Three ways to counter stage fright
Adam Neely on YouTube recently dropped a video on his take on stage fright and performance anxiety. It is something all beginners in any form of activity that requires an element of performance go through. Honestly speaking, the fluttering butterflies never actually go away – we just get better at managing it.
I recommend watching the video*, as it is an example of how a real-life professional actually copes with it. The tips shared there are highly transferrable – especially to the context of research and education, where students and researchers are constantly required to present their work to their peers and evaluators.
Beyond Adam’s video, here are three additional ways you can calm your nerves before walking on stage.
- I believe it was the famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma who said whenever he plays a concert, he actually welcomes the first mistake he makes (yes, even Yo-Yo Ma makes mistakes) – with a smile. He is thankful to that mistake, for what he feared the most has come to pass. He feels more relaxed and then continues on. What I think essentially happens here at a cognitive level is you allow yourself to be imperfect. There is this unsaid dictum in classical music that requires you to play all the notes perfectly, or else you are seen to be not doing justice to the medium. That is humanly impossible. Allow yourself to be human – allow yourself to err.
- Stage fright can also arise from the importance – often times, presumed – we attach to the performance. We think that it will make or break our life, or some other lofty, impractical and totally unfounded expectation. Dial it down a notch. Of course, there could truly be some importance attached – for example if you are giving a musical grade exam or a keynote talk. But what would help is to already imagine the worst scenario possible, and prepare yourself for it. Like Seneca famously said – “We suffer more in our imagination than in reality“, what you might think to be an insurmountable failure might actually be something that is quite salvageable. Like Adam says and does in the video, live in the moment, and be mindful.
- And finally, thank the audience – literally! They have come to listen to you, and they are rooting for you to succeed. The word “performance” comes with a connotation of a display of expertise, virtuosity, and any other grandiose word you may want to add. But at the end of the day it is about sharing your life, your experience, your story in the best way you can – and want. The audience is a willing participant on this onward journey of yours. They want to be taken on this ride, and they too want to see how you see the world around you. Sure, there will always be some metaphorical backbenchers who will catcall regardless. But you do not do what you do for that incorrigible bunch – you do it for those who are actually out there rooting for you. And they are significantly more in number than you think.
These are tried and tested methods, and have worked splendidly for me. Hope these do for you too!
*Disclaimer – I do not advocate the use of alcohol, or medication unless otherwise advised by a medical practitioner for mitigating performance anxiety. [The Oxford Comma holds true in this case].