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The science of stage fright (and how to overcome it) - Mikael Cho

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Heart racing, palms sweating, labored breathing? No, you’re not having a heart attack -- it’s stage fright! If speaking in public makes you feel like you're fighting for your life, you're not alone. But the better you understand your body's reaction, the more likely you are to overcome it. Mikael Cho advises how to trick your brain and steal the show.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Mikael Cho
  • Director Robertino Zambrano
  • Artist Francis Solinap
  • Composer Adam Alexander, John Romeo
  • Narrator Mikael Cho
Additional Resources for you to Explore
The “Fight or flight” response is a natural process that is designed to protect your body from harm.
When you think about negative consequences, a part of your brain, the hypothalamus, activates and triggers the pituitary gland to secrete the hormone ACTH. This hormone stimulates the adrenal glands in your kidneys and results in the release of adrenaline into your blood. It is at this point in the process when many of us experience the reactions of this process. Your neck and back muscles contract (forcing your head down and your spine to curve) moving your posture into a slouch.
In 1982, a team of psychologists watched pool players play alone or in front of crowd. The study found that stronger pool players sank more shots when performing in front of a crowd, while poor pool players performed worse. Interestingly, the stronger pool players performed even better when people were watching them versus when they were playing alone.
Breathing and stretching before going on stage activates the hypothalamus and sends out hormones to trigger a relaxation response. Researchers tested a single session of slow breathing on 46 trained musicians, and the results of the study found that one session of slow breathing helped control arousal, especially for musicians that had high levels of anxiety.
Watch this video of Steve Jobs presenting the first iPhone.
This lesson is adapted from Mickael Cho's article about the science of public speaking. It starts like this: "Palms sweaty. Heart racing. You know the feeling. Whether it’s five people or fifty, public speaking is a gut-wrenching experience for most of us."
Avatar for Savannah chavez
I think the only way to deal with stage fright is just by getting it done. I am extremely introverted and have found that by getting it done first and quickly is so much better. Once I get in front of a crowd the words just come spilling out of me and I am confident in what I am saying but before and after I am a nervous wreak.
02/03/2015 • 
 10 Responses
 / 10 Updates
Avatar for Jag Singh
All relaxation techniques do not always work for some people. I have found a Dr's prescription of beta blocker dulls the fright and flight response,which is activated by epinephrine .
09/14/2014 • 
 2 Responses
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Avatar for Jean Eudes Agathe
Jean Eudes Agathe • Coromandel, Mauritius • LESSON IN PROGRESS
09/10/2014 • 
 15 Responses
 / 15 Updates
Avatar for David Chester
David Chester • Petach Tikva, Israel • LESSON IN PROGRESS
The explanation of how to avoid stage-fright is to take your subject so seriously that during its presentation the speeker looses all appreciation and awareness of his viewers. The Noble lauriate physicist Richard Feinmann explained this when, as a student, without difficulty he expounded his theories on quantum mechanics at Princeton U. without even being aware that both Neils Bohr and Albert Einstein were attending!
10/13/2013 • 
 3 Responses
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Avatar for Logan Mitchell
Us as humans excperiance stage fright in many way's how do you?
10/12/2013 • 
 7 Responses
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Avatar for Michael Vichiola
10/11/2013 • 
 6 Responses
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Avatar for Dominik Josip Ivošević
I like to not think of stage fright at all before coming to stage, just go out there and do your thing, don't be monotone, instead entertain your audience, be charismatic and don't fear failure, be in a headspace where you really don't care what will happen and it will get easier. Also prepare for your speech and you won't have to worry about forgetting something or getting lost in your speech.
11/05/2015 • 
 2 Responses
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Avatar for Meagan Freeman
Meagan Freeman
I have fears of stage fright but not on stage I have fears on the soccer field or in classes is that considered stage fright??
11/12/2015 • 
 2 Responses
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Avatar for Kali S
I would take deep breaths to calm my nerves, I would also think about other things to occupy my brain, and distract it from the nerve racking situation.
11/12/2015 • 
 0 Responses
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Avatar for Sarah Bankhead
Sarah Bankhead
My favorite ways are to play games or talk with friends. Another way is just not paying attention and looking straight to the back and not look at people.
11/12/2015 • 
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Avatar for seth nitze
06/20/2016 • 
 1 Response
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Avatar for peyton mihalek
08/03/2016 • 
 23 Responses
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Avatar for Brynn Erickson
I did a school play and practicing the breathing technique really helped me before the play. Another way to help prevent stage fright is to pretend you are talking to your pets, it works for me.
09/21/2016 • 
 2 Responses
 / 2 Updates
Avatar for safiyh hammad
What if you're afraid to make mistakes on stage what is the solution?
10/16/2016 • 
 1 Response
 / 1 Updates
Avatar for Adam Ericsson
09/13/2017 • 
 260 Responses
 / 260 Updates
Avatar for Amanda Bensen
Amanda Bensen
When I was in second grade at Lincoln Elementary School in Watertown South Dakota. I sang a song for the christmas talent show, I was forced to sing a song I didn't want to sing. It is now forever on the Elementary website. (the horror) My mom and I watch it every once in a while. (don't go looking for it, it's horrible)
09/14/2017 • 
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Avatar for Emily Shew
Emily Shew
The automatic nervous system is what causes stage fright because it comes from your nerves.
10/16/2017 • 
 2 Responses
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Avatar for Jesse Foster
It is the autonomic nervous system because it deals with your body.
10/16/2017 • 
 1 Response
 / 1 Updates
Avatar for Mikaela Ekehult
Out of the tips given in the video, or from your own experiences, what is your best way to overcome stage fright?
11/10/2017 • 
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Avatar for Chantel Whitcher
Chantel Whitcher
Explain when you get this, What do you do to help it?
01/10/2018 • 
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Avatar for Ayub Abdi
fortnite
09/04/2018 • 
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Avatar for Salma Yusuf
09/04/2018 • 
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Avatar for Mackenzie Warda
From in the past I have had very bad stage fright, but I think one way to get though it is to practice in front of you family members or friends. I feel like if you just keep on practicing public speaking it will help you feel more comfortable in the long run.
01/10/2019 • 
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Avatar for Marisol Marruffo
When I speak in big crowds I get pretty bad social anxiety, my heart starts beating fast and it gets harder to breath. I like to count from 10 while trying to maintain a steady breathing pace. Putting my mind in a different mind space. Trying to relax and look natural.
01/31/2022 • 
 0 Responses
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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Mikael Cho
  • Director Robertino Zambrano
  • Artist Francis Solinap
  • Composer Adam Alexander, John Romeo
  • Narrator Mikael Cho

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