The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that three-quarters of Americans suffer from speech anxiety. I wonder who those remaining people are that have no problem speaking in front of large crowds. I would also be interested to know how those public speaking Jedis feel in front of a lens. Because in my experience, actors, hosts, musicians, and public speakers all share one thing in common: they struggle more when trying to perform for the camera than when trying to perform for a large audience.
Entertainers feed off of their audience. Large audiences in a crowded theatre can be scary, but they bring one attribute to the table that a camera usually doesn't - an immediate response. When groups of people laugh at your comedy or grow silent at a dramatic moment, your brain knows it is on the right track. This sense of validation helps relieve us from anxiety and spurs us on to reveal more vulnerable sides of ourselves that can help bring our connection with the audience even deeper.
Validation is important. The Validation Training Institute has been using validation therapy for more than half a century to help dementia patients stay connected to the real world. Among the benefits it cites:
- Residents sit more erect.
- Residents keep their eyes open more.
- Residents express less anger.
- Residents communicate more verbally and non-verbally.
- Residents express less anxiety.
- Residents' sense of humor is often restored.
- Families visit more.
And many more. "Validation is one way that we communicate acceptance of ourselves and others," writes Dr. Karyn Hall, Ph.D. in Psychology Today. There are apparently six levels of validation, the most shallow of which is known as "Being Present" (i.e. listening). The deepest level is known as "Radical Genuineness," which is "when you understand the emotion someone is feeling on a very deep level . . . [it] is sharing that experience as equals." Anybody who has ever performed successfully on stage can identify with that feeling, of inviting the audience into the heart to share in sorrow or laughter. And we have all felt such a sense of connection to the characters in our favorite movies, who channel our emotions so deeply that we feel them as though the events onscreen are happening to us.
When you perform for the camera, every moment holds the promise of generating a connection like that, but in a powerfully unforgiving format. There are no faces to read (apart from the stone-faced crew and whoever is in the scene with you), no sense of how you are doing. The anxiety can be overwhelming, which makes it difficult both to perform and to silence your inner critic.
The trick, as you probably know, is to hoist your nerves up and keep them up yourself. Belief in yourself as a fully validated, successful entertainer whose talents are limitless and who keeps the audience in rapt attention is no easy task, but it is essential to your craft that you hold that belief. Only by strengthening this core conviction of yourself as the greatest performer who ever lived from within will you feel comfortable to practice the essential self-criticism that is necessary to reveal this performer to the world through strong focus, drive, and humility.
The next time you feel yourself nervous in front of a camera, think of it like this: you are not in front of the camera. The camera is in front of you. Your audience is blessed that you are allowing them to escape from their lives briefly enough to experience the world through a different set of eyes. Nurture yourself with words of kindness about your talent and you nurture your audience as well. We are all beautiful in our own way, but you are the brave soul that chose to let the camera record you at a moment of especially profound depth.