7 Tips To Overcome Nervousness (aka Stage Fright / Performance Anxiety) & Become a Confident Performer

Canadian Brass in Krákow, Poland, 2016

Canadian Brass in Krákow, Poland, 2016

Written by Chris Coletti

Professional and amateur performers alike have to deal with performance anxiety all the time.

Some claim they eventually overcome it, some never experience it, but some of the best in the business get nervous before every single performance but still perform their best.

Some get so nervous that they get violently ill before every show(!!)–but the audience never sees it.  How do they do it? While everyone is different, the following 7 steps should help you on your way to becoming a more confident performer:

1. Nervousness defined.

The number one reason for getting nervous for a performance is simple: Nervousness occurs when you hold yourself to a higher standard in performance than in practice. Fortunately, this is the easiest barrier to overcome. Figure out a way to raise your standards in the practice room — recording yourself (video is best), performing often, whether in front of peers/teachers/students/audition committees — the key is to put yourself in situations where suboptimal performance is not an option, as often as possible.  

2. Think like a pro.

One of the key differences between professionals and amateurs isn’t necessarily talent, it’s that pros don’t have failure as an option. When you don’t have a choice whether to perform your best or not, your prepare differently—you prepare better.

3. Lose the ego.

Most performers psych themselves out by approaching performance situations as an opportunity to impress people. NO ONE CARES. If you’re a musician or a speaker, people do not come to your performance to be “impressed.” They come to be moved and inspired. Focus on moving others and inspiring your audience and your nerves will fade away.  Read the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey; it will make you a more confident and competent performer by teaching how to focus on what really matters.  This book is a must-read for the serious performer. 

4. Focus on the task at hand.

Performing in public, whether as a musician or as a speaker, requires focus—you really need to be in the zone. There is no room for being self conscious, so focus on the task at hand (making music, getting your message across, etc.) and not yourself.  This relates to the previous section: nervousness is often synonymous with self-consciousnesses.  If you’re feeling self-conscious on stage it’s a good indicator that your focus is on yourself (think: EGO) and not on the impact of the performance on others (think: SHARING).  The book Performance Success: Performing Your Best Under Pressure by Don Green can teach you to get in the zone when it really counts. 

5. Be prepared.

Performances don’t always go as planned—many factors are out of your influence. Preparation, however, is the one thing you can directly control.  Showing up for a performance unprepared is one of the silliest ways to make yourself nervous as it is completely avoidable.  Keep in mind that preparation may mean more than just working on your material; mastering the delivery is a major part of any performance.  The solution?  Perform often.  In a crunch for time? Record yourself (video is best) over an over again until you’re delivery is effortless.  

6. Is it fear? Or just excitement?

Performing is thrilling.  If you don’t enjoy that excitement it might not be the career for you.  Learn to differentiate between fear: often a combination of self-consciousness and under-preparedness–vs excitement: a totally normal reaction to an abnormal situation, such performing a complex task in front of an audience.  Feel the Fear and Do it Anyway by Susan Jeffers is the classic book that has been empowering professional performers with confidence on stage for decades.

7. Quiet the Mind.

Your thoughts shouldn’t be louder than the silence in the room.  Focusing on your breathing is a very effective way to lower your heart rate and relax your spirit.  

Quieting the mind so it can operate optimally in high pressure situations takes practice.  There are hundreds of meditation techniques, many thousands of years old, that train you to clear your mind at will.  Meditation, including yoga, is one of the most effective ways to master this aspect of performing, and the benefits apply off the stage as well. Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery is a is one of the most effective books on focus, mastery and performance.  

One of the best performer-focused yoga instructors out there is Nicole Newman, founder of Yoga for the Arts.  She’s worked with top performers ranging from members of the New York Philharmonic, to students and faculty of top schools like Juilliard and New York University.

Some people find that works like  A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle can help you bring more presence to your life, transforming the increased awareness that happens during performances into energy that will no longer throw you off, but inspire the best in you.    

Another amazing book on the subject of presence is You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment by Thich Nhat Hanh.  His work is very accessible and you will notice an improvement as soon as you crack the book open.

Books and other suggestions mentioned in this post:  

 

 

 

yoga for musicians

15 Comments

  1. Becky Pritchard March 21, 2016 at 4:09 am - Reply

    This is an excellent article for our students as they enter into audition and competition season! I am sending this to all of them! Thank you!!

  2. Sam Armstrong March 21, 2016 at 11:56 am - Reply

    Thank you, Chris! These are such fantastic ideas

  3. Master Performing March 21, 2016 at 3:05 pm - Reply

    Chris,

    This is a fantastic post. Points #1, 4,5, and 7 are particularly bang-on.

    Keep up the great work!

  4. Munda March 22, 2016 at 6:41 pm - Reply

    This might apply for some people, good for them. But other than this there is a lot of rubbish in it. “Pros don’t have failure as an option.”? This is why so many are under influence. And that is NO fun! YES- to be prepared (this is the least to be done); and tripple YES to “Quiet your mind” but certainly not guided by boosk by Eckhart Tolle .

  5. David March 23, 2016 at 1:00 am - Reply

    Thanks for the advice Chris! I look forward to implementing this in my performance life.

