. do well :) i hope so too that 1 day you'd enthrall your audience.

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  64. @Neeraj: :) you know how good that makes me feel Neeraj - the thing you wrote about quotation books. read this post & you'll know why:
    http://sujathasathya.blogspot.com/2010/08/sayings.html
    i was like "finally" :))

    @Jagdish: that's wonderful to know your young daughter is following your foot steps. moment of pride for you :)

    thank you so much for the comment & for following the blog.

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  65. very rightly said sujatha. Few years back I used to get nervous when on stage or over the mike but slowly with interest and practice i could abridge the gap. nice post !!!

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  66. Very well penned with a lot of insight! Enjoyed reading..

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  67. i am still fighting to that "butterfly" ....

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  68. Not only for giving speech, but for (even) giving a smile, people hesitate as they grow up! Kids are never scared of smiling at people. But elders are really scared to smile even at the near and dear friends. What a paradox!

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  69. Beautifully written. It was nice going through it. Yes, you're right about getting that stage phobia once we turn old, when our friends start making fun of how we presented ourself on the stage. When I was in school, I never used to have that fear of talking in front of the masses. I took part in several elocutions and even won holding any fear whilst talking in front of a crowd whereas now when I have to give sessions in office, I do feel a bit afraid whilst talking in front of my colleagues. Beautiful post once again, can't agree more on this.

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  70. @trupty: true, effort & interest always pays well

    @Rahul: thank you so much Rahulji,welcome to my blog

    @Nona: hey its u? again? then who was the 'anonymous' who commented as Pappetean above?

    @guru: :)
    welcome here & thanks for reading

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  71. @sibi: paradox!

    @Aakash: thank you so much Aakash! surprised and happy to see such a long response from you. usually your responses are very short, crisp, just 2-3 words

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  72. What a great post- so true on so many points- when I view kids who dare to just say whatever they want in front of an audience, it reminds me that many of our fears latch on during our years pf growing up. I loved your ending!!

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  73. I agree. The pain and the amount of effort that goes into building one's confidence to hold the mike, dies away, the minute, friends and classmates, on the pretext of having fun, mock at us. Somehow I never had/have this stage fear. I used to act in plays at school and then I took over to compering in college. But as you said, it requires practice and a lot of effort to actually hold the mike in front of a crowd of 1000.

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  74. @Anjuli: thank you Anjuli

    @Ashwini: yes,a crowd of 1000 can be quite intimating at times.

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  75. it's practice...the fear is in the mind...but no matter how experienced one is, one or two butterfly still remains in the stomach...

    very well written :)

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  76. @SUB: thank you, yes 1 or 2 still always remain :)

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  77. Well Written.

    I always used to be bit scared on any presentation, But thankfully that usually last less than a minute after i begin my presentation. Then i feel as usual.

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  78. Good one, I am not one of those who ever had a problem with public speaking but I remember a debate in 10th standard when I forgot my script, have never memorized a script after that and mostly keep key bullets and develop the speech around it. Also one might want to check out www.toastmasters.org

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  79. During my early childhood days I used to be a timid participator in Oratory competitions and enjoyed some success. As you said there is no substitute for practice esp. during early days of speaking publicly. Thanks for this educative post.

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  80. Can't really say whether public oratory skills are innate but yes they do get enhanced with practice. However, I think you are at your best on stage when you start enjoying the ambience. Persoanlly for me being on stage always gives me a high, an opportunity to express myself without giving a damn to what others might be perceiving of me (remember even in a crowd of a 1000 well well-wishers, there would always be one who you cant please) and that I think leads to a good show.

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  81. @Jagan: thank you :)

    @Vikram: thanks for the link Doc. will go check now.

    @Zach: welcome to my blog & thanks for the response

    @Ashutosh: yes, that feeling contributes a lot. and true, you cant please all the people all the time

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  82. the post was thought provoking...we all know about it,,,but hardly ever thought so much about it...great work,,,
    in fact talking about my stage fear.. i was very much confident in school days,,,but now it seems the stage fear is building slowly in me..may be because i have stayed away from public speaking for a long time

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  83. @The Madrasi: thank you for stopping by & liking the post :). yes, staying away for long periods of time can make us think if i can do it again as well as i did in school. do get back to it every chance you get

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  84. Thank you so much for your comment :) Comments from bloggers like you encourage me to write more :)
    I have done a follow up. Thank you so much for your kind words :)

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  85. sujata you are so sweet I just love your comment on my blog..and wat can i say about your writing its always feel good to read your blog and know about you more...keep rocking:)

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  86. A nice post on stage fear which is a common phenomenon for the first time speakers. Your daughter is very cute and she has no stage fear at all with her smiling face.

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  87. @Philo: i read that too :) lovely i say

    @Shoaib: hey thanks Shoaib. Btw, you need to keep a tab on your dashboard for my comments on your other older posts too

    @Ashutosh: thanks :)

    @Saibaba: :) yes Sir hope she continues in the same way

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  88. Now that is an awesome post.....very encouraging for people who are mowed down by stage fear.....and I believe, children must be encouraged a lot when it comes to elocution or any thing that involves the stage (like dramatics). It boosts the morale and the confidence of a child to undefined heights.....a very well written post! Keep writing.....cheers and God bless...!!

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  89. @shoaib: :)

    @Rajendra: thank you

    @Narayani: thank you so much for the lovely comment and yes i agree the earlier we start the better with the children

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  90. very well written

    sanjay bhaskar

    http://sanjaybhaskar.blogspot.com

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  91. Great!! Simply loved the post Sujatha, a beautifully written one. How very true!

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  92. Loved this post.As a child I didnt fear dancing in public or being the only dancer people looked at and said"AW".but like you mentioned,when you are aware of yourself or worried about what people might think,you tend to be scared.I jumped on stage during my college years and Must say I love being on stage.I think if I had to stand in front of scholars and scientists,I may pee in my pants but where I know I dont have to work on my brain muscle that much,Im fine.

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  93. @Suzy: laughing at the last lines :)) yeah that's true it can be quite unnerving

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  94. Haah, can't agree more with you Sujatha. I can empathize each and every line of your post. I can still remember my very first presentation in UG. Completely scared, nervous and stomach full of butterflies and mumbled words. But I gotta good friend who pushed me to speak in front every time there's an opportunity.

    As you said, speak in front of mirror, be conscious about body language, hand gestures etc. I've done everything each time I had a chance to take a seminar in class.

    Its nervous just in the beginning, but once you take off, there's no stopping. Great read! :)

    And hey, a great new look to your blog since my last visit. Kewlio :)

    Cheers!

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  95. @Anand: yes some friends do a whole lot of good to us at crucial moments. their support & encouragement makes a difference.

    you must be a Pro now :). true only in the beginning its bit jittery then if we know our stuff well,its smooth sailing after that

    Kewlio? whats that?

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  96. Sujatha, kewlio is an internet lingo..
    cool -> kool -> kewl -> kewlio :)

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  97. @Anand: oh thanks Anand. learnt new word :)
    you know for a long time i didnt know what ROFL or LMAO was! then i asked someone

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  98. Awesome Post.....Took me back to my school and college days....!! Used to just shiver on stage.....!! Still i get chills running down my spine when I think of that...!! Exceedingly well written..!!!

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  99. but i always had stage fear, even when i was a small kid. i remember when i was a kid, i cried a few times on stage (hope no one is reading this post anymore) and could never overcome this fear. i always try to scrutinize those subtle reactions of people listening to me rather than focusing on the subject.

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  100. @Deb: some say that once on stage, you need to tell your mind, "these people here are all fools." it builds confidence :D

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