Terry Turner -- Butterflies in Formation

Theresa Turner
GIFTS Workshop
October 14, 2010
Making the Butterflies Fly in Formation
In many college classes, students are required to make individual or group presentations. However,
the number #1 fear of most students is Public Speaking, and so the instructor finds him or herself
dealing with students in everything from “hyper-anxiety mode” to “absent the day of the
This lesson and the activities included are proven techniques that students can use to lessen stage
fright, and to “manage” the absolutely normal nervousness when one is called upon to present.
Between 20 and 50 minutes or more. This can be expanded or compressed, depending
on the amount of time you wish to spend on it. (For example, passing out handouts
takes longer than telling students or writing on the board.)
Handout on “Performance Activity” – attached.
Description: Performance Anxiety or “Stage Fright” Lesson and Activities
Form the class into groups of 4 or 5, and pass out the handout attached, or your version thereof.
Then go through the handout with the students, having fun doing the activities, discussion and lecture
as given. Of course, you can adapt or change this in any way, and you can adapt this to any specific
Processing (Debriefing the Activity):
You can process each of the steps in the handout that you choose to do after completion of the
activity, lecture, etc. by reminding students that these are tools to help in the very normal process of
“Stage Fright/Performance Anxiety”. As the saying goes, “You will always have butterflies, but you can
teach them to fly in formation.” (Using these tools, you can take control of the nervousness that is a
perfectly common and universal reaction to a stressful situation such as public speaking.)
Performance Anxiety – or - “Stage-Fright”
(The information in Italics in smaller font is my teacher-assist notes.)
In this class, we will be presenting the results of our research in small groups. For many of us, our initial reaction
to the word “speech” is fear! In fact, in many surveys, the number one fear listed is “public speaking”.
So we will be doing a few activities to help you manage your “stage fright”. The bad news is, if you care about
your presentation, you will Always have “butterflies”. The good news is, with just a few new tools, you can
teach those butterflies to fly in formation.
What is Performance Anxiety/Stage Fright really?
Activity #1: Experiencing Stage Fright
Form a group of 4 or 5 students. In your group, each person will give a brief biography of 15 seconds to one
minute. Give your name, your major or current major interest, and name a television show or activity or
hobby you like. (Use good taste.) BUT, your job is to be as BORING as possible. (note: “boring” does not equal
“bizarre”). (This can also be done by individuals in front of the class instead of in groups if you have more time to spend
The “boring” requirement first takes some of the pressure off, and secondly, allows you to discuss “what makes a boring
presentation”, so you have prepared them for a “Things to Avoid so we’re not Boring the Audience!” discussion later.)
Group Discussion on Activity #1:
As you gave your bio, you may have experienced some nervousness. With your group, list Physical
Symptoms of Performance Anxiety/Stage Fright (Have students fill this in – or have them call it out while you
write it on the board: Some examples: Sweaty, red face/heart speeding up, cold hands and feet, dry mouth, stomach upset
and bathroom visits, shaking, and more. (I also say if you don’t practice enough, you’ll have that “Brain blank” feeling.)
What is Stage Fright Really?
It’s just the Strong Fight/Flight Response, which is an essential survival mechanism. We are the descendants of
people with a Really Strong Fight or Flight response. Here’s how it started:
Cave man, cave woman, walking down the path – and out jumps a saber-tooth tiger! You have Two choices:
Fight or Flight. Throughout history, the people with the Strong Fight or flight survived. What happened to
everyone who stood there thinking, “What is it I’m supposed to do when I meet a tiger?” Yes. They were lunch.
So we are the descendants of people with Strong Fight or Flight responses!
Right now, All you have to do is “perceive a threat” (e.g. give a speech!), and your body goes into Fight or Flight
mode, and you experience the physical symptoms you just named: I generally write the symptoms on the board,
and just talk through the benefit of each one, rather than write out the benefit. Here are the ones I usually discuss:
a. Sweaty: What is the advantage to being wet in a fight?
b. Red Face/Heart speeding up: Your heart is speeding up to send Oxygen to your brain, so you
think more quickly, and problem-solve better. Your pupils dilate: you take in more information.
c. Cold hands and feet: Your body is withdrawing blood from your extremities to protect your vital
organs and brain, and so that if you are injured in the extremities, you are less likely to die of
blood loss.
d. Dry mouth/Stomach upset: Every function non-essential for survival shuts down.
e. Bathroom visits: Some people like to say “lighten the load”, but also, if your colon has emptied
itself, if you are injured, you are less likely to die of a septic infection.
f. Shaking: Your body is coursing adrenalin through you. This is the chemical that gives people the
power to pick up a car off a trapped child, or in war time, to heave an unexploded, 200 pound
bomb off the deck of a ship, when normally you can only pick up 50 pounds.
