From the perspective of a Gen Xer, one of the brightest lines separating us from Millennials is their uncanny comfort in front of a camera. Any camera. They always seem to know how to shape-shift into a photogenic pose with milliseconds of notice, transforming from ordinary people to professional models. That’s, uh, not me.
Things I would rather do than appear on camera:
Be splattered with mud
Stand in line for two hours
Get my teeth drilled
I can say this with aplomb because I have done all of those things in recent memory, and none of them made my heart palpitate, caused me to break out in a cold sweat, or forced tears from my eyes. Being on camera does.
As a professional, I understand that comfort on camera is now not just a key business skill, but a simple social requirement. People want to take lots of photos, tag their friends, and post them on social media because that’s how people relate. I appreciate this, too, because I love seeing pictures of my friends and associates smiling and looking good. It shouldn’t be any bigger of a deal than, say, having people drive by and catch a quick glimpse of your lawn.
Alas, the way I look on camera is the way I look all the time. I look like myself, my self-conscious and nervous self.
What makes for a bad photo is an awkward, unnatural facial expression. The attitude, not anything about the person. For instance, my dog is perfectly happy to have his picture taken even when he’s sprawled on his back with his tongue hanging out sideways and his ear inside out. In one sense he looks like a contorted mess of a creature, but in another he looks cheerful and friendly.
What I want to look like:
What I feel like I look like:
This is just in still photos. Video is even worse.
I had occasion to appear live on video for two minutes. I had several weeks’ notice. Everything was going my way:
I had hours of experience with the software
I had already submitted my official written report
I had participated in the same event the previous year
I personally knew almost everyone involved
My presentation was scheduled around the midpoint, with plenty of people both before and after me
I had checked in and tested my volume
I had rehearsed my material, triple-checked my data, and set up the lighting where I would sit
I got up early to do full hair and makeup
I was sitting on my own couch, in my own living room, with my husband by my side for moral support
Then I got the heads-up that I would be on in a few minutes. That’s when the trouble really started.
The previous night, I had gone to bed early, knowing my alarm was set and everything was prepared. I barely slept a wink all night. First I dreamed that I woke up at 9:30 and missed the whole thing. Then I dreamed that someone had smashed my phone, pulverizing the screen to the extent that it peeled off the device, but nobody would admit who did it. All this over a two-minute, unmemorable blip of a routine presentation.
By the time my turn came to speak, I was in bits. My heart was hammering, I felt waves of nausea, and tears started in the corners of my eyes.
I choked. I turned on my microphone but left my camera off, knowing full well I was supposed to turn it on.
I delivered a perfectly adequate report and returned control to the chair.
Then I spent the rest of the meeting tormenting myself. Why am I like this?? What the heck was I thinking??? Cheater! Screwup!
I debated apologizing to my entire team, then realized that everyone probably shrugged it off and forgot all about it five minutes later. Assuming they noticed or cared at all. Bringing up my petty personal concern would constitute 1. Drama and 2. An unprofessional waste of others’ bandwidth. The way to deal with it is to FIX IT before next time.
This is a common issue for me. I’ve been actively battling stage fright for three and a half years. At this point it’s my single biggest personal issue. I continue to put myself into situations where I can confront myself and hopefully improve, and I continue to suffer waves of unwelcome physiological response in return.
Body! Y U do this??
There are two ways to go when emotions and neurochemistry stand in our way. We can quit and back away, knowing we will continue to smack against this obstacle over and over again. Or we can start throwing ourselves at it, hoping to crack it and break through.
Recognize that plenty of people are passing this way, simply opening the sliding door and walking through, or going around and using a different entrance. We make it difficult for ourselves by fixating on it and believing it is a legitimate problem.
My stage fright is not a legitimate problem. Literally nobody cares about it except for me. The only reason I discuss it is because someone else may benefit from my analysis.
If I ever get past this, “stage fright” will no longer be a thing on my to-deal list. I won’t be thinking about it. The more I dwell on MY STAGE FRIGHT the more it will be engraved on my foolish brain. I have to figure out how to think and act like people who enjoy being in the spotlight, who strut on camera. I suspect some of it is attitude and some of it is technical skill in practicing poses and facial expressions. (?)
When I started with public speaking, I thought someone might need to call an ambulance. I almost collapsed on the floor once after standing up and speaking for thirty seconds. Now I only feel that way when I’m on stage with a microphone in my hand, in front of a large audience, and I know I’m being recorded. Small room, not such a big deal. Off camera, not such a big deal.
I’ve felt the change in becoming relaxed during situations that used to be stressful and scary. I know I have it in me to keep grinding away, buffing off the rough edges, whenever I wish that something about myself were more streamlined. Panicking on camera is not part of my personality and it’s not something that benefits me in any way. I can let it go, and when I do, my life will be easier.
The answer is to create more situations where I am on camera until I just quit caring. I did it with running, I did it with martial arts, I did it with garden-variety public speaking in a conference room. Millions of people appear on camera and find it neutral, uninteresting, exciting, or emotionally fulfilling. There is a way if only I can find it.
I've been working with chronic disorganization, squalor, and hoarding for over 20 years. I'm also a marathon runner who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and thyroid disease 17 years ago.
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