liberated performer

Should I Take Beta-Blockers?

Most doctors who give musicians beta-blockers have no idea what it’s like to be a performer. Also, most musicians are not qualified to suggest beta-blockers to other musicians.  With those statements, let’s cover everything you need to know about beta-blockers so you can decide whether you should or should not use them for your performances.

We will answer questions like what are beta blockers? What are the pros and cons of using beta blockers? Lastly, I will share some stories of performers who have used beta blockers because it may not always be a yes or no answer. By the end of the article, you will have enough information to make a confident decision and to also educate your fellow peers. 

Disclaimer: if you are reading this article to understand the in-depth science of beta blockers, you’re better off reading another article because this is tailored towards what a performer needs to know.  

 What are beta-blockers? 

Beta-blockers are pills created to help prevent cardiac problems such as heart attacks by blocking your adrenaline. But why does a performer take a pill for cardiac problems? Well, when we get nervous, we can trigger an overwhelming adrenaline from our Fight or flight response which may cause trembling, cold hands, sweating, tense muscles. Therefore, the pill blocks the adrenaline and gives us more physical control over our performance. Great, so now we naturally flowed into the pros of taking beta blockers. 

 

Pros

a.     Blocks your adrenaline and gives you more physical control over your performance 

i.    No more shaking!

b.     Easy to use (reaches peak effect after 1.5 hours) 

i.    No matter how nervous you are, you can swallow a pill

c.      Affordable

i.    Price depends on insurance/drug store, but it should be pretty cheap

d.     Performance culture accepts the use of it

i.    You do not usually get shamed if you use them

 

That sounds pretty good, right? More physical control, easy, cheap, and my peers won’t criticize me for using it. Well, there are some cons and I think they are important to understand as well.

Cons

a.     Blocks your adrenaline

i.    Ironic that this is a pro to using them. However, if we are to reach peak level, we need some adrenaline.

b.     Creates a dependency on the pill to perform

i.    The more you take them for performances, the more reliant you are to perform with them. We should aim for being able to perform relying more on our self-efficacy and self-esteem. Note that it is a dependency, not an addiction.

c.      Need to increase dosage over time 

i.    To get the same effect, you must increase the amount of pills you take. This may not sound like a lot but if you’re going to the professional level, there could be an average of 4 concerts a week. That’s a lot of beta-blockers.

d.     Does not address negative thoughts 

i.    It may give you physical control, but you can still mentally psych yourself out and the self-doubt remains. What it reveals is that it’s not a holistic solution.

e.     May dampen your emotional response to music 

i.    Some musicians report that they cannot feel the characters of the music as much. If this happens to you, you’re robbing the audience for what they came for. You’re also robbing yourself of personal enjoyment while you perform.

f.       Blocks you from addressing the core causes of performance anxiety

i.    Is the core cause of your anxiety shaking and trembling or other physical manifestations? No, those are the effects. The core causes go deeper than that but beta-blockers only “cure” the physical effects (not the cognitive effects). It’s similar to the choice between losing weight with dieting pills or cultivating a healthy lifestyle. Most likely someone who develops a healthy lifestyle will be much happier than the person who is taking dieting pills but still living an unhealthy lifestyle. With beta-blockers, you can use them or you can develop the confidence, systems, and grit to fully express yourself on stage and communicate to the audience.

 Now that we have a good overview of beta blockers, let’s learn from real performers and their experiences.

 

Story 1:  

Bob had an audition for the concertmaster position in his symphony and reached out a week before his audition. He had been using beta-blockers for over 30 years and asked if he should use it. This was most likely his only shot at this position. I mentioned it may be a bit difficult to go in there with a lot of confidence, especially if he suddenly stopped taking beta blockers- so he decided to take them. We worked on other audition strategies and he played well but ultimately did not win the audition.  

 

Key Points

•We often battle the line between performance execution and how we feel.

•A week to overcome a strong dependency on beta blockers is a lot to ask for.

•You can get a highly respectable job and sustain that job using beta blockers your whole career.

