Strategies to Combat Stage Fright
I thought I should write a thought peace on my tools to combating stage fright, performance anxiety, call it whatever. The nerves you have a hard time controlling before and while performing.
A lot of people, amazing artists, say they are really shy. So how did they end up performing in front of people? Art is an important part of their self expression. It is something they could not be themselves without. So how to deal with self doubt, stage fright, the additional nerves that paralyze while expressing your art in front of people? All the advice can be applied if you don’t consider yourself a shy person, but the stage fright gets you anyway. And it does affect all of us. Some more than others. Some are even ready to leave the stage forever just because of the dread of performing in front of people, not because they don’t feel like expressing themselves through their art. Nerves play a big role. How do you deal with them?
Self confidence is a very delicate matter. The reasons for self doubt vary from person to person. Some are based in experiences growing up or an embarrassing event. It is maybe fear of something happening. “What if I mess up the lyrics again and make my piano player laugh so much, we cannot continue the song anymore?” “What if they laugh not with me but about me.? I bet you have your own version.
Our own brain is freaking out on us. The goal is to protect us. That was useful back in the “giant thing’s gonna eat you” age. When you are put in the spotlight, when everyone is watching, everyone is listening, even the bravest and the most self confident might need a breath or two. So don’t worry you’re normal as far as the statistics go.
Bad self talk is destructive to self confidence. Though, you know, sometimes you can fake it. Try faking being confident. Just walking the street, talking the talk in your head. The confident talk. “I can..., I will..., I am worthy! I am good enough!”
Next step: can you stop the bad self talk before going on the stage, starting to shake. “Oh man, I’m gonna blow this. I don’t remember the lyrics, this is gonna suck.” How about: “Ok, here we go, let’s see what happens. I’m gonna learn no matter what happens. I love what I do. I love myself...” etc.
Another idea: have a friend do your self talk for you for a few times before going on stage. You might catch on.
How to fail and keep going?
I find it easier if you set goals, little and bigger goals. Decide on doing something for so many times or a time frame. No matter what happens, DO it. You always come out stronger and wiser on the other side, knowing yourself a little better. Try booking shows every weekend for 3 months, see how you feel about performing once you have done it so frequently. Or maybe start attending all the open mics in the area. By the third one, your anxiety levels should start going down, because now you are slowly getting used to doing things in front of people.
Don’t give up on your self expression. You’re not self without it. So it is worth expressing it. Art in all its forms makes you a human. Makes you a feeling, living, fuller, healthier human.
It’s the Adrenalin kicking in that makes you shake and wanting to run for about the first 10 minutes of the performance as if the audience is going to eat you alive.try this: how about embracing the rush? If instead of fearing it you try to imagine, for a second, that it is exciting? You are out there pushing your limits. You are the hero. Take the leap. You might enjoy it. Try to find the bits and peaces you enjoy.
Now, of course, if you’re out there not knowing what you are going to do, then your head is going to blow off. So what do you do? You prepare yourself. Practice. Just be ready for what you are going to do out there. This is the most boring advice, I know. The key is practice. But what does it mean? Do I practice until my head blows off anyway? No. You practice with attention, so you know how it feels, where do you feel it, how much to put effort into it. Know the lyrics, know what your face looks like on that high note. Know yourself. That is the main goal for practicing. To know yourself in the situation without the added stress of people watching you. Then you have a solid base to come back to. And chances are, as soon as you start doing what you have been practicing, your body and muscle memory will go: “Oh this thing? We know what to do. Here we go everyone, as practiced!“
While you practice imagine the space you will be performing in. This has helped me so much. I am less stressed if I know how the place looks and feels like. If I can spend a moment imagining myself being there and doing my thing. Look for pictures online, go visit the place, chat up the people. This can serve you as a network builder too.
Not always will you be able to know the space beforehand. Then, put a conscious thought into your mind: I will not be worrying about it. Choose a thing or two to concentrate on. Today I will be concentrating on noticing if I am locking my knees while I perform. I will be attentive to what my forehead is doing while I perform. Make your monkey mind busy with a useful task. Attention to detail makes you a better performer, because if you know you where the work is happening, you can control it. And most importantly not hurt yourself, because you are aware of where tension is.
Take yourself out of the picture
One of my teachers, and I have forgotten which one, told me not to concentrate on myself and all the debilitating thoughts running through my head during a performance. You are there for music. Music is much bigger than you. It is not about you. It is about music. At least that is how I interpreted it. And it has helped me since. When I sing, I am there for music. And I love music, so much so that I am ready to put my shy self aside and be in front of people to do music. I have to mention that if you have decide you want to try to put yourself out there, there is a shy part of you that probably likes the attention and the satisfaction you get from pleasing the crowd. It is a complex system of motivations that change over time. The reasons why you choose to perform are your own. Sometimes you don’t even consciously put it in words why the urge is there but the reality scares you. Try figuring our your motivations. That might have some good answers for you.
The audience wants to be entertained. The audience doesn’t necessarily think about how you feel. They think about how you make THEM feel. I find this very freeing. It is not about me, it is about them. How to work audiences is a whole new topic that I will discuss sometime. But for now just remember, everyone is thinking about themselves, not about you as much.
Imagine audience members are potatoes. Have you ever done that? I haven’t. I guess the thought of me performing for seated potatoes scares me more. Noted, will discuss that with my therapist.
Hope this has been useful. Try these out. See what works for you and what doesn’t. I’m interested to know how you deal with your performance anxiety. Always looking for more tips and tricks to help my students and myself. We are all so different, yet the same.
Sing your heart out!