  6. Carol Cook July 4, 2016 at 10:42 pm - Reply

    Excellent article! I agree with all your steps and have read two of the books mentioned. These tips helped me when I was in my sales career and later in my team leader position. Well written Chris!

  7. John Little July 16, 2016 at 5:08 am - Reply

    This is a wonderful read for young musicians! Focusing on the correct things with the right type of energy is vital!! Don Greens help saved me!

  8. […] “Professional and amateur performers alike have to deal with performance anxiety all the time.Some claim they eventually overcome it, some never experience it, but some of the best in the business get nervous before every single performance but still perform their best.Some get so nervous that they get violently ill before every show(!!)–but the audience never sees it. How do they do it? While everyone is different, the following 7 steps should help you on your way to becoming a more confident performer.” (whole article here…) […]

  9. Danielle November 13, 2016 at 12:00 pm - Reply

    Hi Chris:

    My name is Danielle and I am currently a student studying Public Relations. As I continue to learn about many types of practitioner methods in dealing with the public, I am realizing the ability to speak publicly and in a convincing and confident manner is highly important in the industry. From a young age, I have always had ‘stage fright’, mostly consisting of shaking uncontrollably in front of crowds/audiences which require me to speak in front of. In more recent years, performing music in front of people has presented challenges to me. I first tried to do a few ‘open mic’ events alone and with a friend – I obviously found performing alone was a lot more intimidating with a friend, but with a friend still yielded confidence issues for me. As I got older, I eventually became the lead singer and rhythm guitarist for a band which further catalyzed my undying fear of performing and being vocal in front of crowds. During the times of being in a band, I never researched how to deal with stage fright as it was one of those things I just tried to figure out how to deal with on my own by ‘facing the music’ in every literal way, hoping I would just build some ‘immunity’ to the whole thing. Accordingly, I realized along the way that things got increasingly easier for me in terms of being able to mitigate my stage fright. My presence and confidence started to build, and I created something like a ‘performance personality’ for myself – I just got more confident each time I performed with the band, or was it just an ignorance of fear? I wonder to this day. My band days are long gone now, and having been out of a performing situation for so long has of course relegated me back to a dark place with public speaking since I have been out of practice for years.

    I am finding in my classes right now as I study that the fear has returned, albeit on a not as intense level as previously described, but still existing. I have to do presentations, and am encouraged to participate daily in class which I do enjoy doing despite the fear of speaking (a conundrum, isn’t it?). I have a big presentation coming up in less than two weeks so I have been researching how to make things easier for myself, and now here I am. I am grateful to have stumbled upon your blog post about how to deal with stage fright, and I want to thank you for exercising my mind on how to mentally navigate through and prepare for the anxiety associated with performing, and for providing resources on the topic. I found your sixth point on fear versus excitement rather surprising since I never really thought to try to understand my emotions and thought-processes in these ways. And I think being able to differentiate oneself from fear versus excitement is very imperative in order to understand oneself, which may have been my problem all along. Thank you for all of this useful information, and for reminding us that we are not alone.

  10. Cameron Laird December 7, 2016 at 12:10 pm - Reply

    This is great advice. Ive read one a number of years ago which really helped me with my own performance prep. But it didnt help the ego part. I still went on stage thinking people wanted to hear someone play really well, when in-fact they just want to hear good music that moves or inspires them. Ill be sharing this on my twitter and Facebook feeds

  11. Bryan Davis January 5, 2017 at 11:57 am - Reply

    I wholeheartedly agree with being prepared, trying to quiet your mind etc. I’m less on board with #2. By all means, hold yourself to a high standard but, for me, it’s less about not seeing failure as an option as it is not allowing any mistakes to derail the rest of the performance. The quantity of mistakes you make will be lessened by proper preparation – down, hopefully, close to zero – but the mark of the professional is not falling apart if something does go wrong and not repeating the error if you have to go back, for instance in a recording environment or if you perform the same show night after night. Realistic goals are also important – perfection is unattainable because there’s always something to improve.

    The final aspect that people should remember is that nervousness, or lack thereof, in the long term is a habit. You touched on this in the section about Fear vs Excitement. If Excitement is a response to an abnormal situation, how many repetitions before performing becomes your normal? (A rhetorical question, of course, since the number would be different for everybody, but you can get used to anything…)

  12. […] How to tackle Performance Anxiety […]

  13. Roger Ringnalda April 3, 2017 at 11:27 am - Reply

    Chris, Thank you so much for the wonderful comments concerning overcoming stage fright. They were helpful, even to a 72-year-old retired band director and still-active trombone player! I especially wish to thank you for alerting me (us readers) to the http://www.KhanAcademy.org site. I spent over an hour there on my first visit and have bookmarked the site at the begining of my bookmark bar. so that I can visit often and learn/review what I have forgotten about math, science, electronics and so forth. It is so much fun to learn or relearn new things at my age I appreciate knowing about this gem of a site. beginning you for your time in education us and as always Love the Canadian Brass!!

  14. Debra Skripkunis April 25, 2017 at 8:25 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Chris! I have had an on again, off again battle with nervousness and I found the thing that helped me most was to play for an audience every chance I got. I’m sharing this with some of my other friends who have the same issues. Thanks, again!

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