We all know those feelings: Your stomach feels like there is an angry swarm of butterflies trying to escape, you might even feel like you’re going to throw up, uncontrollably sweat, or your mouth suddenly feels like the Sahara desert. And the one that seems to still plague me from time to time? Uncontrollable shivers.
Whether it’s presenting a science project to your 6th grade class, giving a projections report at the next board meeting, or singing in front of a group of any size, we suddenly go into panic mode and those pesky symptoms of performance anxiety show up. The worst part is that it feels like there is nothing we can do to stop it. Or is there?
I’ve found in my many years of performing in any capacity to crowds of all sizes that there are some key secrets to minimizing those jitters and channeling them into something positive. I’m not saying that I don’t ever get nervous because I still do, absolutely- I honestly think that there is a healthy level of nervousness that keeps us on our toes. But I have learned over time, with lots of experience, to embrace those feelings and channel them in a positive way. And I’d like to take a moment to share some ways to help you with your next performance.
Performance is a PRACTICE. Yes, you have to practice your craft. But you also have to practice performing that craft. Do you remember riding your bike without training wheels for the first time? You were probably scared of what could happen without those training wheels… you could fall over! You might start going too fast and not being able to stop! But gues what? You kept trying and every time you did it was less and less scary. Before you knew it, you were racing down those big hills on two wheels without another thought. At that point you probably don’t even remember what felt like to be scared, right? Translate that directly to the performance of your craft. The more you do it, the easier it becomes. That means you need to find every opportunity to perform. Find a local karaoke night, sing for your local retirement community, sing at your church, audition for your choir solos, sing for your family. Every performance gets you one step closer to riding that bike without training wheels.
Be confident in WHAT YOU HAVE TO OFFER. If I’m being honest, this lesson is STILL the most difficult for me to accept but it’s also the most important one. As a society, we are obsessed with being anything other than who we are. We are constantly fed messages that we aren’t good enough or are shamed for being different. The truth is that we are beautiful and unique and that’s awesome and should be celebrated! And that goes for your artistry as well.
To help this hit home for you, I’ll share another moment of vulnerability here: There was a period of my life that deeply wounded me as an artist because I was made to believe my voice wasn’t “good enough” or “big enough”. Unfortunately, I listened to those messages and it sent me into a dark spiral of withdrawl artistically, technically and personally. I mean, what’s more personal than a singer’s voice? It’s not like a you can return your voice for a newer, shinier one at your local music store. I doubted everything about what I had to offer and it led to some flat out terrible, anxiety-ridden performances that I have fought very hard to forget! But you know what? I knew there had to be more; that I could be more and I had something to offer. That voice inside had been muffled for so long it was barely audible, but I heard it. I nurtured it. I got back into lessons with a teacher I trusted. I worked tirelessly on my technique and celebrated each breakthrough.
It’s been a long road to recovery but I now trust and believe in what I have to offer and that mentality has fostered some of the most rewarding singing and performances I’ve ever done. I encourage you to embrace what make you unique and celebrate that! Some of the most famous singers and performers in history weren’t cookie cutter or fit into a ‘mold’. They often weren’t even the best singers. But they were honest about who they were and their voice, and changed music history because of it.
Find a pre-performance routine that works for you. Many performers or athletes have routines, or rituals they participate in to get them in the right mindset to give their best performance. For some it’s meditation, for others it’s steaming for half an hour and drinking tea out of the same mug every time. If you don’t have a routine in place right now, try testing out a few things. Think about what makes you feel safe in other aspects of your life… is it a particular meal? Eat that for lunch the day of your show. Is it a song that get you turned up? Play that in your headphones before you go out. Is it that Sunday afternoon yoga class? Find a quick, pre-show routine that centers you and quiets those negative, internal voices.
When it comes to performing, even the most seasoned performer gets a little nervous. But hopefully with these tools you can learn to channel those negative jitters into excitement and confidence. You got this; Keep calm and sing on.