 

Story 2

Now I want to introduce Sam, who is similar to Bob in that he too had been taking beta blockers for every performance for over 30 years. He came to the program wanting to stop taking beta blockers because he wanted to perform without them. With a regular performance schedule, he had many opportunities to slowly reduce his dependency on beta-blockers. At first, performances without beta blockers made him freak out so he continued using them. However, he slowly reduced his dosage and over practiced to compensate for the self-doubt. This allowed him to build small successful performances with less and less beta blockers. Eventually, he performed without beta blockers, managed his anxiety, and felt a self-esteem boost for conquering this feat. Imagine taking beta blockers for 30 years and being afraid to perform without them. Having that experience of just walking out there to perform is one of the most liberating feelings a performer can have. But it doesn’t stop there. Not only did he stop feeling the need to take beta blockers for every show, he was able to tap into a higher level of performing. He felt more engaged, energized, and forced himself to deal with his demons. While his professional career is nearing retirement, he couldn’t be more enthusiastic about performances.  

 

Key Points

•It will be an up and down battle with beta blockers but ultimately you can be free from them if you used them for a long time.

•Performing at the highest level is simply not possible with beta blockers.

 

Story 3

Now onto the final story of two performers who share the same outcome. Cindy, in high school applying for college, and Sarah who is applying for her doctoral degree both had the option of taking beta blockers for their auditions. I persuaded both to not take beta blockers because I had confidence they could perform well without them. We worked on anxiety management techniques, helped them face their fears, and created successful performance experiences. With this confidence, they were understandably shaky for the very first audition, but managed to play their best for the rest of the auditions. Not only did they get into their programs, but to this day, they still do not use beta blockers for performances as the pressure increases. 

 

Key Points

•If you have the option, don’t take beta blockers.
•What you think is a big performance now is often not a big performance over time.
•Beta blockers give you limited consistency, but limit your best performances. 

 

I hope these stories shed some light on your perspective of beta blockers. Ultimately, you have the power to choose whether or not to take them because remember, you are always in charge and responsible for your decisions.

 

If you decide to take them…

•Visit a doctor  
•Be aware of the cons  
•Be aware of the side effects listed on the medication 
•Short term use strategy

 

 If you decide NOT to take them…

Know that overcoming anxiety is not easy. It took a lot pushing my comfort levels, facing my fears, growing a sustainable and supportive environment, and persistence. However, after all that hard work, it left me with the belief I could perform my best on stage which was not only a huge boost to my performance confidence, but life. The lessons we are taught in the performing arts world translate beyond life. It teaches us to be honest with ourselves, to be present in the moment, and expose our weakest attributes to improve them. Essentially, it is intense but presents the opportunity for us to become our best selves.

The Science of Performance Anxiety (For Performers and Teachers)

So far, this is the most in-depth article on the internet for understanding the core questions of performance anxiety. We will answer the questions of what happens, who it happens to, and why does it happen to performers.

Also, if you are serious about understanding music performance anxiety, you must read Dr. Dianna Kenny’s The Psychology of Music Performance Anxiety. As a performance coach, it is my obligation to read every source out there and she and her team are hands down the leading psychologists on this topic. With that said, let’s begin with her definition of music performance anxiety because defining it as “just getting nervous” is not enough.

 She states: 

“Music performance anxiety is the experience of marked and persistent anxious apprehension related to musical performance that has arisen through underlying biological and or psychological vulnerabilities and or specific anxiety conditioning experiences. It is manifested through combinations of affective (moods feelings attitudes), cognitive (debilitating thoughts), somatic (physical manifestations), and behavioral symptoms (learned responses to performance situations). It may occur in a range of performance settings, but is usually more severe in settings involving high ego investment, evaluative threat, and fear of failure. It may be focal or occur comorbidly (in combination) with other anxiety disorders, in particular, social phobia. It affects musicians across the lifespan and is at least partially independent of years of training, practice, and level of musical accomplishment. It may or may not impair the quality of the musical performance (Kenny 2009b, p 433).” 