Reducing Your “Stage Fright”: Listen to your Self-Talk, and Re-think or Re-frame your nervousness.
(Review what Self-Talk is – the internal commentary everyone has about what they do/did, etc.)
When we notice our Stage Fright, we tend to say to ourselves, “I’m nervous, therefore I’m going to
do a bad job.”, and then we become More nervous, and it all goes downhill from there.
Why not say, “Wow! My brain is operating at maximum capacity, and I can lift Heavy objects!”
This is much more reassuring! (assuming of course that you Did prepare for your presentation! )
Activity #2: Reframing self-talk.
Listen to your Self-Talk and Choose to encourage yourself:
With a partner/small group, write some sample positive statements you can say when you are feeling
nervous before a performance. Remember to focus on what you Want, Not on what you Don’t want!
Have students share samples with the class, and discuss the effectiveness of these. I also add that we can help each other
on the day of a performance by making supportive comments to our nervous classmates.
Tips on Managing Performance Anxiety:
1. The Power of the Nonverbal Message: (Nonverbal means “not words” – comes from “verbum,
verbis”, which means “words” in Latin. It means how you sound and everything you do, how you look,
what you bring, your visual aids, etc. It’s everything that is not the words themselves):
o Dress well: It builds your confidence and your credibility (define this) with your audience.
o Breathe!! Unfortunately, many people put their feet against each other and lock their
knees. This locks your breathing mechanism (your diaphragm), and you can get lightheaded, dizzy or pass out!
 Separate your feet about shoulder width. Some people prefer to stand with one
foot slightly forward.
 Bend your knees!
o MOVE your body – use gestures, have planned movement. It gives you something to do
with all that adrenalin coursing through you, and helps you relax.
2. Always practice 12 to 20 times out loud! You can spot words that are hard to say and any
awkward phrasing in time to change it. Plus, you will be amazed at the confidence this builds.
You will Know that you know it! Mark your presentation with notes to help you (“speak slowly”).
3. Look at your audience! Talk to them. Reading your notes bores everyone, including You!
4. Put outline notes Only on index cards, using a large font. (Number the cards-just in case.)
Consider using colored index cards. For many, it reads more easily than black on white.
Activity #3: Defusing nervousness
Doing something silly or funny helps us dump the adrenalin of stage fright. It draws the attention away
from our Fight or Flight response. What activities (in good taste) could you do to help you laugh and
keep you calmer? (at this point, I make everybody get up, and all together, we do this kindergarten dance, the “Boogie
Walk”. I frame it by telling them they are going to do something really silly and stupid, and then they do it with me. By
then, most people are chuckling or laughing, and I ask them to notice their stress level - and then I say “That’s the secret.
You can’t be laughing and stressed at the same time”. I’ve had many students thank me for doing this with them.)
How We Can Help Each Other Succeed
Positive Audience Behaviors:
This is one of the things we’re rarely taught to do, and that
sounds weird when you hear it first. This is, however, one of the most powerful ways you can help the
speaker that you could ever imagine!
Activity #1: Audience’s Nonverbal Message (have students in groups of 4 or 5 for these activities)
Part One:
Person One tells about a movie you have seen (about 3-4 sentences) while rest of the group
acts bored. Then rotate left, and repeat with new speaker, Person Two. Continue around the
group until everyone has spoken.
Discussion Questions:
 What is the effect of our nonverbal messages on the Speaker (when audience is acting
 What is the effect on the audience when the audience acts bored?
Part Two:
Person One again talks about a movie, but this time, the audience looks and acts fascinated – as
if this is the most interesting thing you have ever heard! Then rotate left, and repeat with new
speaker, Person Two. Continue around the group until everyone has spoken.
Discussion Questions:
 What is the effect on the Speaker when the audience acts interested?
 What is the effect on the audience when the audience acts interested?
 What are “Positive Audience Behaviors”? List them:
(Then remind students to do them when someone is presenting. I remind them between the actual
presentations, too.)
Activity #2: Do an “animated” bio in your small group (or use a different topic than “bio”)
Share your name, major or subjects that interest you, something interesting or different about you,
and end with your name again.
 What is “animation”? What is the effect speaking with animation instead of a monotone,
“boring” speaking style?
Activity #3: Preparation and the Nonverbal Message
 What are the indicators that someone is NOT prepared to present? List them below:
(Discuss: What are the results of lack of preparation on the performer? On the audience?)
 What are the indicators that someone IS prepared to present? List them below:
(Discuss: What are the results of good preparation on the performer? On the audience?)
Summary: Prepare thoroughly for your presentation. Then use these techniques to control your
nervousness, and help others by being a supportive and positive audience! Then everyone will enjoy
all our class presentations!