Overcoming Performance Anxiety

A student recently asked me how I approach performing. Do I still get nervous? How do I handle audience expectations?

Any nervous anxiety really boils down to one thing - what will people think about me and how I performed. We’re calculating judgement before we ever step in front of the crowd, which in my opinion is a bit egocentric. What’s more important? The music and ideas you are presenting, or what people think of you? Of course you should strive to be the most skilled singer you can be. Beyond that you are essentially giving your audience a gift, and that gift is a beautifully prepared and expressed performance of whatever music is your repertoire. If you serve the music, putting the music as your highest goal, any anxiety you have about yourself will take a back seat by necessity.

Life is hard, so we all choose some form of entertainment to relax. Your audience is a group of people who have chosen to relax and enjoy the music you’ve prepared for them with your performance skill. They WANT you to perform well, so they’re already on your side! If anxiety inhibits your performance you’ve stolen a good evening of entertainment from them. To paraphrase my favorite line from the movie Hitch: they said yes when they could have said no, and it’s your job not to mess it up! (Only your mortal enemy would buy a ticket hoping you’ll fail. If you have a mortal enemy, accept my congrats on being a comic book hero, and thank them for allowing you to live rent free in their head.)

The only thing you have to do is be prepared and remember the audience wants you to do well, even in an audition or job interview. In the case of an audition, your audience didn’t buy a ticket, but they DO want to hire someone great which could be you.

These are important questions for singers, but they also bleed over into daily life when we need to give presentations, impress clients, or guide a group of employees. Many scenarios put us in the performance position in front of an audience. Put the music or ideas first, and you’ll find your adrenaline behind your excitement to share rather than your fear of how well you share.