Beating stage fright


Aditya Oberai

Job title

Developer Advocate




DevRelCon London 2023

Public speaking a key part of many developer relations roles. And stage fright is a natural reaction for many people. So, how do your overcome nervousness about public speaking?

In this talk from DevRelCon London 2023, Aditya Oberai shares practical tips that you can apply to help you feel confident and effective on stage.

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Key takeaways

  • Stage fright is a psychological phenomenon characterized by nervousness, fear, and unease when performing in front of an audience.
  • Factors that can cause stage fright include fear of judgment, fear of failure, inexperience, self-consciousness, perfectionism, past negative experiences, social comparisons, perceived importance of performance, external pressures, and circumstantial factors.
  • Tips for overcoming stage fright include:
    • avoiding caffeine and sugar
    • practicing performing
    • maintaining a support group
    • focusing on strengths
    • practicing mindfulness
    • breathing
    • taking your time on stage
    • using gestures and movements
    • engaging with the audience
    • laughing at yourself
    • remembering your purpose.
  • After the talk, it is important to relax, gather feedback, rewatch recordings, track micro wins, continue getting on stage to improve, and embrace imperfections.


Kevin Lewis:

I would love to introduce Aditya to the stage to talk about beating stage fright. Oh, it’s here. It’s here, me. It’s my job. I did it. And thank you very much for the standing ovation. Welcome.

Aditya Oberai:

Thank you so much for that, Kevin. I think that was a wonderful introduction to You Got This! I know I’ve been following some of the content for a while and I look forward to watching more of it in the times the days to come for sure. And to everyone here. Hi, good morning. Hope you’re all doing well. I hope you’ve all had a chance to grab some coffee, maybe a bit of breakfast. I know I need to, I haven’t yet, but I’m going to be doing that after. Now for this particular little talk that I have on beating stage fright, I know a lot of this comes from my own experiences of being afraid to be on stages and a lot of what I’ll be sharing is going to be based on my experiences, based on some little anecdotes or so on. So that was just one thing I wanted to mention that it is going to be a little experiential in the sense, and of course there will be tips, thoughts, ideas that go beyond what I share here that I would love to discuss and have from everyone as well.

So there will be areas where I would love to hear from folks. So we’ll keep this engaging, interactive. I think we’ll have a fun time. What do you all say? Yeah, awesome. Thank you. So just as I jump in, hi once again. I’m aia. I currently work as a developer advocate here at AppRight and I’ve been around tech communities, student communities, hackathons for the last five years or so. Now been working in devel full-time for two years. I just completed that on the 1st of September, so a few milestones here and there these days. Twitter’s a good place to chat with me. We can always catch up if you want to talk tech. DevRel. Pizzas football for sure. Any Manchester United fan around? Yay. Okay, I know these are rough days, but at least one that’s good. With the talk that we have, I do have an agenda that we will be discussing through.

I’ll start off by talking a bit about what stage fright is, factors that can cause stage fright for us. After that we delve into some opinions, thoughts that folks here might have as well as some that I’ve been able to collect over the last couple of weeks or so. We’ll then talk about tips through which you can battle stage fright for you and moving forward after the stage and what you can do beyond. So first up, what is stage fright? Anyone here know what stage fright is, by the way? Awesome. Kevin, would you like to share in your words what you think stage fright is?

Kevin Lewis:

This happened there for 10 minutes. Very self-explanatory. The feeling of being really worried and frightened before or during being on stage,

Aditya Oberai:

That is very true. That’s what I’ve been coping with for the last 24 hours by now. Good thing I’ve been doing it earlier rather than on here. Now when we talk about a specific definition for stage fright, of course the term there, it is quite self-explanatory, but I wanted something a little more extensive, a little more full as a definition. So I went ahead and asked Chad GPT. In fairness though, the definition was actually not too bad. What it referred to for stage fright was a phenomena, a psychological phenomena that is characterized by feelings of nervousness, fear, apprehension, unease that individuals experience when they’re required to perform in front of an audience, which is quite aptt because there are instances right when we’re up on stages, all of us probably within our professional careers as DevRel, we’ve had opportunities chances to be on stages and there can often be a feeling of uneasiness, especially in the early days, that feeling, that’s what stage fright is and it is characterized by a few symptoms.

Symptoms such as an increased heart rate, just feeling the blood pumping. I think that’s something that very apparently is felt when you’re experiencing the stage F rate. It could be nausea, having giness in your stomach, just feeling like you want to puke at that point of time, which I think I’ve been through a fair few times. Inability to concentrate, not being able to focus on your content, your slides, just losing thoughts at the moment. Rapid breathing, sweating. That definitely is something that I have personally experienced a lot. It does quite well go in with the point of increased heart rate. It’s an outcome of that. And lastly, dry mouth. Just feeling that you’ve got no saliva, your mouth’s dry, you’re not able to speak. These are some very, very common symptoms of stage fright that we do experience if we’re going through this phenomena. But these of course are symptoms.