 -Dianna Kenny, Professor of Psychology and Music, University of Sydney, PHD. 

 OK. That was a lot. If you didn’t understand some of it, don’t worry. I guarantee as you go through this article, you’ll re-read the definition and everything will become clearer.

 1. WHAT happens when you experience performance anxiety?

Take a moment to reflect on what happens when you experience performance anxiety. You’ll probably list things like self-doubt, muscle tension, increased heart rate, or lack of confidence. Whatever you came up with, is right for you. Let’s also take a look at other symptoms.

 Physical: Increased heart rate, shakiness and trembling, tense muscles, dry mouth, sweatiness 

Cognitive: Moods and feelings, negative self-talk, lack of confidence, self-doubt 

 Notice how the manifestations are divided into two groups; Physical and Cognitive. This is to help organize what is happening to you so we can address each one. This isn’t to say they aren’t related, but for clearer goals, let’s keep them separated.

 Now I want to ask you a question. When you shake, do you see it as a negative thing? Most likely. However, we want to persuade ourselves to see their manifestations as merely DATA. So, when we shake on stage, it is simply DATA telling us we need to adjust our preparation process. Also, when we implement a strategy and experience LESS shaking, it is simply DATA saying that the strategy is helping! This neutral perspective of a negative experience shifts the focus from the problem, to finding a solution.  

 

2.   WHO experiences performance anxiety? 

Turns out...a lot of people.  

Let’s start with a list of celebrities that publicly acknowledge their moderate to severe performance anxiety. This includes Renee Fleming, Pablo Casals, Luciano Pavarotti, Glenn Gould, and Barbara Streisand. 

Those names should already tell you a lot about performance anxiety. If they can get nervous, so can the rest of us, and that’s exactly what has been confirmed through multiple studies. Other top professionals, conservatory students, teenagers, children, and toddlers can all experience performance anxiety.

 What do these studies reveal about performance anxiety? Well, it’s that ALL ages, genders, races, career stages, and other professions besides music may experience performance anxiety. Performance anxiety is a very personal experience and is often neglected and suppressed. However, we must realize we are NOT ALONE and that it is completely NATURAL.  

3.     WHY do we experience performance anxiety? 

Causes can be divided into three categories: Psychological Vulnerability, Specific Anxiety Conditioning Experiences, and Biological Basis of Anxiety. While each is a different cause, you’ll see they overlap and affect each other.  

Psychological vulnerability: 

How you were raised and what environment you grew up in significantly impacts your experience on stage. Take a moment to ask yourself about your childhood...What did your parents teach you about performing? How did they respond to pressure situations and stress? What did your teacher teach you? What did your friends and peers teach you about performing? How did they help form your identity? 

 Alongside how you were raised and what environment you grew up in, another key contributor to psychological vulnerability are anxiety disorders. Below is a list of anxiety disorders and their concise definition. It is important to know the anxiety disorders, but not in depth. Your responsibility as a teacher or performer is not to “cure” anxiety disorders like depression, even though it is part of performance anxiety. For this, either a student is already working with a therapist, or they can be referred to a therapist with a strong and successful artistic background such as Liberated Performer’s Tema Watstein (blatant ad but damn is she good.) 

a.     Depression

Persistent depressed mood or lost interest in activities

“I cannot appreciate the sunset, even though the sun is setting.” 

b.     Social Anxiety

Every day interactions cause anxiety, stress, and self-consciousness

“It doesn’t matter who I’m talking to, I may embarrass myself at any moment” 

c.      General Anxiety

Symptoms similar to other anxiety disorders can be triggered at any time

“Sometimes when I’m alone, I get this wave of anxiety” 

d.     Specific Anxiety

An object or situation that causes fear even though the object or situation is not dangerous. 

