Stage fright can be an incredibly debilitating condition that can keep artists locked away in their own homes, carefully guarding their creative gifts.
Then those gifts never see the light of day, and they’re never seen by the world.
And stage fright doesn’t only inhibit performing artists. If you’re not a performer, you can substitute the word performance with any creative situation that really scares you, or puts you in a position of feeling like you have to measure up or get out of your comfort zone.
For some of us, simply facing our art form and giving voice to our creativity is a performance. For others, it might be meeting with an art gallery owner, a submission to a contest, fulfilling a commissioned piece of artwork for a customer or something else that brings up similar fears and self-doubt.
Here are four way to prepare for performance – on the stage or otherwise.
Prepare your body
Practice good self-care in the weeks and days leading up to the performance. Get enough sleep, make sure your body has lots of healthy fuel to eat and drink, and keep caffeine, alcohol and nicotine to a minimum.
In the article, “Breathing out Stage Fright,” I describe several breathing exercises from the yoga tradition that will help both in preparing for your performance and in the moment itself.
Here’s a bonus yoga exercise, that I learned from the “Easy Does It Yoga” program developed by the American Yoga Association.
The Laughing Bicycle: Sitting in a chair, begin by rolling your arms forward as if you were pedaling a bicycle with your hands. Then, get your legs “riding” as well (it will look more like you’re walking in place).
Once you’re “in motion”, watch the clock and laugh out loud for 30 seconds. It will seem like a long time, but keep going!
Laughing (especially when you don’t feel like doing it) will do wonders for your physical, emotional and mental state. Your inner organs will get a good massage, your mood will be lifted and your mind will start noticing the funny and positive things around you.
Prepare your mind
Speaking of your mind – when you’re facing an upcoming performance, you might have many fears coming to the surface. These fears can really crowd your head, leaving little room for the “real” you.
Address these fears by noticing what your inner voice is saying to you, and then correct that thinking with an affirmative reminder of a more positive perspective. For example:
“Who do I think I am to stand up here like some kind of big shot, when I feel like a big fraud?” Remind yourself of why you ARE worthy to be out there in the world with your art – no one else has your unique combination of skills, experiences and desires, or YOUR unique way of expressing these through your art form.
When you express your true self in performance, people are drawn to that – would you rather watch a technically perfect performance or a heartfelt and honest expression of someone truly loving what they do?
“This is terrifying; Why am I doing this to myself.” Why ARE you doing this to yourself? Take a moment to connect with your bigger goals for your creativity. How is this performance leading you closer to that?
Aside from dealing with the negative thoughts that pop up, you can help the positive ones along by practicing purposeful visioning. Imagine yourself on the stage, delivering a successful performance.
Prepare your material
Fear about an upcoming performance can sometimes lead to paralyzing inaction; we procrastinate in preparing our material because we somehow reason that if we don’t pay any attention to the performance, it will go away!
Well, like an ostrich poking its head in the sand, we don’t accomplish much that way, and feeling rushed and unprepared will only increase our anxiety!
When you notice you’re feeling fearful about the upcoming performance, work through the fear with the suggestions above or with your copy of “Preparing for Performance: An Everyday Artist Guidebook” (more information below).
THEN, take action and do everything you CAN do to ensure a successful performance. Action is the quickest way out of anxiety, because when we’re focused on our worries we’re thinking about the past or the future. When we get down to business and take action, it brings us right back into the present moment. And that’s a much nicer place to be.
Prepare your heart
“She thinks I’m terrible. He’s so bored he’s leaving the room. I’ll never be able to please these people.” Give yourself a rest from the mind reading – there’s no way to know what someone else or thinking or feeling. And it’s a good thing! What if YOUR thoughts were being flashed at the bottom of the stage like closed captioning?
Instead of focusing on what you imagine people in the audience (or on stage with you) are thinking about you, focus on what you’d like to give them with your performance. Imagine the performance as a way for you to wrap up your most precious gift – the expression of your creativity – and deliver it from your heart to the heart of each and every person who’s there to receive it.
The best part about this is that now the performance IS NOT ABOUT YOU. It’s about your gift and doing your best to deliver it. It’s about making full use of the gifts you were born with and creating an experience that other people can take away and cherish.
So, whatever “performance” means to you in your creative life, prepare your body with good self-care, prepare your mind to let go of fearful self-doubt, prepare your material so you feel comfortable and confident, and prepare your heart to give the gift of your creativity.
© Linda Dessau, 2006.
Linda Dessau, the Self-Care Coach, helps artists enhance their creativity by addressing their unique self-care issues. For more tips on preparing for your next performance, check out the Preparing for Performance guidebook at: