This is the second in a series of blogs about stage fright. In my last blog, I wrote about how deeply ashamed many performers are about having stage fright, whether they’re professional performers or otherwise and how this, and the taboo that has built up around it, can cause such distress and massively impact the quality of their performance.
In this blog, I am going to write about simple, practical steps that you can take to manage your nerves, and give yourself a much more enjoyable performance. It may sound obvious, but one of the most important aspects of keeping stage fright at bay, is to know what you are performing, and to know it really well. Don’t kid yourself that you can wing it. Most of the time, you can’t and it is wise to assume you can’t. Even the people who give the impression that they just get up there and do it, have invariably done a lot more preparation than it might appear.
Practice is essential. Whatever you are performing, whether it is a presentation, a speech or music for a concert, get to know it inside out and back to front. Plan it, prepare it, practice it – and then practice, again and again, more than you can ever imagine. What this does is two fold. You build it into your system so well that if your nerves get out of control in the performance and throw you, a form of autopilot can kick in whilst you recover yourself and find your feet again. It also gives you enormous confidence and reassurance that you know it well and that in itself helps with stage fright.
Almost everybody has some form of nerves before a performance and it is helpful to get to know your own individual symptoms so that you can then start managing them. A friend of mine told me that a few hours before she had to get up on stage as a musician, she would get extremely sleepy and feel drained in energy. As soon as she then went on stage, the sleepiness would disappear and she would be on top form with all the energy she needed. She found this quite disturbing at first, willing herself to feel better in advance of the concert, regularly forgetting that the ‘problem’ would rectify itself once she was on stage. Once she realised that her body was actually shutting down in order to keep all her energy ready for when she really needed it, she could relax about her pre-performance symptoms.
When you can understand your own individual, physical response to performing you are a much better position to give yourself what you need. Are you someone who needs to eat before a performance or afterwards, for example? I had the rather unpleasant experience of nearly fainting in a concert once because I hadn’t realised that I personally needed to eat before rather than after a performance. I certainly knew what I needed to do after that! Make sure you give yourself enough rest. Being physically tired or tense doesn’t help with a performance because energy can’t effectively flow through a tired body. You may need to find somewhere to lie down beforehand or give yourself time and space to be quiet, so that you are more able to focus when you are performing. And be very aware that when your body is gearing up for a performance, it is much more of a challenge to carry on with what you might otherwise consider as a ‘normal’ day. You may need to do less on the day of the performance, and certainly avoid other stresses and strains just before you go on.
Breathing is something that is very simple and yet amazingly powerful when dealing with stage fright. Take slow, deep breaths as you are waiting. This calms the nervous system and helps oxygenate your body, which is essential for performing well. Stretching is also good. When you are anxious, you tend to get physically tense, so stretching can make a massive difference to how you feel. A few simple Yoga stretches or any stretches that you make up on the spot, will work. And this has the added benefit of getting you out of your mind and back in touch with your body.
In my next and final blog about stage fright, I will be writing about how you can best respond from an emotional perspective and how, by learning to manage your emotions, you can give yourself the best possible chance of overcoming stage fright and so that you can perform at your peak.