Monday, August 15, 2011

Starstuck: Overcoming Performance Anxiety


© 2011 by Joyce Mason
All Rights Reserved

Many people say public speaking is their worst nightmare, something they’d rather die than do—a terror they avoid like the plague. One person told me it's a form of public torture.

Recently, another Radical Virgo suggested write on this topic. Virgos might have a stronger inner critic than some signs. Still, why would someone prefer a root canal without anesthesia over getting up and saying a few words? There must be some other astrological factors involved. Everyone waiting in line to give a talk, shaking in his or her shoes, isn’t a Virgo. Judging from what I’ve seen, people who dread the lectern, stage or front of the classroom come in all shapes, sizes, and signs.

I believe the hints come from Leo. The archetypical Leo is at home on stage and in the spotlight. Leo thrives there—has to have it. Leo is ruled by the Sun. Leo must shine and be the center of his own solar system.

The Sun and the 5th

I hypothesize that discomfort with public presentations has something to do with the Sun in our charts and/or the 5th house, Leo’s natural domain. I hope you’ll comment to support or refute this hunch, since I haven’t had time to test it on many charts and would love community feedback. I was also asked by the same reader to address by what I’ve learned about overcoming my fears of public speaking. She pointed out something important.

Life requires us to speak in public at times. It’s a fact of life. Whether it’s a job interview in front of an employment panel, a toast at a family member’s wedding, or a tribute at a funeral—we need to be able to make our ideas, feelings or capabilities known in front of many others in certain circumstances.

To participate in life fully, we’ve got to get over our fear of the microphone and being heard by many people at once.

A Case in Point

Maybe I’m a good person to help test this theory, since I have Virgo Sun in the 5th house. What an approach-avoidance combo. No performance can be perfect. Virgo has a lot to get over on this issue, but based on my experience (let’s hear from other 5th house Suns), I cannot avoid being on stage on a bet. I have tried to run and hide. The spotlight follows me, like a tracking beam pulling me toward more speeches or interviews.  At some point, I gave up and surrendered to the inevitability of this fact of my life. I now embrace it, even though my enthusiasm is still a bit tentative at times.

The back-story may help. When I was five, my stage mother coaxed me into auditioning for Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour. For my younger readers, that was the original American Idol in the 1950s.

I had no problem with the idea of being seen on TV by millions of people. When we arrived at the audition in downtown Chicago, something very unexpected happened (Uranus square Sun). I discovered a room full of people—other would-be contestants, their parents and music teachers. I was expecting one judge, two tops. I freaked out. I cannot imagine why 100 live bodies were scarier to me than millions of eyeballs staring at me from a TV audience. Five-year-old logic. Go figure. Yet I was traumatized by this event through most of my adult life.

I was partly traumatized by the fact that I gave an after-bawling, half-baked performance—and was not chosen for the show. This felt unfair. They had not seen what I could do. If I had only been prepared for what awaited me and not scared half to death by the surprise. (Note to everyone I know: Never throw me a surprise party.) No wonder I’m always scared something awful might happen every time I step on a stage.

Your Sun’s Gotta Shine

Even if it’s in the homey sign of Cancer or the secretive sign of Scorpio: Your Sun has to shine if you want to be fully alive. Certain astrological factors may make it more difficult, but knowing them may help you move from shy to shiny. For instance, when it’s possible to select the topic of speeches, talk about what you know and love. That makes you come alive with fire, even if your Sun is in water or earth. Cancer can talk about home decorating, cooking, or doing genealogy. Scorpio can talk about home security systems or how to get rid of household pests. That speech might have some hilarious gallows humor woven into the mix. (Do you suppose the darkest of Scorps actually hang those little vermin?)

Play Leo!

Leo, ruled by the Sun, tells us performing has something to do with fire—being stoked.

Make your speeches about money and personal values if your Sun is in the 2nd. Tell the job interviewers how much your values align with the company’s. If Sun is in the 7th, talk about being a team player—and know you’ll do great at wedding toasts and eulogies.

