Monday musings: Re-thinking Performance Anxiety


I’ve always been fascinated with lessons around overcoming performance anxiety. For those of us that love to be on stage, or want to be there to share something we need to express, the body’s reaction to fear can be a betrayal, and can lead us to disaster. Of course, rarely is it truly disastrous. If we forget a word, or miss an entrance, or our voice ‘cracks’ it can mentally ruin an otherwise wonderful performance. For us anyway.

Amazing how much we can do at once - berate ourselves for a blip while continuing to sing the song. Wonder how the rest of it is going?! We usually don’t notice. If prepared, much of our performance could be on autopilot. We lose being present and communicating to our audience for those seconds/minutes we are worrying about what happened.

And, most of the time, the audience is OBLIVIOUS to the “mistake” we made. They are usually so excited to see and hear their loved ones perform, or in awe of each of us that is brave enough to get up in front of everyone and share a piece of ourselves through song. And, if there are performers in the audience that notice that “mistake”, they are just cheering you on, because they know that feeling, and they want us to recover and keep going. No one is hoping that we will fail up there! Time and time again I have been surprised that people didn’t notice my very noticeable mistake… I’ve stopped pointing it out! I heard somewhere that people often remember the last thing they see/hear of a performance.  

Singing in front of others is different than speaking in front of others. I hear that fear of public speaking is people’s biggest fear after the fear of death! Admittedly, I would rather sing in front of people than speak, but I’ve gotten accustomed to that too now. Those of us that sing in front of others, despite being scared, are a different breed. We need to; we are compelled. The need to share something, or be up on that stage expressing, is greater than the fear.

I think my singers have been getting less nervous recently. I’m thinking there are some reasons for that - maybe the way we do a variety of concerts: themed, different venues, making it informal and in company of same folks over the years. I’m also thinking that the way we constantly observe how the nervous system and psyche works as we sing in the studio is giving me and my singers practice. Working through fearful moments minute by minute, even through vocal exercises, may be helping dissipate some of the nerves, so come performance time, it seems easier.

I offer occasional Performance classes. Common lessons and practices we use:

  • Giving Positive Affirmations - to ourselves, to each other

  • Confidence stance - Superman, Wonder Woman - hands on hips

  • Dance! Shaking out nerves; practicing being silly

  • Practice giving compliments and Practicing “thank you” (only)

  • Slow deep breathing (works for some)

  • Shouting, “I’m so excited!” (works for others)

  • Practice messing up and not stopping

  • Sing for each other and allowing a “do-over”

  • Practice being intentional in the message of the song - what do we mean? What emotions are we conveying?

Allowing for the possibility of a mistake, not striving for perfection, has helped me dissipate some performance anxiety. Of course, it’s helped to be working on getting over perfectionistic tendencies everywhere else in my life too. I suggest being prepared - do the work, practice, memorize, know it all! Then, do your best! Maybe don’t strive to be perfect, but just to do your best. If that’s an authentic intentional goal, your best will be enough! Our best is going to be different on different days; just like our voices. By the way, I love seeing professional musicians miss something; reminds me that we’re all human and not perfect. I do not like the critical feedback they often get because of it; I rejoice in it!! I’m grateful for it! As a performer and a teacher of performers, I’m grateful for the example of messing up!

So, if you’re gearing up for your first or 101st performance soon, thank you for living through the fear and sharing a piece of yourself, and your voice, with us. We are rooting for you, supporting you, perfect or not. My singers have a performance this Sunday. Singing a bunch of 90s songs at The Evening Muse. If your start is shaky, start it over. We’ve got time! Take a do-over. Make it your best!