5 stage-fright re-frames to shift your focus

man singing on stageStage-fright on some level, is pretty much a given with many of the performers and speakers that I work with.

On one level it is completely understandable. Few of us like the idea of standing up there in front of an audience of hundreds, maybe even thousands and singing, dancing or even just speaking.

At the same time, many of my clients are hugely talented people.As one successful client put it ‘I beat myself up over being so nervous. I should be used to it by now.’

The thing that frustrates many performers is that they know that having this fear over performing can mean that they actually perform less well. They know that some level of adrenaline is a good thing, but too much makes them slip into the physical symptoms of panic – sweaty palms, racing heart, trembling hands and shaky voice – most of which are not conducive to the best performances or presentations.

It doesn’t seem to matter how successful the performer is either. Some of our greatest artistes are famous for their performance anxiety. Until recently, for example, hugely successful singer, Adele refused to give any live performances at big venues.

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The interesting thing is that while this problem is rife among celebrities, it is also something that crops up in other clients whose’performances’ are to much smaller groups of people.

  • the amateur musician who can’t perform at pubs or local venues
  • the Chief Executive Officer of a company who doesn’t like addressing board meetings
  • the finance manager who hates having to give his monthly report to his boss

There are many processes and techniques that can help you overcome performance nerves, and sometimes it can help just to think about things differently.

  1. Find your comfort level.One of the questions I put to my clients in either situation is ‘exactly how many people is it okay to perform to?’  Some say ‘none’ of course, but when coaxed they may feel okay in front of one or two non-threatening individuals. Some may say they can cope with six or seven. Some may even say they are okay presenting to a group of 10 or even 20.
    That’s useful information! Because if we know there are occasions where they don’t ‘panic’ then we can use the characteristics of those occasions to create a similar state with larger numbers.
    ‘So you find you can perform well in front of three people.’ I say. ‘What would be different if there were 4?’ It’s a good thing to ask yourself – what difference does one or more audience member make?
  2. What is the worst that can happen?Naturally a bad performance for  a celebrity can have an impact, and the same is true to a lesser extent for anybody with an audience. But on the plus side I am not aware of any incidents of lynching of a singer for hitting a wrong note, or even forgetting a few words.  These are the things that make us human. These are the things that make a performance ‘real’. It’s not usually life or death.
  3. Most ‘mistakes’ are imperceptible, some may even be ‘interpretation’.When you are using a skill, such as playing an instrument, singing or even just speaking publicly, you are constantly aware of the need to improve the quality of what you do. Therefore you are tuned in to the things that you could improve, or, more commonly, you are focusing on the things you do less well. These are a big deal to you, and that’s okay, because we always want to improve. However for many, these errors, mistakes and misjudgements are completely unnoticeable to 95% of the audience. What most people see, in many situations, is somebody who can do something amazing, that they can’t even consider doing.
  4. There will always be criticsIn any given performance situation there will be critics. They may be paid to judge, or they may be people who get a reward or benefit from being opinionated and disparaging.  Whichever they are, it is their purpose, and the performance is your purpose. If you listen to your critics you may learn something, but for every person who makes a negative comment, make sure you take on board an equally positive comment from somebody who is supportive and learn from that too. If you are only hearing critics then you need to find a new audience!
  5. You learned this a long time ago, and it is time to learn something newOne common reason that very successful people still get stage fright is because they learned it at a very young age. It is likely that at some time in their past they experienced negative feedback for a ‘performance’. Maybe they were criticised by a parent or a teacher, maybe they were ganged up on by other children. That experience programmed their brain to have certain beliefs about themselves and to instinctively react in certain ways.  Without intervention, sometimes those programs just don’t get updated. Once you are aware of them, however, they can be changed, sometimes surprisingly easily.

It may feel sometimes that nerves before a performance of any kind, from an interview to a boardroom presentation, are out of your direct control, but for many, it is just about re-framing your experiences, learning more enabling beliefs about yourself and triggering a better response.

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Robert Sanders is a therapist and life coach, supporting people in their present and helping them create their future.

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