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August 3, 2020 34 min

The rapid heartbeat. The shaking hands. The flushed face. The symptoms of pre-performance jitters are common. For some people, nervousness before a big test or important presentation is normal and temporary. For others, it can be debilitating. Typical suggestions for managing nerves tend to involve deep breaths and calming thoughts. But what if there were a better way?

In this episode of Choiceology with Katy Milkman, we look at the science behind the state of arousal commonly referred to as stage fright, including new research into better ways to manage unpleasant emotions.

You’ll hear world-renowned concert pianist Steven Osborne describe the agonizing moment during an important performance when he began to experience memory lapses due to anxiety. As the fear of making mistakes increased, Steven began to worry that stage fright could cost him the career he loved. But through therapy and reflection, he managed to flip the script on his anxiety—and came to see it as a gift to be explored.?

All of the piano music in this segment comes from Steven Osborne’s recordings. You can hear his complete performances on Beethoven Piano Sonatas Opp 109, 110 & 111 and Prokofiev Piano Sonatas Nos 6, 7 & 8, available on Hyperion Records.

Next, Alison Wood Brooks joins Katy to talk about her fascinating research into stage fright using video game karaoke to discover the most effective techniques for managing and even leveraging pre-performance nerves.

Alison Wood Brooks is the O’Brien Associate Professor of Business Administration at Harvard Business School. For more on her research, you can read her paper Get Excited: Reappraising Pre-performance Anxiety as Excitement.

Finally, Katy explores other ways to regulate unpleasant emotions. These techniques can help improve outcomes for negotiations, job interviews, and schoolwork.

For more on behavioral science—including additional content from the expert interviews featured on Choiceology—you can sign up for Katy’s newsletter at

Choiceology is an original podcast from Charles Schwab. For more on the series, visit

If you enjoy the show, please leave a ????? rating or review on Apple Podcasts.


Important Disclosures:

All expressions of opinion are subject to change without notice in reaction to shifting market conditions.

The comments, views, and opinions expressed in the presentation are those of the speakers and do not necessarily represent the views of Charles Schwab.

Data contained herein from third-party providers is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed.


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