These are how we are able to understand that we’re going through this. There are certain factors behind this and as you tackle stage fright, it is important to understand the factors that could cause this, right? Otherwise you’re trying to tackle with these symptoms, but you may not actually solve the problem underneath the problem behind. So as we talk about factors that cause stage fright for us, the first one that comes to mind is fear of judgment. I think this for me was the biggest factor as I started getting onto stage just wondering what everyone in this audience is going to be thinking about me, just one little mistake and you’re gone, that repetition’s done and you’re never going to come to stage again. I think that was always a big concern for me. So fear of judgment is definitely a big one there. Fear of failure was another.

What if my intended content did not reach the audience in a way I wanted? What if people did not understand? What if it didn’t work out? Inexperience for sure is another one, and this is something I believe everyone here is going to go through. We all have our first talks, we all have our first presentations, and it’s all right to be nervous about that because this is a new experience. So inexperience definitely can cause stage fright there for you. Self-consciousness is another one. The moment you’re so worried about how you are going through this experience that you end up focusing more on just dealing and battling with your own thoughts at the moment rather than working through the content. Self-consciousness definitely can be a hampering factor there. Perfectionism, you’ve gone, you’ve prepared that presentation a month in advance. You’ve practiced delivered it 8, 9, 10 different times and at that moment you just misspelled one word or you’ve got one word pronounced strong and it all goes off. Perfectionism has definitely been another big one for me. That’s something I had to learn to forgive myself for over time, for sure.

Yeah, these are some big ones. There are a few more that I have here as well. One being past negative experiences. If you’re someone who’s spent some time on the stage, you’ve had a few rough experiences, I think that always comes back to mind because it does further and further enforce a sense of self-doubt. It can do that. It is very much possible. Social comparisons, comparisons between peers around us, especially when there are folks with newer or maybe more extensive sets of experiences. The moment you see distinctions across that it is very easy to start comparing across the peer group you are a part of at that moment. And this could be experiences on the stage or experiences around the technologies or the content you’re discussing. I for one, have always faced this problem as I’ve tried to go on and grow as a technical speaker, especially with audiences with wide ranges of experience.

So it does a very valid factor there. Perceived importance of performance. I think it’s always nice to feel that what you’re doing is important. I think somewhere along the way we end up giving it so much importance that this perception we have starts coming in our own way of actually going out and creating an experience for the folks we want to talk to and share with. External pressures may be pressures from work. If you’re representing your employer, you do want to do well for them, you want to do fair by them. That could be one form of pressure, pressure of peers, their expectations. There are external pressures that we all experience and we all face and it is very, very easy to at times take them on as a burden rather than these being a support system to stand on. And lastly, there can be circumstantial factors here.

What if you’re at the stage and just at that moment your laptop battery ran out and then it just switched off at the moment, or you lost internet connection and maybe a demo didn’t work. Circumstances can cause you to fall astray from what you had planned. And all of these factors as we’ve gone through these all can end up causing a sense of worry, a sense of fear, a sense of uneasiness. I think through all of this, it’s just important to keep in mind that Murphy’s law is very much real when you’re on that stage. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It does very much happen. It’s something we all experience. And as we go through these, you could take these on as barriers, as hampering factors for you, or you could just learn to let them go, right? Because these are going to happen anyway.

These aren’t factors we can always control, but that’s okay. That’s all right. It’s all right to have them happen. It’s all right to go through a few stumbles and just go through anyway. Now, going through all of these causes, as I started noting these down for myself, I think I for one started feeling a little worried as to how any of us or I, for me, could actually learn how to deal with these. So my way to solve that was to go out on Twitter and just tweet out how to tackle stage fright or how to deal with these factors. What then resulted was a wonderful set of responses from some colleagues, some friends, some peers. I think there were so many, I’ve tried to put some of them on this screen. I know for a fact that I can’t go and read all of these or that these might not even be readable because of the sheer quantity of them, but I did put in a QR there. If anyone wants to scan that, that’s an easy way to access this little tweet thread of all of these responses. And if you want to interact with these folks, you can there as well. But considering this is the community opinions section, I would now love to hear from some of you folks, if you’ve experienced stage fright and how you tackled that, considering that’s what we’re going to be jumping into next. So would anyone like to share? Yeah,

Audience member 1:

I used to be a musician and we have this idea that stage right is actually a good thing. And the way you deal with it is that you breathe through it and then you go on stage. If you’re not, you don’t have any stage track before. And some people

Aditya Oberai:

That’s such a good point.

