This project is a requirement of the GOA Abnormal Psychology Course. Using the process of design thinking, a challenge in the world of mental health was identified, interviews and research were undertaken, and a solution prototype was developed. Below you will find information about the identified area of concern and my proposed solution. Please feel free to provide feedback on this prototype, using questions such as “How might we…”, “What if….?”, “I wonder….”, “I like…”, and “I wish.” Keep the comments positive, please. For more information on the process of Design Thinking, click here.
Have you ever been nervous to speak in front of people, maybe to give a class presentation or a speech? Chances are, your answer is yes. It’s estimated that as much as 75% of the population struggle with stage fright or performance anxiety on a daily basis. However, middle and high-schoolers are still asked regularly to get up in front of their peers and speak.
Scientifically, stage fright/performance anxiety is referred to as “glossophobia”, and it affects nearly everyone. When people are asked to list their phobias, some of the common ones will be life-threatening things like spiders, death, or falling–followed by something certainly not life-threatening: public speaking! For this project, I interviewed a lot of people struggling with this, including my friend Jack*, who’s only recently started experiencing public speaking anxiety. As Jack states, “I used to be really good at public speaking, but then I started moving around a lot and I got to a stage where…I guess it was confidence issues. I couldn’t get in front of people and just speak.”
Public speaking often bleeds into theatre performance. As a performer for ten years, I’m greatly acquainted with stage fright. Often people tell me things like, “Why are you worried about presenting this project? You sing in front of hundreds of people all the time!” When they tell me this, sometimes I want to laugh because for me personally there’s no real connection. It’s hard to use the techniques I employ in theatre in “real life”. I was intrigued by this connection and so I decided to interview three peers who participate heavily in theatre and performance art–Grace*, Salina*, and Claire*. I asked them to link how they felt about performing into public speaking, and inquired as to the hardest part of public speaking for each of them. Salina and Claire agreed that making announcements at assemblies is tough, while Grace said doing class presentations stressed her out the most. I then asked how they cope with this anxiety:
Grace: “Especially when it’s in a group of people that I know, they’re all there to see you succeed. Everyone’s rooting for you.
Salina: “I pretended to play a character. It made me feel more secure.”
Claire: “Revealing my insecurities, like if I’m in a small group and I say “okay I’m trying my best here” and everyone’s reaction kind of shows that they’re with you.”
Sometimes it feels like teachers just don’t understand the anxiety kids are feeling about public speaking, but as a teacher it can be a really fine line between tough love and understanding when a kid needs a break. To gain more information on this, I interviewed Charlie Alexander, who teaches theatre performance and technical theatre to middle and high schoolers. “I have never experienced a show in which I did not have to deal with [stage fright],” he says with a laugh. “I think that it’s usually finding the balance between pushing the kid to use the opportunity as a growth experience and knowing when to back off and you sort of have to read each situation individually. 9 times out of 10 it’s giving them the tools that they need to get their anxiety under control and push through the performance and when they do that they grow an awful lot, but sometimes that’s just not possible.”
What are some alternatives that we can find to public speaking? For kids that have chosen to perform in shows, the situation is a bit different, but what about the kids that are forced up in front of a room and told to speak? There have got to be other options for kids challenged with anxiety.
Overall, there’s a really interesting link between performance anxiety and regular stage fright in performers. As Salina says, ““There’s a difference in vulnerability. If the audience judges the character you’re playing it’s not a reflection on you.” I think that one important thing to remember when dealing with both is something Charlie said: “Performance isn’t about it going perfectly it’s about how you react when it doesn’t”. My next steps in exploring these topics are talking to my school’s administrators. Charlie is an exception, as he deals with performance specifically, but a lot of teachers don’t really understand or go beyond the thought train of “oh, they’re feeling nervous.” Alternatives to presenting in front of a class, like an additional paper or a Powerpoint, can be given. Performance anxiety is a very real thing that impacts a huge number of kids, and more people need to start talking about it.