Stage Fright

I've written about stage fright before as it was the first entry in my other blog "Catching Feathers".  One thing I noticed is that I don't address nervousness that occurs leading up to the event.  

Original entry...

"Performing on stage is fun and scary.  If you let the perception of yourself and the audience reaction to your presence consume you, it surely will.  You may indeed fail or just not do as well as you hoped as your mind leads you to think inward.  It’s  as if you are on the surface of your own skin looking in.  Because your instincts tell you to be self-conscious, nervous, overly concerned about other peoples perceptions of you, you cannot escape the 4 walls that you yourself have erected and then cannot find a way out to connect with those around you. How can you communicate and connect with an audience if you are still clinging to the surface of your own skin?

In fact the best way to combat these self-depreciating feelings is to do the exact opposite; be completely aware of your surroundings until the focus is no longer on yourself.  Noticing subtle things about other people and the environment you're in is something that the strangle-hold of anxiety would never have allowed.  Of course nerves are still there but they will no longer be your focal point. Instead the experience of that moment with the people who are there with you (who really want you to do well) will be the antidote.

This realization allowed me to connect with my audience in a way I never had previously and was the key to my performances.  It turned me into someone with moderate stage fright to someone who can make an audience laugh on the fly because I notice things that I never would have before.  I can read crowds more easily, express what I am singing, and feel the energy from the audience being cast in my direction, a great connection is felt.

I use this practice in my career and personal situations as well.  If I feel nervous, I remind myself that the situation isn't about me, it's about the moment, it's about the people around me but most of all it's about being aware and finding joy in my surroundings."

One thing I didn't address was the days, weeks, sometimes months leading up to major events. Stage fright isn't limited to immediately before you go on stage or during. How do you deal with the impending nervousness? I wanted to take a moment to address these emotions. Applicable to public speaking, performing, attending an event, going on a date or anytime.

Someone who taught me Reiki for Hospice once said, "If I believed for a second I had a hand in any of this, I would be too nervous to do what I do. I'm just a conduit."  I think this is applicable to performance and life as well.

The key is to stay in the moment at all times. Thinking forward brings on anxiety so pay attention and if you start to feel anxious, it's a reminder to come back into the moment.  Yes, it may be rather exhausting bringing your thoughts back to center again and again. Especially if you're not used to being aware of your own thoughts before they stir up emotions.

Use your energy to rehearse or prepare on some level so you can direct your energy to the event in a productive way.

A method that works for me, especially the day of, is to force yourself to believe that everyone has to wake up and do what you have to do that very same day.

I recently learned another method when I listened to the RadioLab Podcast (highly recommended) "Known Unknowns" from guests TJ and Dave, an improvisational comedy troupe. Many of us have the advantage of rehearsing or knowing what we are going to say or do at an event. TJ and Dave don't. This has to be the ultimate breeding ground for stage fright so I listened hard.

What they share may sound strange (not so outlandish for quantum fans), "To think of the show as, it's already all set, all I have to do is stay out of the way; takes a huge pressure off. I'm not a determining active part in this, I'm along for this excellent ride that's already excellent with a friend of mine if I listen and pay attention to what the show is doing."

A few more TJ and Dave quotes that apply to stage fright, "When the lights go up, nothing else exists." and "Take things as they come in the moment, don't presuppose. When I don't presuppose or predetermine too much and take things as they come in the moment, I know I'm living a much less anxious life."

Any method you chose, know that it is completely normal and the more you put yourself out there, the easier it will get (though it may never fully go away!).  Besides, nerves remind you that you are alive and shows you are passionate about what you do.  It's a good problem to have.