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Readers share tales of stage fright

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Does the spotlight make you freeze, fumble and forget what you were going to say? You're not alone. In response to an storyon the biology of stage fright, readers shared stories about their own fears of being in the limelight — as well as tips that helped them get through it.

"I began to play and sing a Linda Ronstadt song, when all of a sudden I just stopped," writes Leigh McClure of Newport, Vt., about her first time playing guitar onstage.  "Mortified, I just started laughing, and told my audience I had stage fright. It wasn't a lot of people, but they were great. They cheered me on, saying, 'Keep going, keep going!' Even though I was embarrassed, their support and kindness gave me the courage to plow on and finish the song."

Keep reading for more responses.

I had to give a science report orally in the 8th grade and was so scared I could not speak. My wise teacher told me to take a seat and try later. She also gave me wonderful advice: Speak in public at every opportunity. I took her advice; before I graduated high school, public speaking was one of the most enjoyable things I did. I still speak at every opportunity and love it.

— Ralph, Thomasville, Ga.

My instructor in "Public Speaking" at the University of Tennessee once said to me, "You're the worst speaker I have ever heard." Terrified, I found it difficult to continue with the class, but it was a requirement for my degree. Fortunately, I read somewhere that theIndiansdeveloped their courage by running and shouting. So, on my way to class, I would run and shout. That helped. Today I am a Toastmaster and I earn my living by serving as a workshop leader.

— Lynn, Oklahoma City

After four years of college I only needed a speech class to graduate with a BS in psychology. I quit rather than take speech which of course required public speaking. A few years later I went back and got a degree in engineering instead.

— Anonymous

The first time I went up on stage to do stand-up, I was so nervous my legs buckled and I fell to one knee. People that I hadn't expected were there. An agent — even family had flown in. I sat there for a minute with my heart pounding thinking, 'What am I gonna do? Maybe I should just run and say I was sick.' Then I remembered I had a joke about my uncle (who had flown in). I knew he would enjoy hearing it — despite his rough personality. I stood up like I had been praying, crossed myself and said that my uncle was in the audience and I was going to tell some jokes about him being in the mob. So I was just getting my last prayer in to god in case I got whacked. And went on. I guess believing in the material, having the intention to do in and putting my focus out in the audience helped me get to my feet.

— Vincent, Los Angeles

I was at my senior graduating Mass. I was lined up with my class to enter the church when the priest came up to me and asked me to introduce the school administration to the congregation. I wanted to vomit. The whole time in Mass I could only concentrate on how nervous I was. I got up and began to introduce them and all of a sudden I forgot the name of our principal. Panic took over and I froze like an iceberg. My fellow classmates helped me out and screamed his name.

— Marie, Woodstock, Ga.

When I go on stage to sing, I've found if I look into someone eyes while performing, I stand of good chance of forgetting lines to the song. Although I've gotten better of the years, it has taken me years to be OK on stage.

— Tommy, Las Vegas

I have no idea how much my stage fright has cost me. It really didn't appear until I was a junior in college. By the time I was a senior, it had completely taken over my performing life. I lost the principal chair in orchestra, wind ensemble, band. I had to get drunk just to get on stage at my senior recital. It completely debilitated me. And because of it, I decided not to continue and get my master's degree in music performance. I was an excellent French horn player, God knows how far I could've gone, but I'll never know now. I stopped playing all together a few years after graduating. I truly miss my horn and my music, but even today thinking about playing in front of people makes my heart skip a beat. What hurts the worst is that I'll never know how far I could have gone in the music world. That is a regret I will take to my grave — but I have no one to blame but myself.

— Lori, Lawrence, Mass.

I was a young child of nine and was standing in front of a group of women and children, all familiar to me. I was to play my harmonica for a solo accompanied by my school teacher. She whispered to me not to be afraid just before I started to play. I had not been afraid before that, but was a little nervous because of her caution. Since then I have been nervous about talking in front of people.

— Ellen

My first encounter with fear came in a grade school reading circle when I hyperventilated and sputtered out an incomprehensible stream of words. The experience repeated itself over and over: in Little League batter's boxes, during high school driver's ed and when the teenage girl of my dreams stood waiting for me — on each occasion I shook so hard that I couldn't perform. Thinking that I was just shy and feeling woefully inadequate I headed off to the Army to make myself worthy of my imaginary lady in waiting. When I came back to find that she had married, the painful lesson inspired me to soldier on while occasionally choking in front of audiences and making a fool out of myself. When I finally went to a psychiatrist to admit that I had a problem, he said: "You have a severe case of performance anxiety and if you had seen a mental health counselor years ago you could have spared yourself a lot of needless suffering." For the longest time I thought that I was just a wimp and the only one who suffered from social anxiety.

— James, Highlands Ranch, Colo.

I was working for a local manufacturing company back in the 80's. I had been in manufacturing management for five years, but had never really been required to address a large group before. I was asked by my boss to address the employees during the United Way Fund Drive. It was a fairly big event with the corporate president, our company president, and several others from upper management in attendance. I remember thinking to myself "How hard can this be? Just get up there and be yourself." Well, I found out rather quickly that it could be quite challenging, painful and embarrassing. I remember approaching the lectern to give my speech when my legs gave out. It's a good thing there was a lectern there or I would have fallen on my face. I gave my presentation holding myself up by my elbows. To this day I have no idea what I said or how long I spoke. I do remember the glazed eyes and the questioning expressions on the faces in the audience. I have since joined Toastmasters and have been dealing effectively with this fear ever since.

— Jeffery, Stevens Point, Wis.

At Pacific Bell I took a class in Effective Presentations to prepare myself to give a speech in San Diego in front of engineers. What I had on the first line of my card so I could get my motor going was "hello, my name is Bob W------ and the rest was easy.

— Bob, Danville, Calif.

In my mid-forties, I entered to law school. My parents were very proud of my decision. My father often told me as much. Right before my second year of school began, my father passed away and I spoke at his funeral. As I took my place at the podium and looked down at the speech I wrote, I was so overcome with emotion that I couldn't even see what I had written. I grew up speaking in front of groups and congregations and this had never happened to me before. I stood there for a moment and remembered that my father was really proud of me and loved me, closed my leather notecase and "winged" it. Later, at the repast, everyone, including the minister, told me how wonderful my speech was.

— Karla,  Silver Spring, Md.