Stagefright — a short story for English reading and speaking

Stagefright blog header-min

Ray is about to make a speech in front of a large crowd of people.

But he is terrified of stepping out onto the stage.

He has to go out there. He has no choice.

Can he do it?


This is a thrilling short story that comes complete with a full lesson plan.

Exercises and activities include:

  • introductory questions
  • Stagefright – the short story
  • reading comprehension questions
  • true of false exercise
  • essential vocabulary
  • synonym exercise
  • antonym exercise
  • correct meaning exercise
  • special phrases exercise
  • discussion questions
  • role play
  • public speaking activity
  • writing exercise


Take a look below. And use in your English class today!


Have you ever had to make a speech in front of people?

How did you feel?

Did you feel nervous? Why?

Could you be a professional public speaker?


It was easy, Ray told himself. There was nothing to it.

All the others had done it. He could do it too.

Standing at the side of the stage, he stared out at the vast, empty space. Bill Martinez was speaking. Ray could not understand a word he was saying. The sound seemed distorted, echoing through the venue as if he were shouting into a tunnel.

“It’s the angle of the speakers,” said Bill, before he had gone on stage himself. “They are directed to the audience, so from where we are standing, we can’t hear anything at all.”

Ray took little relief from this. He had never liked the sound of his own voice. Any time he heard his own voice in a message or on one of the training videos they had to do at work, he always sounded like he was on the edge of a nervous breakdown.

He didn’t like the way he looked.

He had shifty eyes. It made him look untrustworthy. Unreliable. At best, someone that could not do the job. At worst, the kind of person that would stab you in the back and pull the ladder up.

The audience out front burst into laughter.

Ray jolted. He tilted his head to get a glimpse of them. Bill by the mic, a self-deprecating smile on his face. A shrug of the shoulders. Ray could only make out the first row of people. Their teeth shone white and gleamed under the lights. Their eyes cartoon-like and freakish.

He shrank back into the shadows.

Soon it would be Ray’s turn to speak. He would have to go out there and speak.

He looked behind him. A light tech stood to the side. He wore a bored expression on his face. He didn’t want to be here either. But not out of the same sense of fear and sheer terror that Ray had in his chest. No, this guy found all of this tedious. This was no fun for him.

His jaw chewed at the gum in his mouth in a meditative rhythm and his eyes stared out, not focusing on anything at all.

Another laugh from the crowd. This one bigger and accompanied by some cheers and a smattering of applause.

Ray jerked his head to find Bill. Where was he?

He had taken the mic out of the stand and walked to the far end of the stage.

Confidence oozed from him.

He was in control. He looked so at ease. He was like one of those seasoned stand-up comedians who just knows, absolutely knows, how to control the audience. He owned them. They were sitting right in his pocket.

The way he moved. A slight swagger. The crooked grin. It worked like a charm.

They loved him and they wanted more.

When Ray goes out there, they will hate him. He knew that much.

They will clear their throats in embarrassment for him. He will stand on the stage and stare back into the big, dark space and mumble and bumble through his lines and no one will understand what he is saying as he stops to clear his throat and wipes a bead of sweat from his face.

A tap at his shoulder and Ray jumped out of his skin.

It was the stage manager. A woman who chain-smoked and wore a permanent look of disdain on her face.

“You’re up next,” she said.

Ray stopped breathing. His hand clutched at his chest. Maybe he could tell her he was not ready? Maybe he could just slip away?

And if his manager asked him on Monday morning where he had gone, he could say that he felt ill. He had to go to the bathroom. He was vomiting.

Or he could just not go to work on Monday and leave the company altogether. He could find a new job. Jobs were scarce these days, but he could do anything. Clean the streets, work in a factory, drive a taxi. Anything.

His wife would hate it and go mad. She would probably leave him, take the kids and go and live with her mother. But all of that was better than going out onto the stage.

The audience let out a roaring cheer. They clapped and applauded and then a second wave of cheering.

Bill stood in front of them, doing that half nod/half bow motion, smiling back at them. Then he raised his hand and waved at them and turned to walk off the stage.

“Let him off first,” said the stage manager, her breath reeking of cigarettes. “Then they will announce you. I will give you the nod when to walk on. Piece of cake.”

Suddenly, Ray’s throat constricted. He needed water. He needed a bucket of water.

Bill came into view and gave Ray a grin.

“They’re a great crowd out there tonight,” he said. He tapped Ray on his upper arm. “Go out there and do your thing.”