Audience member 1:

So we’re kind of used to, and it’s always worked like that for me. It’s always gone away magically the moment I stepped on stage, except one time I used to play the bassoon and I played an entire piece with my fingers shaking. I got through it, but my fingers were shaking the entire time, so sometimes it doesn’t go away. But most of the time,

Aditya Oberai:

No, but kudos you for getting through that and I totally relate. I’ve been there. I think the first time I was on stage was as a part of a koyo, so definitely relate.

Audience member 1:

Yeah, everyone.

Aditya Oberai:

Yeah, I think we had the,

Audience member 2:

I can make that up. I was, I can’t say tech. And most of the times you train a lot, you train your talks and when you go on stage you have a feeling you know nothing at all, but you have a muscle memory so you can believe yourself or you can rely on that, that the moment you go on stage, you just work through the talk. You work through the lens because your muscle memory works quite good. So if you train enough and train your talk, your body will take over and the moment you see the stage, it gets better.

Aditya Oberai:

Wonderful. Thank you. Yeah,

Audience member 3:

I still do this, but when I first started talking, I used to fiddle a lot with my clothing and I was doing tech talk, develop a bit of a constantly fidgeted and someone gave their bicycle me my hands like You’ve got to clicker, you don’t take a pen or water bottle and you fiddle with that. And that kind of calmed me down. I still am a lot, but at least I,

Aditya Oberai:

Yeah, I know Kevin’s had his hand up

Speaker 3:

Once told me that your whole audience wants you to succeed. They’re there because I’m here right now. I want to learn about beating stage fright. The old thing goes wrong, whatever. I’m here, I want you to succeed. Yes,

Aditya Oberai:

Tony. Yeah,

Audience member 4:

I agree with that. You are there. The audience wants you to succeed. They will help you if it goes wrong, they’ll be patient. I was taught for some people that if you can move a bit of the room, make it your physical room, move a chair, move the podium, take the space as yours for some people that can help. It helps for me, not for everyone. And practice, practice is really hard, especially if you’re away from any real people and it’s really hard to practice onto your laptop or your mirror or whatever by yourself. I for one, feel stupid when I do that. It still helps. The muscle memory thing is real. I’ll go with that. So I

Audience member 3:

Don’t practice, but I write out the whole talk as a script first and then I just reread it on the tube or everywhere, just read through and then I don’t look at again.

Audience member 4:

And no one solution works for everyone to go over everyone’s solutions and pick the ones that help you. Don’t worry if other people’s solutions don’t work for you. Go for what helps you.

Aditya Oberai:

That’s very true. Thank you so much for that. I’m going to take one more in the interest of time, but we’re going to talk more of this outside as well. That’s definitely something we can do.

Audience member 5:

My opt is practice and record yourself and watch it. How grin, it’s, I was a teacher for 20 years and you develop weird ticks and behaviors to cope with the stage fright, but that’s all people see when you grow up on the stage. So watch yourself back and pick up on your weird ticks and your behaviors and stuff. And I bet was always less different the kids at school. Oh hundred percent.

Aditya Oberai:

I think we’ve had some awesome points here. A little round of applause please.

Wonderful. Now I have a little anecdote as well for me as I get into how I started to learn how to tackle stage fright. I studied at a residential school. That was six years for me, six good years. And one incident is, there is this incident I had. This always stands out for me, and this was as a part of a one act play that I was a part of as a supporting cast member for my house. And this play, it was a rendition of Siro Deak. It featured a war scene. Now in this war scene I was supposed to get charged on killed essentially. And when you’re in a play and you’re getting stabbed, what happens is that whenever someone comes to stab you, it always goes in the armpits because you’re standing on the side, it goes through. So it looks like it’s gone through you, but you’re not actually bleeding out at the end of it. So works out well in the scene. However, I got stuck in the middle of my chest

And I had to roll off after that without screaming and then come back on just after because it was 20 years later and I was a part of the audience of this person who was telling the story of the war. So when I’m on stage now, whatever happens, no matter how wrong, it’s not going to hurt as much as a blunt wooden sword in your chest. So that’s my way of reassuring myself every single time I’m up here. That being said, I do have a few ways that you can’t use to tackle stage, right without getting struck by your blunt, wooden and sword as well. The first set of these, these would be more helpful for you as you’re preparing before your talk. The first one is, and this is something I’ve been practicing, is to avoid a lot of caffeine and sugar. Caffeine and sugar, as delicious as they are, can make you a little jittery every once in a while.

