Tips for Dealing with Performance Anxiety
Many talented performers in the world today deal with anxiety when performing. If you are one of those people, have no fear. We are all human and it’s natural to get those nervous jitters on stage! But, you should not let performance anxiety prohibit you from performing, auditioning, or composing, etc. Here are some tips that have helped me as a performer deal with anxiety.
1) Be in the Moment
Oftentimes anxiety kicks in when we are not staying present and “in the moment." You could be thinking about if the club owner is going to stiff you your money at the end of the night, or if public transportation will still be running after the gig, or how to get all your equipment back home, or even what you will make for dinner later! If you tune out all these racing thoughts, and focus on the message you want to convey to the audience through your music, your jitters, sweats, lyric mishaps, nausea will start to go away. Finding a spot in the room that you can focus on with a soft gaze may help. Find a part of the song that you can let go and give your all whether it’s that big belt, piano glissando, or sax improv.
You need to dedicate all of your attention to making your performance great, and the minute you loose your focus, and concentration, that’s when your anxiety starts to take hold, and the audience begins to notice. It’s better to be in the moment, and to make a small error while committing to your artistic choice than to be out of the moment, out of focus, out of synch and not committing to your performance.
Be present mentally, physically and emotionally!
2) Be Confident
A lot of performers suffer anxiety when they feel unsure about their talent, the performance/audition, or the audience. They have lost their sense of self confidence, and begin over analyzing, critiquing themselves. The audience wants to see you enjoying yourself on stage! Why would they want to pay money for a ticket to see you perform, if you give a performance that looks insecure, shy or indecisive.
Now, it’s understandable that in some circumstances, you may indeed not feel confident, if you are the understudy and have to step in at the last minute or you are sightreading in the pit for the first time. The key here is to look and act confident. Even if your insides are screaming that you’re not confident, if you go with the performance, with that confident presence in your body language, your voice, your face, etc, If you make a mistake, just keep going, keep smiling, keep playing, pretend it maybe was part of the show. The audience is not going to know the difference, and will enjoy your performance a thousand times more when they see you being confident and enjoying yourself on stage.
3) Find what helps you/hurts you in a performance
Each person has their own level of comfort zones when performing, maybe you get more nervous performing in front of 100+ people and prefer intimate jazz club settings, or vice a versa, maybe small intimate theatres scare you! Find theaters, venues, concert halls you can perform in that would make you feel comfortable on stage. Find a band, musicians, instruments you enjoy playing with. Avoid venues with people or customers you don’t enjoy being around. If you don’t like rock venues where people are loud and smoke and drink, then don’t book a show there. If you don’t feel comfortable performing with a full band yet, then perhaps book an acoustic gig with a guitar. Don’t set yourself up for stress or situations that will give you anxiety immediately. Make a list of your ideal performance venue, set lists and instrumentations.
4) Find your calming technique
Everyone has their own techniques -- either before they go on stage or when they are on stage. Whether it’s a breathing exercise or meditation mantra, having water, tea or wine on stage with them, find the things that make you feel at ease. Maybe you don’t wear high heels or a tight tie on stage, what will help you feel at home? Some people also turn to prescribed medications for help, that will lower your heart rate, and calm your thoughts. If you have tried different natural calming techniques and they don’t seem to be effective, then I advise you to consult with a doctor to see if you should perhaps take an anti-anxiety medication.
Being well prepared will also help you feel more ease: having enough rehearsals in, extra copies of the music, music stands and lights, sound check on stage. All of these preparation items should be part of your calming techniques.
I hope these tips will help you the next time you are feeling anxious on stage. Remember you have worked too hard to let something like anxiety stop you from performing and sharing your music with the world!
View Liz Turner's performance confidence in her video "Show Me." To ask Liz questions and book a lesson, go to her teaching profile page.