I get anxious before I go on stage even though I know I’ll survive no matter what” 

e.     Panic Disorder 

Sudden feelings of terror when there is no danger resulting in panic attacks 

.“I can be walking on the street then all of a sudden a panic attack occurs and my heart is beating really fast” 

f.      Obsessive Compulsive Disorder 

Thoughts and fears that lead to compulsive behaviors 

“Before every performance, I MUST take a shower, wash my hands, and wear clean clothes- otherwise, I cannot perform, at ALL.” 

g.     Comorbity 

           When a person has multiple anxiety disorders 

Specific Anxiety Conditioning Experiences: 

How do we learn about the stage? In particular, how do we learn that the stage is a place to get nervous? We learn through stimulus and association- or, conditioning. There are three types of conditioning: Classical, Observant, and Operant. 

a.     Let’s begin with Classical. You walk on stage, make a mistake, and walk off. You walk on stage, make a mistake, and walk off. You have now learned that a stage is a place to make mistakes, so the next time you go to the stage, you’re already thinking about those mistakes. 

b.     What about the observational way of learning? Let’s say you’re watching a performer ahead of you and they make a mistake. Uh oh...maybe I’ll make one too! Or, what if you heard the panel of judges are particularly detail oriented and tough on students? Uh oh, again right? Before you even walk into the audition room, your heart is pumping.  

c.      Now to my favorite way of learning about the stage. Let’s say you prepare well, walk on stage, and play your best. However, a week later you get a rejection letter. So, then you go back to the practice room, adjust some preparation techniques, go into your next performance or audition and play even BETTER. However, a week later you receive yet another rejection letter. All of a sudden, we are learning that we are NOT good enough. This is the operant way of learning and even the most confident performers start to doubt themselves. But what’s the difference between operant and classical? They both sound similar to each other. Well, one of the big differences is that with operant conditioning, there is usually a reward and punishment involved.  

Similar to the three types of conditioning, we must also look at the Culture of Classical Music, OR, whatever type of field the performer is in. 

Take a moment to ask yourself, how does your performance culture influence your experience on stage? Does it lower or raise your anxiety? Feel free to think about what you learned in both psychological vulnerability and specific anxiety conditioning experiences. List out different aspects that influence a performer. 

Biological Cause of Anxiety: 

There are three levels of understanding the biological basis of anxiety and I’m really excited to share them with you because this knowledge is leading knowledge that is never talked about.  

Let’s begin with the first level of understanding the biological cause of anxiety. Let's say a lion approached you. What would happen? That’s right, your adrenaline would increase and your muscles would get tense to prepare your body for either running away, or fighting it. This activation of your body is due to the sympathetic nervous system and is called the fight or flight response. The fight or flight response is our defense mechanism towards PERCEIVED threat. Take a moment to remember WHAT happens when you get performance anxiety. Increased adrenaline, increased muscle tension...Yep, it’s the same thing. Therefore, we may trigger our fight or flight response on stage. Now let’s say the lion loses interest in you and is now miles away from you. The threat is now gone and your body begins to calm down and get back to normal life thanks to your parasympathetic nervous system.  

Great, now that we have a basic understanding, let’s go deeper. With this definition, we think that the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the manifestations of anxiety, while the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for calming you down. But what about those who freeze or faint in the midst of stress? Turns out our parasympathetic nervous system can also be triggered as it leads to immobility. Therefore, we must now say the biological cause of anxiety is due to the fight-flight-freeze-faint response.  

Great, we now have a super solid understanding of our threat response, but let’s take it to the top level. While the sympathetic nervous system stays the same throughout our understanding, the parasympathetic adds one more layer of influence besides the freeze-faint response. In Polyvagal Theory, the sympathetic nervous system is responsible for the fight or flight response, the parasympathetic nervous system (dorsal system) is responsible for the freeze faint response, just like we previously learned, and the NEW parasympathetic nervous system (ventral system), or “Social Engagement System”, is responsible for both activation and calming in SAFE environments. Imagine being at home talking to your friend. Your friend tells you some amazing news. You get excited as you feel your heart pump a little faster. You then go back to normal conversation with your heart beating normally. While increased adrenaline is a common manifestation among the fight or flight response and the social engagement system, it is not the same feeling. Both the sympathetic fight or flight and parasympathetic freeze faint response help manage our life-threatening situations while the Social Engagement System manages our human relationships. It’s important to note that the triggering of the sympathetic nervous system takes seconds and the recovery from the stress response (parasympathetic dorsal system) takes 10-20 minutes. However, for the “Social Engagement System”, activation and calming takes milliseconds and does not involve chemical reactions. Biologically speaking, you can flow in and out of activation and calming when you function in the Social Engagement System. Question...which biological state would you want to be in when you perform? 

