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Stage Fright

December 19, 2018

Just be more confident.

That’s not very helpful advice.

I heard this a lot when I was training, and just didn’t know how to turn off these feelings that sabotaged my hard work.
The truth is you can do it but it is work, and takes discipline. Here are 3 things that will help.

1. Visualisation

This is a real, tried and tested technique that trains the brain to expect good things rather than disaster. This is employed by olympic athletes and lots of high achieving people in business and so on. If it’s good enough for Linford Christie, it’s good enough for little old us.

Visualise things going well.

The vast majority of people I see who are nervous worry a huge amount about everything they think is going to go wrong. This is an easy trap to get caught in and it can happen without you even realising it. The truth is, the more you worry about things going wrong, you are actually increasing the likelihood that they will go wrong. You need to ditch that habit ASAP. (We’ll talk a bit more about that in point 2). But use your powers of visualisation. Imagine everything going well. Imagine yourself at the performance smiling, enjoying the music, enjoying the event, feeling relaxed, doing well, remembering everything, and dealing professionally with small errors. You have to be disciplined with this, but it does work.

2. Positive Thinking

You need to ditch negative thinking ASAP. Whenever you feel an undermining thought sneaking in, you have to get rid of it. No ‘yeah but..’, no indulging in it, no feeling sorry for yourself. Here’s the key – even if you are correct, it’s not constructive, therefore not serving you. So stop it. Again, this technique is part of an approach that can address eating disorders, drug addition problems and more. It can certainly work for you.

Abandon the negative thought and replace it with something positive. Remember why you enjoy this so much and what you get out of it – what works for each individual will vary hugely from person to person, but think about what drives you. Replace the thought with something positive and very strong. Don’t try and be intellectual about it ‘no one’s going to die are they..’ Logic doesn’t work. Emotion does. Find a reason, something value driven and very strong. If you find yourself worrying about things like forgetting words, don’t waste energy worrying, spend that energy rehearsing. When you think you know it, you don’t. Do it 10 times more. (Leading me to my next point). The point is, worrying and indulging in negative thinking is leading you towards the exact outcome you fear. Don’t sit around worrying. Do something about it.

3. Preparation

Being under rehearsed will make you feel awful. There is not much worse that wanting to do a great job and just not being exactly sure about what’s going on. Don’t under estimate how much work it might take. Break it down into smaller tasks. One of the things I like to do as a vocalist is take the lyric and speaking separately and rehearse it whilst doing something else. Movement can really help here. So for example, the Tapestry show I used to rehearse in the pool. I’d get in the pool and recite to myself everything I was going to say, all the lyrics at speaking speed (not singing it through in my head), all the little stories I was going to tell. So I’m practicing all the songs, speaking, show order. But you can do that with one song, or three songs. Break it down into smaller tasks and don’t rush the preparation of each step before you try to put it back together.

When you’ve got it right once, that is then the ‘drilling’ phase as we call it. Once you’ve got it right, it’s a case of getting yourself into a routine of rehearsing regularly until you start to feel comfortable. Rehearse without prompts, and in ‘gig conditions’ without interrupting yourself. I like to have something to look at when I’m doing that, so a poster with a face on it, or a teddy or something set up as your ‘audience’ will help with positioning, posture etc.

Confidence develops from being well prepared. Unfortunately, a phenomenon I see a lot is that people who are not confident sometimes are reluctant to practice, thereby compounding the problem. Sometimes rehearsals are not very fruitful because the nervousness can be distracting. Don’t over think it, just get on and get your rehearsals in. Do the work. Repetition is the key, not hours of sitting around worrying.


So I hope these things have given you some food for thought.

Stage fright or nervousness, the reasons for it and how it manifests will vary from person to person. It can be mild to crippling. You’re not a fool for feeling nervous, and you’re not a poor musician either. Dealing with these feelings is a skill in itself. Start with not accepting it as the norm. You can develop the skills to overcome it. We just need to find what works for you.

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