There are times when even the most seasoned professional will have to fend off butterflies and anxiety that comes with stage fright. Many times that case of nerves that morphs into panic and paranoia is rooted in a sense of not being fully prepared.
One of the best resources you have for combating “live performance anxiety” is completely at your disposal: it’s call rehearsing. You need to be well-rehearsed so that your performance is second nature. You want to be so familiar with your material that if you face a hostile crowd or distracting circumstances, you’ll recover. The key is confidence, but for many artists there’s an element of self-doubting or concern that the audience won’t like them or what they do.
Anchors = The Way
Remember, the best way to reinforce confidence is to be well-rehearsed and connected to the material. One way to reinforce the connection is to create “anchors” for each song. An anchor consists of a personal story about what the song means to you in addition to something specific about the song that you want the audience to get. It can even be several specifics that you want them to take to heart and take home after your final encore and standing ovation.
For each song you sing have a story ready to share, if needed. Sometimes things can go wrong technically or there may be some unforeseen disturbance in the crowd that causes a delay. You want to be prepared for contingencies, those things that can go wrong during a live performance.
So have your story ready should there be a lull or interruption, and keep in mind those specifics in the message of the song that you want to hit along the way. If you are nervous, these can serve as markers to help keep you focused and on track.
The Wacky Warm-Up
Another thing to do is part of a warm up that can blow the jitters out of your system. For actors, they often engage in odd behavior that literally allows them to act completely foolish, silly, or odd while trying to harness the rush of adrenaline that will actually help with focusing in the long run.
To find what sort of pre-show silliness to engage in, think of doing a rapid overture that provides brief highlights of your set. Do it quickly without worry as to whether or not you’re on pitch, technically proficient, or believable.
The goal is to quickly blow through the Cliff Notes version of your show and to do it with a sense of humor. This immediately connects you with your ability to laugh at yourself which also helps to relieve any performance pressures you tend to impose upon yourself.
The Panic Button
If you find you’re being hit by a wave of worry halfway through the chorus, relax and reach inside for your anchors. Some performers will have a good luck charm or something of sentimental value with them when they sing live. You may want to wear a ring or an article of clothing that connects you to a loved one or a mentor. This can serve as a physical anchor that you can reach for, touch, or think of during performance. It becomes a source of comfort when a shift in confidence momentarily creeps up on you.
Get Fired Up When Drawing Blanks
Let’s say the worse case scenario happens. You hit the panic button, and it completely blows your cover as you freeze like an escaping convict caught in the prison searchlights. Simply stop, shrug it off, make a joke. Then, pick up and press on.
The way you handle a mistake can endear you to an audience. It brings humanity and vulnerability into the mix. That’s something everyone can relate to. Handled with humor and an apology, it can be a genuine moment of shine that helps to win an audience and invite a future following.
Finally, one of the most important tools you have for battling stage fright, the jitters, panic attacks, and general issues of doubting your abilities, is something you engage on an ongoing basis every day. It’s called: self-talk. The best way to make it work for you and not work your nerves is to speak of yourself with heart, humor, humility, kindness, and care.
Draw up a contract whereby you promise to be good to yourself and strive to be your best. Then deliver on that promise as you engage your audience.