Stage Fright

Stage Fright

Created: Monday, September 17, 2018 posted by at 9:30 am

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by Jerry Weissman

A Close Cousin of Writer’s Block

In the prior blog, you read about how the hero of the Hollywood film, Limitless, cures his writer’s block with a new drug that stimulates his creative capabilities. Concurrent with the film’s opening, a related article about creative paralysis appeared in the New Yorker magazine. Staff writer Dana Goodyear profiled Barry Michels, a real life therapist who treats blocked Hollywood screenwriters with his own unique methodology derived from the concepts of Jungian psychology.

Mr. Michels, whose starting rate is $365 an hour, also treats the stage fright that movie colony writers and other creative people face when they have to pitch their ideas—a subject near and dear to the solar plexus of every presenter. The presentation equivalent of stage fright is the pervasive fear of public speaking. Although Hollywood pitch meetings are anything but public; and Los Angeles is 3000 miles and a galaxy away from Wall Street, the angst is just as real and just as pervasive.


Image: Pixabay

Mr. Michels, who works in tandem with his mentor, psychiatrist Phil Stutz, treat their clients with three techniques that they call:

  • Visualization
  • The Shadow
  • Dust

Ms. Goodyear described how Mr. Michels uses Visualization:

Patients are told to visualize things going horribly wrong, a strategy of “pre-disappointment”…[that] involves imagining yourself falling backward into the sun, saying “I am willing to lose everything” as you are consumed in a giant fireball, after which, transformed into a sunbeam, you profess, “I am infinite.”

Mr. Michels’ version of visualization is a 180° reverse of “guided imagery,” a technique used by mental health professionals to get their patients to think positive thoughts and direct their minds toward a relaxed or desired state.

Positive visualization is also used in sports where athletes envision successful outcomes: the racer crossing the finish line, the basketball going through the hoop, or the tennis ball landing in the perfect spot across the net. This technique took wing in the 40-year old bestseller, The Inner Game of Tennisin which author W. Timothy Gallwey wrote, “Concentration is the act of focusing one’s attention. As the mind is allowed to focus on a single object, it stills.”

Mr. Michels considers the Shadow as:

…the occult aspect of the personality that Jung defined as “the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious.”

The Shadow is another negative point of view, as is Dust which:

…involves pretending that your audience is covered from head to toe in dust—“a nice, thick, two-inch coat of dust, like you’re going up into an attic and everything is covered, it’s been up there for eight months”

If Dust sounds familiar, it is. Mr. Michels and Mr. Stutz have coined a variation of a two-decade old presentation book called I Can See You Naked which recommended reducing the fear of public speaking by imagining the audience without clothes.

And if you’re beginning to see an unorthodox trend here, you’re not alone. In what has to be the understatement of the year, Ms. Goodyear observed, “Needless to say, neither therapist relates much to the wider analytic community, and both suspect that the techniques would be met with consternation.”

Nor do the techniques relate much to business community for one very simple reason: they ask their end users to apply imaginary solutions to real challenges. Business people require specificity: The “Show me” principle.

To overcome the fear of public speaking, presenters should focus on the tangible results of their efforts: how the audience is reacting to their presentation in real time. If presenters see nodding heads, they can continue; but if presenters see furrowed brows or perplexed looks, they must stop and adjust their content to clarify or explain what they have just said. This simple act will produce head nods, and this immediate visible change will diminishes the fear of failure that caused the stage fright in the first place.

In presentations, the endgame is a sea of nodding heads, not an image of the sun or a shadow or of a coat of dust. The only imaginary images are those of a bank of bright light bulbs going off over those bobbing heads, accompanied by a chorus of resounding “Ka-chings!”

See the cause and effect a change“Show me the money!”

Jerry Weissman

Jerry Weissman
Jerry Weissman is among the world’s foremost corporate presentations coaches. His private client list reads like a who’s who of the world’s best companies, including the top brass at Yahoo!, Intuit, Cisco, Microsoft, Netflix, RingCentral, Mobileye, OnDeck, CyberArk, Twilio, Zuora and many others.

Jerry originally founded Power Presentations, Ltd. in 1988. In 2017, the name was changed to reflect clients’ goals: To make an impact, to influence, to get results, to persuade. The new name is Suasive. As Jerry says, “The name has changed, but our mission has not: Be Suasive: Be Heard.”

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