He brushed past the stage manager, and the tech guy pointed a finger at him.

“Good job, man,” he said.

“Okay,” said the stage manager. “You’re up in about thirty.”

A voice boomed out from above. The Voice of God. It sounded ominous and threatening. Like it was about to strike down with fury and wreak havoc upon the tuxedoed masses below.

“And fifteen…”

Now, we have a very special speaker talking to you about the importance of product design, Mr Ray…

Ray could not hear the rest of the introduction. His throat was stuffed full of wires. He couldn’t swallow.

“And you’re up.” The stage manager pushed him between his shoulder blades onto the stage.

Ray could not feel his legs. They moved but did not belong to him.

He walked towards the mic stand. The audience gave him some polite applause.

He came to the mic and turned. There, in front of him, hundreds of people waiting to hear him speak.

Ray’s hand reached up to his throat. He tried to clear the thick glob of fear stuck in his throat, but nothing came out.

He opened his mouth to speak.

The audience glared back at him.

None of them smiling.

Reading Comprehension Questions

Who is the main character in the story?

Who are the other characters?

Where does the story take place?

How does Ray feel about going on stage?

Why does Ray feel anxious about speaking on stage?

How does Ray describe his own voice?

What does Ray dislike about his appearance?

How does Ray view the audience’s reaction to Bill Martinez? Positive or negative?

How does Ray describe the light tech and the stage manager?

Is the light tech happy to be working that night?

What does Ray think will happen when he goes on stage?

How does Ray react when the stage manager informs him that he is up next?

What are the thoughts that go through Ray’s mind then?

What actions does he consider taking instead?

How does Ray feel physically as he contemplates his turn on the stage?

What expression does the stage manager use to describe Ray going out on the stage?

What does it mean?

Who or what is the Voice of God?

How does Ray feel when he first steps onto the stage?

How does the audience initially react to seeing Ray?

What happens when Ray tries to speak?

How does the audience respond to Ray’s attempt to speak?

How does the audience respond to Ray at the end of the story?

True or False?

Take a look at the list of statements below.

Say which ones are true or false.


Ray is confident about speaking on stage.

Bill Martinez is the first speaker at the event.

Ray dislikes the sound of his own voice.

Ray believes he looks trustworthy and reliable.

Ray observes the audience’s reaction to Bill’s performance.

The light tech is enthusiastic about the event.

Bill captivates the audience with his stage presence.

Ray believes the audience will dislike his performance.

Ray considers avoiding the stage altogether.

The audience reacts negatively to Ray when he steps on stage.


Now check all your answers at the end of the lesson plan!

Essential Vocabulary

he stared out

the vast, empty space









training videos

on the edge of a nervous breakdown

shifty eyes



stab you in the back

pull the ladder up

burst into laughter


tilted his head











light tech

a bored expression

sheer terror











a smattering of applause



the far end of



at ease


stand-up comedian


crooked grin

worked like a charm

clear their throats


mumble and bumble

a bead of sweat


jumped out of his skin

stage manager





slip away



a roaring cheer



piece of cake


he brushed past


The Voice of God



to strike down


wreak havoc



product design



shoulder blade





Write down all the words and phrases in your vocabulary notebook. Look in your dictionary and find the meaning of each word. Write the definition next to each word.

Then make up your own sentences using each word or phrase.

For example:


Distorted(of an image, sound, or shape) altered in form or appearance, typically as a result of being twisted, stretched, or otherwise manipulated.


Venue a place where an event or gathering takes place, typically providing the necessary facilities and technical support for such activities.


Then write a sentence of your own that uses the new word or phrase correctly.


I tried to take a picture of the dog, but it came out distorted.


We went to see the band at this really cool venue.


Do this with all the vocabulary and, over time, this will help improve all your English skills — reading, writing, speaking and listening.

What is the Correct Synonym?

Take a look at the table below.

Match the words on the left with the correct synonym on the right.








nervous breakdown



performance anxiety

shrink back











You can find all the answers at the end of the lesson plan!

What is the Correct Antonym?

Take a look at the table below.

Match the words on the left with the correct antonym on the right.























You can check all your answers at the end of the lesson plan!

What is the Correct Meaning?

Look at the table below.

Match the words on the left with the correct meaning on the right.



Filled with intense fear or terror.


To flow or seep slowly and steadily.


The person responsible for coordinating and organizing the various elements of a stage production.


A small amount of something.


Humorously or mockingly belittling oneself.


Past tense of to stare angrily or fiercely.


