What can we Learn from Michael Bay’s Stage Fright?

Very accomplished people experience stage fright and fear of public speaking! Witness Michael Bay, director of Transformers, who froze and walked off the stage at the 2014 Samsung Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

My mission is to help heal the world of stage fright and fear of public speaking so that people can shine when they share their ideas, insights and expertise. So, I want to write about what happened to Michael Bay.

If you have not experienced stage fright, you will not see what really happened to Michael Bay.  You might criticize him or snicker at his walking off the stage.

But if you have experienced stage fright or fear of public speaking, as I have so many times, you will recognize not only his outer symptoms, but you will also feel his pain, knowing what happened inside his body and mind.

If you have an interest in this topic, either because you have stage fright or because you help people through it, please watch this video now.


I write here with compassion for Michael and deep understanding of what he experienced on that stage. Here is what I see in the video and what I intuitively know happened.

Michael Bay did not trust himself to just speak.  So he (or someone else) wrote a script that he thought sounded good. The words were impressive, but not authentic, not from his inner authority. He depended on the prompter type to feed him the words. The technology failed and he could not read the words. Unable to speak from his inner authority, he froze. Valiantly, he tried to wing it but he could not find any of the words that were scripted. He also could not find his way into his heart where he could respond in the moment.  So, he did the only thing he knew how to do to save himself, he walked off the stage.

What the audience saw was a very accomplished man falter at speaking and quit. But what I saw was what happened inside Michael Bay’s mind and body. See if you recognize any of this and then watch the video again.

At first, he was OK, he performed his first line as planned.  Look carefully, you can sense he was a little nervous inside, but he could hold on to the scripted words.

Then the prompter failed! Watch him look stunned. Internally his mind froze up and his body filled up with intense feelings of tension, anxiety and fear. His body became so overwhelmed that his mental and psychophysical energy rose up through his body into his head. He went into his head. His head swelled with psychophysical energy as if he were suddenly under water. He lost his grounding and connection to his body.

Now up in his head, the self-judging thoughts took over. Thoughts of, “I can’t do this! I am not good enough!” entered his mind. With body and mind so flooded with negative thoughts and feelings, he could no longer think. Thoughts were frozen. He could not stay present in his body. The intensity inside  caused him to disconnect from the Moderator who was trying to help him. Michael Bay was gone, emotionally and mentally. So he had to leave physically as well.

For the first 40 years of my life, I experienced this anytime I became the center of attention. For the last 25 years of my life, I have been facilitating people through a process of transforming this experience. I know the thoughts, feelings and body energies like the back of my hand. I know what it takes to transform it.

The three things I know for sure are:

1. Highly sensitive and accomplished people often go though this.

2. Stage fright is not a symptom of something wrong with you, but a sign of something very right which is you are highly sensitive and passionate.

3. The passion energy which gets locked up in stage fright can transform to power and presence in the right learning environment of acceptance and allowance.

On 98 of the January 2014 issue of The O Magazine, Ashley Williams writes a very brief piece on handling anxiety. She quotes psychotherapist Tara Brach in saying, “Notice what’s going on inside you, and mentally whisper yes to the experience: yes to the anxiety, yes to the tension, yes to the irritation. With each yes, you give space for the experience to unfold.” Williams goes on to say that,  “Letting your feelings progress to their logical conclusion helps them dissolve.”

I say yes! That exact same approach can be used to transform stage fright! Allowing yourself to experience the anxiety, saying yes to it by feeling the feelings and sharing verbally with a supportive group causes the tension to dissolve into a flow state inside the body.

This is not just a theory for me. I have been guiding people through it for 25 years. Thousands of people have gone through this with me and it works!

What I would say to Michael Bay is give yourself permission to have experienced this and to not be perfect, but do learn to transform it. You are an accomplished and visionary man. You have much to say to the world about creativity. Learn to say it from your heart without have to be perfect. To do this, be willing to go through the thoughts and feelings that come up when you are on the spot. It won’t be comfortable at first, but it will change your life.

I am Sandra Zimmer, author of It’s Your Time to Shine and founder of Self-Expression Center.  I offer group training and individual coaching that can help you transform fear of speaking and become a compelling, persuasive speaker so that you can shine when you share your ideas, insights and expertise. You can download a copy of my Grounding Exercise or an eBook version of It’s Your Time to Shine at www.self-expression.com.