Mar 172014


The word conjures up sweaty palms, dry mouth, pounding heart, throat closing, butterflies in the stomach, a light-headed feeling…

Most people have felt some of these symptoms when preparing to speak in public, whether making a presentation, asking a question in a symposium or even offering an opinion in a meeting or a class.

Actors, singers, all types of performers experience some degree of stage fright, often  at an opening, sometimes every evening before a performance.  Is this a terrible situation?  Something to be avoided?

When stage fright becomes handicapping, it becomes a problem.  Why?  Because it creates body stiffness, reduces vocal intonation, sometimes makes the speaker seem robotic, disinterested or at a minimum, less genuine.

The great Russian dancer, Rudolph Nureyev, used to be overwhelmed by stage fright before every performance.  He would spend hours stretching and drinking copious amounts of tea and honey to release his tension.

The legendary jazz singer, Ella Fitzgerald, was supposed to dance during a talent show at the Apollo Theatre but she became so nervous she sang instead — and we’re probably all the beneficiaries of her way of coping with stage fright that night.

How can stage fright be good for you?

When you experience “performance anxiety,” the other name for stage fright, your adrenaline begins to flow and you raise your awareness level.  If you focus that awareness and use it as a means of concentration, you can separate the content of what you want to say from the way you deliver your message.  In other words, you split your objectives.

Every good speaker monitors his or her delivery while keeping the process of content flowing.  If you read a prepared speech, especially if you’ve rehearsed adequately, you can concentrate more on delivery (maintaining vocal features and body language, as I’ve written about in previous articles.)  For the most part, however, I advocate well rehearsed, more spontaneous speaking, if possible.

Many of the people I coach concentrate so much on the content of their presentation, they find it difficult to consider how they need to speak .  Their attention is wrapped up in the ideas and words, not the dynamics of their voice, eye contact, body language and other important features that are essential in public speaking.

Raising your consciousness and monitoring how you  speak will improve your presentation.  Without a slight level of anxiety, it is easy to fall into a speech and movement pattern that conveys reduced enthusiasm, even lack of interest — creating a dull presentation.

Using a little “stage fright” to channel and focus your attention, not only on content, but delivery, can become a tool for a better presentation.  Coping with stage fright will actually increase your confidence as a good speaker.

So let a small dose of adrenaline improve your performance, not freeze and handicap your speaking.


Check back soon for more thoughts on public speaking, communication skills, and speech pathology.


Aug 082013

Books, papers, electronics strewn across the desk, clothes on the floor, room like a danger zone…  Does it mean anything?

If your middle school or high school student lives in a state of disarray, frequently forgetting papers or textbooks in the school locker, or the finished assignment on the kitchen table, disorganization might be indicative of a problem that’s more than adolescent carelessness.

Executive functioning involves the management of oneself or one’s resources to achieve a goal.  It consists of behavioral skills that impact on mental control and self regulation.  To some degree the external organization of our possessions can reflect the internal management of our thinking.

When a student has difficulty keeping track of his or her belongings — books, papers, clothes, money, keys, cell phone, clothing — the cause may not be solely adolescent sloppiness.   For some students, just getting through the day may be a reflection of a larger problem of self monitoring and self regulation.

Is this always the case?  Not necessarily.  Some students, some adults for that matter, aren’t neat and organized.  But when a student has difficulty in planning tasks, allocating sufficient time for assignments, organizing his or her life to achieve required goals, the external disorganization might be a clue to what’s going on mentally.

Dealing effectively with deadlines, time requirements, and mental transitions requires a set of skills that must begin during childhood and mature with age.  The development of strong executive functioning carries over for success later in life.

Can a parent fix the problem?  Assisting with organization and planning skills can be valuable but parents often end up doing too much and the student may not develop the skills required for independent thinking.   Intervention with a professional skilled in cognitive training may be a more effective way to help your student develop a set of critical life skills.


Check back next week for more thoughts on executive function skills, speech and communications


May 152013

Everyone has moments of inattention and restlessness, but for some people these exist as a constant situation.  Adults, as well as children and adolsecents, need to monitor their behavior and cue themselves to pay attention, but some people have significantly more difficulty maintaining their focus.

Executive functioning represents a set of processes that govern how one manages oneself, including mental control and self regulation.  The skills necessary for planning and organization, memory, making transitions, setting priorities, and  self cueing begin to develop in childhood.  As the child grows, so do the expectations for self management throughout the teenage years.  Adults are expected to have mastered a degree of mental flexibility, including the ability to set priorities and shift strategies.  But adults who remain disorganized, poorly focused, unaware of how much they miss in the environment, often suffer professionally and personally.

Can individuals who have difficulty with executive functioning become more alert to their behavior and improve these  skills?  Self-monitoring strategies and cueing for attentional gaps can be learned by children and adults.   Luckily, for teenagers and adults, electronic devices and planners can assist in memory and organization.  But these external tools don’t help with focus and attention. While some individuals treat their attentional problems with medication, ultimately the responsibility for executive functioning remains a conscious activity.

A professional who specializes in cognitive training can develop a set of strategies tailored to an individual to improve executive functioning.  It takes active thinking to modify one behavior at all ages.  But it’s a worthwhile effort that can create academic, professional and personal success.


Check back next week for more thoughts on communications and speech.