It helps add to the sense of, it adds to the energy, it adds to your presence here, but it can also make you more and more jittery. It can add to the nervousness as well. So it is something I’ve been consciously trying to practice and I think it helps me and some of my peers keep a lot calmer, so it’s definitely a recommendation. Secondly, practice performing that of course is one point that we come about to talk about every now and then. Practice of course, is something that helps a lot. And whether it’s in front of other people, whether it’s in front of the mirror, I like to do it in front of a camera every once in a while just while practicing. I’ll record myself. I’ll watch that again and again, trying to pinpoint what areas particularly I might be fumbling about. It’s helped me solve some of these spaces at least.

Maintaining a support group there helps a lot. So one thing that I’ve been practicing a lot now is that I have a set of peers who I’ll reach out to every single time I have a talk and we do this for each other as well. We’ll review presentations, we’ll give each other feedback, we’ll discuss about what can be added, what might not be necessary as well. And this way we’re all there for each other to work with each other. And it does help out a lot because it helps you validate both what you’re trying to achieve and the impact it can make. So a support group can be particularly helpful there. Focusing on your strengths, I think we all go through this nervousness and especially when we come to audiences with a variety of experiences where there can be more comparisons. One thing to keep in mind there is that when you’re on this stage, you are the authority on what you’re talking, right? That of course it does have a sense of pride that you can and you should carry. So focus on these strengths that you’re bringing here with you because everything else that someone else might be doing better than you. This is your thing, this is what you’re here to talk about.

And practicing mindfulness, I think that’s something I’ve been doing more and more recently. It’s another way to help keep calmer and calmer through this experience. My way to do it is on the days before my talk, I’ll just spend 15, 20 minutes, half an hour sitting, closing my eyes and just to my music. I like a bit of western classical every once in a while. So there’s going to be some Beethoven, some Mozart, a bit of Tchaikovsky, my pianists, I’m fond of them. So that’s my way of going about it. Meditation can be another, but it does help keep calm. And if you’re calm before you enter the stage, it’s definitely going to help you while you’re on the stage. Now with that, there are some tips that you can try while you’re on the stage as well, especially if things are going a little heavier here and that these can help a lot.

First one is to just breathe. Take your time up here. This is your stage, this is your space. And while of course respecting any of the surrounding aspects of it, you can take your time on the stage to express what you want in the way you want. So just breathe and take your time. Next up. I know we talked about having something to hold along with that gestures and movements can help a lot. This does actually help dissipate energy a lot. So quite, quite handy there. Engaging with the audience. One thing that engaging with the audience does that can actually be a big, big fear creating factor is that it humanizes everyone around you, right? Whether that is by interactions, whether that is by taking thoughts, whether that is by meeting people before you get on the stage. It does help a lot. So engage with your audience, laughing at yourself.

I think that’s probably the most important thing. I know there are times when we fumble, there are times when things might go wrong. And the fact is that as we’ve already heard, the audience does want you to win anyway. It’s okay if things aren’t going right. The best thing you can do there is just laugh at yourself, maybe crack a joke and move on. Why not? And yes, remember your purpose. The truth is that if you’re on the stage, whether it’s your own event, your own talk, or someone else’s, you’re there to fulfill a certain purpose. And as long as you keep that in mind, you’re going to be good to go. Regardless of whether, you know, think your content might be appreciated or not, because it’s been accepted anyway. So don’t worry about it. And I know we are getting closer and closer to time, but I do have just a last few points of things you can work on as you go beyond your event or beyond the talk. The first thing is, again, just relax, take a breath, it’s over. Now you can take a break and just chill for a bit, right?

It’s always good to gather feedback after the talk from people around you. It’s always great to listen to other opinions. If it’s constructive, it’s going to help you for sure. Rewatching the game film, one thing that I love to do is looking at my own recordings because that again, just like while you’re preparing, is a great way to pinpoint areas where you might have faltered things to fix for yourself. Next time. Tracking micro winds, especially if you’re a newer speaker, one thing that you can practice is picking out specific points or areas that you achieved through this experience. Things that you accomplished throughout and keeping a note of them. My way to do that is actually writing them out on a sticky note and putting them up for me because the moment I write it, it becomes real. So tracking microphones is a big, big win there. It does help boost a lot of self-confidence through the process and getting on that stage. Again, the only way you get better at it is by doing it more and more. That’s one thing with stage for sure. So the more you get on that stage, the more you will make it your home. And yes, lastly, it is okay to be imperfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. Just get on that stage. Anyway, with that, I bring my talk to an end. Thank you so much.


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