If your Sun’s not in a fire sign, you have fire in other parts of your chart or on certain house cusps. Go to one of those other houses or signs and borrow a cup of fire. Find out how that planet or house can help.  If your chart is weak in the fire element, locate an asteroid or other body that’s in the fire element (Aries, Leo, or Sagittarius). Learn about it. Embrace it to amp up your fire. Figure out what Ceres or the centaur Pholus can do to help you jump up onto the stage and be yourself. It doesn’t matter how obscure the astrological body or point may seem to you. If it’s in fire for you, find out what it has to offer! (Here’s a page on Astrodienst with links on how to get free charts with these extra points included.)

Just Be Yourself

What’s really at issue is that you’re being asked to do something Sunful in front of God and everyone—to be yourself. Even more than that, to project yourself! We all have past trauma. So much of it involves rejection or what we perceived as rejection. (The older I get, the more I become aware that my perceptions were not always accurate.)

It is the ultimate act of self-love, trust, and a kind of self-confidence in the making to get up in front of everyone and just be you. But it takes practice, like any other skill.

Putting It All Together: Some Tips

Now that I’ve given you some astrological ideas to toy with (very Leo!), let me weave together a practical Virgo list of things you can do:

1. Join Toastmasters.
2. Join Toastmasters.
3. Did I say join Toastmasters?

Toastmasters International is the best thing that ever happened to me for overcoming my knocking knees on the podium. Since 1924, more than four million people around the world have become more confident speakers and leaders because of their participation in Toastmasters.

Most clubs encourage visitors so you can see how the program works (look before you leap). You’ll see how Toastmasters will take you from baby steps to stellar speaking. I have watched shy individuals morph into confident speakers and leaders before my very eyes. It makes me misty just thinking of the personal growth I have witnessed at Toastmasters—theirs and mine. You’ll learn techniques, get constructive and sensitive feedback—and you’ll have fun and fabulous camaraderie.

Sometimes your company or agency will pay for your semi-annual dues if you speak regularly as part of your job. (Mine did.) You can also create a club at your workplace, if one doesn’t already exist, if you can stir up enough interest. Many bosses consider it a sign of initiative and desire for excellence when you take on Toastmasters. Almost anywhere you go in the world has a TM club, and you can visit other Toasters to feel at home and get tips for navigating the local turf.

I don’t know of any other organization that does this much to develop excellent public speakers. If you do, please share!

Of course, there are other suggestions already implied in this article:

4. Look at your Sun and 5th house.

5. Ask for help from other planets or asteroids in your chart in fire signs. Imagine how they can help you do that fiery thing.

6. Practice speaking as often as you can, even in front of small audiences.

7. Practice in front of a mirror. Get to know how you’re seen by others and how to present your most relaxed and appealing face.

8. Search yourself to find out what caused your fear of public speaking and address it.

For instance, mine was the unexpected. I always come triple prepared with back-up handouts and my presentation on a thumb drive, in case the computer fails or something glitches. Knowing this fear and doing what I can about it in advance greatly diminishes my nervousness. I know I’m a better ad-libber than I give myself credit for, and in the moment, I’d rather not make a fool of myself. Therefore, I just trust my Inner Talk Show Host and let cosmic and comedic inspiration flow. There’s no time to angst about it. This is the back-up plan that has never let me down.

Some other tips not yet mentioned:

9. Never turn down a chance to be videotaped so you can see how you actually look to others when speaking. I always looked/did better than I thought I did. Even if you’re not happy with what you see, you’ll know what to address. We are our own worst critics, so why not start with the person who can also do something about it?

10. Believe the feedback you get and be willing to make the improvements—or take the applause.

I’m still working on #10. I hear often that I give great presentations. I’m even becoming sought-after as a speaker. Yet when I hear appreciative and complimentary responses, I still think to myself, really?


Maybe I can’t quite stop being a Virgo, but at least I no longer have a heart attack before a major talk, just minor palpitations while I use some tools to put myself at ease.

