How to overcome performance anxiety or stage fright

27-May-2019

How to overcome performance anxiety or stage fright.

Many performing artists have to overcome a serious challenge: stage fright.
I have seen it with children and adults, the fear of going on stage.

Am I nervous when I go on stage?
Sometimes I am, really!
It is important that we learn to deal with this because it might take away the thing we actually love to do most, it can be that harmful!
Other that, performance anxiety is taboo, we don’t talk about it because we don’t want to admit that it haunts us too.
So let’s get that skeleton out of the closet.

Feeling an anxiety seems something one should be ashamed of, especially for a professional performer.
However, there are many world famous performers who feel totally sick before a concert, literally throwing up.
The public will never know, they expect a great concert or show, they want to be entertained, and they will get that because professionals have learnt how to overcome this fear, or part of it, you can too!

There are many ways to go, but all would agree on a few points that are crucial to gaining confidence on stage.
So, let’s get into the hidden part of being a performer and see where the fear comes from, only then we can deal with solving it.

Step 1: Be prepared.

A first trigger to performing anxiety is lacking enough preparation.
Seems quite obvious doesn’t it?
You really have to be serious about this step, study as good and often as you can.
If someone would wake you up in the middle of the night and give you your violin you should be able to perform seamlessly.
( I hope I don’t give someone the idea of trying this with me though, figure of speech).
Being prepared will give you all the confidence you need, but that will still not be enough.
You might still feel the shivers go down your spine on the moment you know you’re up next.
Imagine what it would feel like if you didn’t prepare enough, so, step 1 is a crucial first step.

Step 2: Create the right mindset.

When you feel anxiety you normally would focus on that, it can really take over.
Your mind has taken over and is working on you in a harmful “protective” way.
Why protective?
Fear is a warning, your mind tells you not to take a certain action because it thinks you might be harmed.
How could a performance harm you?
Your mind will say if you make a mistake people might laugh, throw tomatoes, stand up and leave, yell “booooh”….
This will ruin your self-esteem, so your mind wants to protect you from it and tell you not to go on stage.
It even gives you physical sensations, like feeling sick, throwing up…
Your mind is very powerful in this!
The good part is, you can fight back!
You are able to control your mind, tell it that it is ok, that you have prepared for this and you will be fine!
This is setting the right mindset, convincing your mind, yourself, that you want to do this, that you worked so hard on getting here and that you are actually going to enjoy this yourself!
Focus on that and on how you will enjoy sharing your story.

Step 3: Be bold.

This comes after the mindset in step 2, taking it even further, be bold!
Sounds easy, I know, but you can teach yourself how to achieve this.
We are all afraid of making mistakes, we are taught that making mistakes is a bad thing, does this ring a bell?
My teacher, before I went to the conservatory, only focused on the mistakes I made, not on any positive achievements.
I felt I couldn’t do anything right, it almost kept me from auditioning for the Conservatory.
This had a huge negative impact on me, loosing confidence in everything I did.
It took me years to recover from that.
Making mistakes is part of the job, really!!

Everybody makes them, it’s all about how we deal with them, what importance we put to them.
Say you are going to a concert to see Itzak Perlman perform, (my absolute hero!), you paid quite a lot for that VIP seat, Perlman starts and completely misses the first passage… (not that I have seen him do it but hypothetical).
Would you go and ask your money back? No way? Because the rest of what he played totally moved me.
He would tell you if he made mistakes, or how he felt about his performance, he would be honest to share some things that went wrong, even if most didn’t hear it.
Mistakes are part of every action, definitely on concert stages!
Be aware of the fact that an audience is very understanding, forgiving.
That’s a good thing to know right? Would you be? Of course you would!
That been said it is ok to make mistakes, so here comes… Be bold!!
To make a mistake while you are playing your heart out, is ok, performing without soul (being very careful you play the right notes) is unforgivable.
(That’s when I would ask for a refund).
So go for it, give it all you have.

This is the theory, in practice it can be challenging, I know.
My goal with this article is to help you into the right direction, but I know the mind can be very strong.
What can help to diminish the power of anxiety is to share this with others.
In fact, it will prove to be a huge step in making it less harmful, even diminishing the fear itself.
Be vulnerable by speaking out your fears and you will see you are not alone, you will feel empathy and support of those around you.
The more you do this the smaller the anxiety will become.

Workshop idea:

Gather a group of people with whom you discuss performance anxiety, it might be all the students of your teacher.
Everybody shares their experiences in this matter and then one by one play a small piece you prepared, only to this group.
Then again share this experience, what did you feel, how did you cope with it, and after that play the same piece again.
Knowing that you are not alone will eventually take away most of the stage fright.
The little bit that remains will give us enough adrenaline to take the 3rd step, being bold enough to give a great experience to your audience, but especially to yourself.

Xander Nichting