Generally speaking, in the normal course of things, doing my usual radio work that I've done for years, I don't get nervous. I can be alone in a studio speaking to millions of people, but I'm so used to it now I just get on with it. Hell, I even enjoy it.
However, once in a while I experience The Fear.
The Fear is more than normal nerves. It's more than that sicky feeling you get if you have to go for an interview or read at a wedding. The Fear is a near-crippling - but basically groundless - anxiety about not being able to perform. In my case, I'm afraid I'll be introduced and won't be able to speak. Or that my mouth will simply stop working, mid-sentence. I imagine a very long silence after which I stutter: "can't...do...it" and run out of the studio through an office of shocked faces, as all the phones start ringing.
Sometimes, one half of my brain is reading out loud, while the other is saying: I am really terrible at this. Why I'm I even doing this job? Hasn't anybody noticed that I CAN'T ACTUALLY DO IT? I'll have to leave..." And so on. You get the picture. It's pretty unpleasant, but it doesn't happen often, thankfully. If this performance anxiety happens to you - and external issues such as bullying, bereavement, ill-health etc. aren't a factor - there is some excellent news. I've learned two important things about The Fear:
1. A lot of other people experience it too.
2. It passes.
I asked some of my fellow broadcasters if they have ever had The Fear, and guess what? Turns out most of them have. Some more often than others, to a greater or lesser extent. The bad news is that it doesn't necessarily go away the older and more experienced you get; the good news is there are lots of coping strategies. Reminding yourself that it's ONLY reading aloud/acting/giving a presentation and not brain surgery, might help but it's probably not much use when you're in the throes of panic. Colleagues provided the following techniques (which I list FYI, without prejudice):
Take several slow, deep breaths.
Put your hands on the desk and both feet on the floor to feel grounded.
Put a finger over one nostril. You prevent so much breath getting into your lungs so you won't hyperventilate.
Try to make yourself relax. Push your shoulders down. Concentrate on feeling relaxed and calm, and just read.
Pretend you've arrived in the studio very early, and convince yourself you don't have anything to do for 20 minutes (when in fact it's 5).
Arrive at the studio in plenty of time, prepare your script and levels etc. then do something else until you're on, e.g. read the paper. Don't over-rehearse.
Turn up the Air Con on to feel colder.
Some NLP and hypnotherapy techniques, such as visualisation and confidence anchors, can really help.
Make yourself mentally visit a "happy place". Bring a photograph in with you if it helps. When you feel anxious, let your mind take you there so you feel good.
Remember that having a bad day doesn't mean you can't do the job. We all stumble, mispronounce names, play the wrong clips etc. It's a bad day is all. Tomorrow will be better.
If there are distractions in the studio - or in your head - imagine you have blinkers on that only let you see one word at a time. Focus on each word as it comes and ignore everything else.
Feeling like a fraud is not uncommon. Lots of highly accomplished people have so-called "imposter syndrome". Look how many people manage to do your job, or similar, every day. They can't all be super-confident. Accept that you feel a bit shaky and get on with it, using whatever strategies help you.
Grip a pencil until the news is over.
I use the following basic method: BRAZEN IT OUT. Tell yourself that unless no oneis telling you anything, in all likelihood you are fine at your job. Tell yourself it's just The Fear and it will pass, and until it does you are going to PRETEND TO BE EXCELLENT. This TED talk by Amy Cuddy has some brilliant tips on faking it:
Truth be told, I don't actually stand in the loo striking victory poses before every bulletin, but in times of need, I take a deep breath, push my shoulders back and stride towards the studio with the confident air of someone who's about to TOTALLY KILL THE NEWS.
Trust me, if you fake it, it will come.
(DISCLAIMER: does not apply to sincerity, sex or tanning.)