A feeling of contempt towards someone regarded as inferior.

Stage manager

Engaged in deep thought or contemplation.


A feeling of self-consciousness or shame due to one’s own actions.


Squeezed, compressed, or restricted.


You can find all the right answers at the end of the lesson plan!

What is the Special Phrase?

Take a look at the table below.

Match all the phrases and collocations on the left with the correct meaning on the right.


Do it

The way in which one’s own voice is perceived or heard.

Stand at the side

To prevent others from progressing or advancing, especially in a competitive or hierarchical context.

Speak into a tunnel

To make a noise by forcibly expelling air from the throat, often to prepare for speaking or singing.

On the edge of a nervous breakdown

Something that is very easy or effortless to do.

Sound of one’s own voice

To perform or accomplish a task or action.

Clear their throats

To suddenly start laughing loudly or uncontrollably.

Pull the ladder up

Extremely close to experiencing a mental or emotional collapse.

Burst into laughter

To be positioned or situated at the edge or adjacent to something.

Shrink back

To have one’s voice sound distorted as if speaking into a confined space.

Piece of cake

To move or retreat backwards, often due to fear, apprehension or a desire to avoid attention.


Check all your answers at the end of the lesson plan!

Discussion Questions

How would you describe Ray’s feelings and thoughts before going on stage?

Why do you think Ray dislikes the sound of his own voice?

What do you think is the reason behind Ray’s fear of speaking in front of an audience?

How does Bill’s confident and relaxed demeanour affect Ray’s self-perception?

Why do you think Ray believes the audience will hate him when he goes on stage?

How does the stage manager’s attitude contribute to Ray’s anxiety?

What are some of the options Ray considers instead of going on stage? Why do you think he contemplates these choices?

Do you think Ray’s fear of public speaking is justified? Why or why not?

How would you characterize the relationship between Ray’s fear and his perception of the audience?

Why do you think the audience’s response to Ray is different from what he anticipated?

How would you describe Ray’s physical and emotional state when he finally steps onto the stage?

What do you think Ray’s initial interaction with the audience reveals about his stage fright?

Why do you think the author emphasizes the audience’s lack of smiles when Ray opens his mouth to speak?

Do you think Ray’s fear affected his ability to communicate effectively? Why or why not?

How do you think the stage manager and the tech guy’s words of encouragement impact Ray’s performance?

What role does the Voice of God play in heightening Ray’s anxiety?

How do you interpret the audience’s polite applause when Ray walks towards the microphone?

Why do you think Ray fails to speak when he opens his mouth despite the audience’s intense gaze?

What emotions or thoughts do you think Ray experiences when he realizes the audience’s reaction?

How do you predict Ray’s experience on stage will impact his future attitude towards public speaking?

Role Play

This is a role play activity.


There are two characters in the role play.

Ray — the man in the story above.

John/Jane — Ray’s boss.


In the story above, Ray is unable to speak in front of the audience.

He was supposed to make a valuable presentation about product design on behalf of his company. It was very important for him to do this and it would have provided the company with some great marketing opportunities.

But Ray was unable to speak.

Now he is in a meeting with his boss. His boss is not happy.

They have a conversation about what happened and why.

And then Ray’s boss makes a decision.

What decision does the boss make?

And how does Ray react?


In pairs, take some time to prepare your role play.

Then, when you are ready, show your classmates.

Public Speaking

Prepare a one-minute talk on one of the following topics.

Each student chooses ONE topic and then prepares a talk.

Give a speech in front of the class.

When each student finished speaking, the rest of the class ask relevant questions about the speech and give feedback.


My favourite hobby

The benefits of reading

My dream vacation destination

The importance of exercise

How to make a simple recipe

My favourite movie or TV show

The impact of social media on society

The benefits of learning a second language

The importance of recycling

The history and significance of a famous landmark

The impact of technology on our daily lives

My favourite book and why I recommend it

The benefits of volunteering

The importance of time management

Tips for effective communication skills


This is a creative writing exercise.


You are going to continue the story at the beginning of the lesson.


Think about the following questions:

  • How does Ray’s speech continue?
  • Does he remain silent and unable to speak?
  • Or maybe he suddenly gains confidence and speaks eloquently?
  • How does the audience react?
  • How do the tech guy and the stage manager react?
  • What does Ray do when he leaves the stage?
  • Where does he go after that?


Now write your story.


When you have finished, you can read your story in front of all the class.

Or give it to your teacher for review.

You can download the full lesson plan by clicking the link below!

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