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Monday, February 10, 2014

Stage Fright

I remember the first time I had to speak in front of a big crowd. It was 1993 at the New York City’s Marriott Marquis. Epson was giving me their MVP Award for an advertising campaign and the luncheon was filled with 1,000 or so industry mucky-mucks and some of the holdovers from the Mad Men era were in attendance. The only thing I that saved me from passing out was playing Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 classic Stage Fright over in my head.

Stage Fright starred a young Mrs. Ronald Reagan (Jane Wyman) and Marlene Dietrich focusing on Wyman’s search to prove her friend's innocence and a cameo by Hitchcock. I kept telling myself if the unattractive penguin (sorry Sir Alfred!) could overcome his own stage fright and appear in his own movie then I could speak for ten minutes to a bunch of starch collars about a campaign I had poured my heart and soul into for the past year. And, just like that I never looked back. Now I can speak to anyone about everything.

But certainly there has to be a better way, right? That’s when I ran into award-winning film director, producer and writer Dr. Richard R. Reichel whom recently penned the new book, “Everybody is an Actor,” (, a guide to achieving success in the film industry and in life.

MEDIA GUY: More confidence, less stress, discovering inner resources, improving relationships – there are thousands of self-help books to help us accomplish these, but do they work?

DR. REICHEL: Self-help strategies can work, as far as they go, but they don’t address a key component that affects everything from how we feel about ourselves to how successfully we interact with others.

MG: What’s the key component to make it all work?

DR. R: That key component is the fact that we’re all actors -- at work, school, home, even alone in front of the bathroom mirror. We’re always playing the character of ‘Me,’ but we also have to play other characters. The better we are at it, the happier and more successful we’ll be.

MG: What exactly is stage fright and how does it affect the psyche?

DR. R:  Stage fright undermines concentration and we lose our character objective. Why do so many people cower in light of their dreams? Why do they procrastinate on getting their degree? Why do they tremble at the thought of approaching Mr. or Ms. Right? It’s because of stage fright.

To overcome stage fright, Dr. Reichel offers these tips from the Psychophantic System he developed to mold both life and film actors:
  • Control stress with a “mind walk” and “confocal contemplation.” Today, stress is associated with a variety of chronic illnesses. In addition to regular exercise and sleep nourishment, consider a “mind walk,” or a pleasant thought that stops the stress and replaces it with something positive. In the same vein, practice “confocal contemplation” by allowing your mind to wander into a cloudlet of peace and relaxing your body. Then, while thoughts are peacefully drifting, flex your feet, ankles, calves, shins, knees, buttocks and hips – and release. Feel the weight of your entire body while your mind remains free, and repeat the exercise. 
  • Practice projecting your emotions. How many times have you daydreamed about how you will express yourself when a particular situation arises? In the same way, we need to rehearse how we project our emotions in social situations. Try practicing emotional expression in front of a trusted friend or loved one. If someone has made you happy and joyous, rehearse how to show them in the moment. Showing love and laughter can strengthen bonds, and learning how to express anger, sorrow and fear in appropriate ways will improve your ability to communicate and foster understanding.
  • Winning your audience by emphasizing character strengths. No one is good at everything, but everyone is good at something. In order to get what you want in life, you simply need to do what you’re good at. Your audience may be an employer, coworkers, family or a potential date. Can you make them laugh, understand or otherwise feel deeply what you’re expressing? Appealing to their emotional responses can go far. Keep in mind the hearts and minds of your audience, including the setting and what they must be experiencing during the “performance.” Be aware of your vocal projection and body language. You will be remembered for your performance, which will lead you to better roles and, in the case of daily living, better relationships.