Have you ever found yourself in front of an audience with your knees shaking and sweat trickling down your temple? Maybe you want to throw up, or suddenly there’s not enough air in the room. You may feel like your mouth is as dry as a sandy desert and your voice, normally controlled and strong sounds as if you were sitting on a washing machine in the spin cycle. Wait, it gets worse. You can’t for the life of you remember the first line to the song – and it’s your own song!
Welcome to stage fright! Firstly let me say that this condition is natural and normal. Many people experience this kind of anxiety from newbies to major pros. I highly recommend you read my post Warning: stage fright can ruin your performance. It will give you a background as to the cause and symptoms of stage fright also known as, performance anxiety.
It is vital that you don’t allow this to go on to ruin your performance experience or even prevent you from getting in front of an audience altogether. I am going to help you to focus on developing strategies for helping address the root of the problem.
Here are my recommended top 6 strategies for preventing your anxiety or nerves from ruining your experience on stage
- The better you know your instrument, the music/lyrics the more likely you are to perform successfully. Singing and playing an instrument is a motor skill, so the more familiar the muscles and nervous system are with the job the better your chances of an accurate performance.
- Practice stage movement where relevant and wear your gig clothes e.g for girls practice in the shoes you’ll be wearing for the gig.
- Perform at some less important gigs/events
- Practice can be physical or imagined; the brain doesn’t know the difference.
- Small amounts of high-quality practice are more effective.
- “Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Vince Lombardi
- Check equipment is well maintained and in good working order
- Know the set list, gig type, start time and venue details, etc
- If possible get familiar with the venue/stage a sound check is ideal.
Health and fitness:
- Consider a regular exercise regime
- Keep well hydrated at all times, 1.5 -2 litre per day
- Moderate your diet certain foods feed into anxiety, for instance, caffeine, sugar and alcohol. Supplements such as Liposomal Vitamin C, Vitamin B, Calcium and Magnesium will help reduce symptoms
- Avoid nicotine and illicit drugs
- Avoid contagious illness e.g. common cold, flu, etc
- Get plenty of sleep especially the night before the performance.
Learn visualisation and meditation techniques to encourage a state of calm and focus
3. Routine on the day
- Don’t rush around doing chores or last-minute activities
- Have a good breakfast, eat sensibly. Bananas or small amounts of dark chocolate release ‘serotonin the ‘happy hormone’) but don’t perform on a full stomach
- Remember to keep well hydrated – drink till your wee is a pale straw colour
- Give yourself enough time to get to the venue
- Develop a ritual:
Rituals can help you prepare you mentally and physically for performing. For example, a couple of hours before you are due at the gig set aside an hour where no one can contact you. Here’s a suggested routine:
- Turn off the phone
- Meditate/visualise for 15 minutes focusing on having a successful gig
- Physical and technical warm up
- Start preparing your gig equipment, clothing and make-up/hair if relevant
- Go through a checklist: such as equipment, music, extra clothing, etc
4. When at the venue
- Engage in a bit of conversation to focus outwardly.
- If possible walk the stage, familiarise yourself with its layout.
- 10min warm-up -physical and technical, centre yourself through deep breathing exercises or meditative techniques.
Prior to stepping on stage
- Take three deep breaths in on the count of 1 through the nose out through the mouth on the count of 2,3,4). When anxious we often take shallow breaths which cause CO2 to rise in the body. This chemical imbalance can cause dizziness, sweating, increased heart rate and blurred vision.
- If you have a dry mouth gently bite your tongue to stimulate saliva
- Smile/laugh, research has demonstrated that even a forced smile contributes to lowering the heart rate and laughter boosts the immune system. Surround yourself with funny people! LOL.
- Even if you don’t feel confident, pretend you are! The brain won’t know the difference.
5. When on stage
- Focus on the music, message and other instruments and away from the negative.
- Communicate with other members of the band and if possible the audience, remember the audience will give back what they receive so if you want to be loved you need to project love first! They are not expecting perfection just an honest and passionate performance.
- Don’t dwell on mistakes, most audience members won’t even pick up your errors.
- Be in the moment, thinking ahead too far ahead or dwelling on past mistakes will distract you.
- Have fun; don’t expect perfection, nothing and no one is perfect. What’s the absolute worst that will happen? No one died from a bad gig! Focus on doing what you love and loving what you do.
6. Other techniques/remedies.
If you feel you need more help there are many therapies and treatments out there that can help you overcome your stage fright. Here are some of the better-known ones:
- Meditation/relaxation methods
- Visualisation techniques
- Postural therapies e.g. Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais
- Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT)
- Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT)
- Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP)
- Homeopathic medicine such as Rescue Remedy
- In extreme cases, a doctor may prescribe beta blockers but this is not a recommended long term treatment as beta blockers slow the reflexes and dull emotional responses resulting in a ‘flat’ performance
Don’t short change yourself or your audience by allowing fear to control you, do whatever necessary to overcome the fear, remember to be patient with yourself and your star will shine!
May you meet no fear on stage.