Tools I’ve used with great success are:

1. Flower essences.  I start using a Performance Blend at least a few days before speaking. (A week or more in advance is ideal). The essences and what they help overcome or enhance include: Mimulus (worry, shyness, nervousness when speaking), Garlic (protection, stage fright, helps grounding), Golden Yarrow (protected openness, energetic boundaries with audience), Queen Anne’s Lace (concentration, ability to read the crowd with grounded clarity, focus), and Trumpet Vine (assertiveness and clarity in speech). All of these essences are available from Flower Essence Services (FES) and can be taking individually or together in a blend. (If there’s one that stands out for you as potentially helpful, especially if you haven’t taken essences before, starting with that one might be best.)

2. Take Expert Advice on Speaking. It’s extremely important to be careful what you eat and drink before a big talk. One list I like is You Speak What You Eat. Some other good finds along these lines: How to Reduce Stress Before Giving a Speech and Speaking Tips from MIT.

3. Guided Imagery CDs on Self-Confidence. One of my favorites is A Meditation to Help You Improve Self-Confidence and Reach Peak Performance by HealthJourneys’ founder, Belleruth Naperstek.  It comes in cassette, MP3, CD and Playaway versions. You can listen to a sample on the HealthJourneys website. The affirmations were powerful for me and helped me master my last pre-presentation jitters.

HealthJourneys website contains a treasure trove of healing tools. I discovered Belleruth’s work a number of years ago and used her surgery preparation tapes to breeze through several procedures—and impress my doctor about the possibilities of using visualization and affirmations in healing.

These tips and tools might make a Leo out of me yet. Maybe you, too.


Photo credit: © Performance Anxiety - Willee Cole - Play Leo -  © metlion -

Thanks to Larissa for suggesting the topic of this article.


Sandra Mosley said...

Another great article, Joyce!

My 5th house holds Mercury in Leo and Sun in Virgo, so I definitely relate to your approach-avoidance scenario. I love the attention after the fact, but suffer great anxiety prior to the event.

My best presentations are those that come from my heart; either impromptu or done without much more than an outline. If I try to stick to a script I become self-conscious and stiff.

And when there's a camera ... I am completely undone. Just goes to show you that there's always room for improvement.

Thanks for the post and the tips. Very helppful.

Joyce Mason said...

Sandra, thanks so much for taking time to comment and share your similar wiring! I'm good at impromptu, also, but my literary Virgo just likes certain words so much. I've come to a compromise of outline, keywords, and ad-lib ... but it has taken time to trust.

I'm so glad I got a prompt to write on this topic. I hadn't thought of it on my own, and it's a perennial issue, even for seasoned speakers. To say the least, I've had a lifetime of experience and finding tools to share. Glad it resonated and helps.

Mads Elung-Jensen said...

Hello Joyce..

Im a terrible virgo, Ive been an opera singer for almost 25 years.

I love performing in public, giving speeches and being in the middle of the stage.

It might be connected to my late leo moon, conjunct my early virgo sun, all in the 11th house.

What people often don't realise is that my virgo sun insists on work, preparation, details, rephrasing ad naseum, till it allows the proud moon to go on stage and let the moment guide what happens.

It works so well for me, that my virgo sun sometimes even for fun stops preparing expecting that the past many years of practise actually is enough preparation, scary but fun...

Joyce Mason said...

Mads, thanks for this great report! Your Leo Moon leads, and you're a great example of what I call living on the upside of the zodiac. You have taken the most positive aspects of Sun and Moon and put them to work for you. You're not a terrible Virgo; you're a Radical Virgo! Well done. (Hear applause.)Take a bow!

Mads Elung-Jensen said...

thanks joyce, my leo moon thrives on applause my virgo sun likes work well done:-) and when both happen its so good.

i like to think of the image of the tarot card strength, without gentle and firm guidance, the roaring of the lion goes way out of control, but without the creative force of the lion, whats the use of all the control..

what took me aeons to enjoy is criticism, but these days im so happy when a kind precise word can take me further along.

and realising that working towards perfection is great but that itll very rarely materialise in real life, and that its totally ok, also sets so much of needed spontaneity free.

with saturn and chiron in 6th house, thats been a real hard nut to knack, but i keep working on it..