OK, that was a lot of information, but let’s recap with some more examples to clear up our ultimate understanding of the biological causes. Let’s say a performer walks on stage and is clearly trembling, cold hands, and all. They are probably triggering the sympathetic nervous system. Now let’s say a performer walks on stage and completely freezes in the moment and cannot remember a single thing. They are probably triggering the parasympathetic nervous system (dorsal system). Lastly, let’s say a performer has a great energy about them, excited, focused, and ready to perform. They walk up on stage feeling the audience's energy but downshifts to a great peaceful mind for the opening of a Bach chorale. The feelings of excitement and focus are intense, but they are not of the fight or flight behaviors. The performer feels safe to express themselves. They are probably operating from the Social Engagement System.   

So, there we go. An in-depth understanding of the biological basis of anxiety in three parts. Sympathetic fight or flight response, parasympathetic freeze and faint response, and parasympathetic “social engagement system”.  

With this knowledge, we can challenge common ideas. The first idea is that when you experience performance anxiety, you only trigger the fight or flight response. As we just learned, you actually can trigger the fight-flight-freeze-faint response. In fact, you can fluctuate among all the sympathetic and parasympathetic responses throughout a performance. For example, right before you perform you start getting tense, then during intermission you can calm down, then after intermission, you can feel safe to express yourself. Therefore, you need strategies that help direct you to your desired state of mind. 

The second idea is that popular approaches like breathing techniques and visualization help reduce performance anxiety. They do, and we use them too, but it only addresses the fight flight response. But what about the parasympathetic freeze faint response? How do we get into the Social Engagement System? How much breathing and visualization should we use? 

WOW! I hope you have enjoyed learning about the basics of anxiety. It was dense, but you are well on your way to becoming a more aware teacher or performer. But will we possess the same amount of knowledge as a therapist or someone who has studied anxiety for their career? Probably not. Again, that’s where the team of therapists comes into play. However, will we be better off when it comes to understanding, communicating, and relating to performers when it comes to performance anxiety? Absolutely. Not even professors of music or top-notch performers understand this depth of knowledge when it comes to performance anxiety. I hope this article begins to change that as information gets passed around. We all know the power of overcoming performance anxiety and what it translates to on and off the stage.

 

So now let’s wrap up by revisiting Dr. Dianna Kenny’s definition of performance anxiety.  

“Music performance anxiety is the experience of marked and persistent anxious apprehension related to musical performance that has arisen through underlying biological and or psychological vulnerabilities and or specific anxiety conditioning experiences. It is manifested through combinations of affective (moods feelings attitudes), cognitive (debilitating thoughts), somatic (physical manifestations), and behavioral symptoms (learned responses to performance situations). It may occur in a range of performance settings, but is usually more severe in settings involving high ego investment, evaluative threat, and fear of failure. It may be focal or occur comorbidly (in combination) with other anxiety disorders, in particular, social phobia. It affects musicians across the lifespan and is at least partially independent of years of training, practice, and level of musical accomplishment. It may or may not impair the quality of the musical performance (Kenny 2009b, p 433).” 

 

-Dianna Kenny, Professor of Psychology and Music, University of Sydney, PHD. 

 

Hopefully revisiting this definition gives you a bit more clarity on performance anxiety. Thank you for reading and feel free to reach out with questions.

The Theory of Audition and Performance Success: Liberated Performer

This formula has consistently empowered performers to win auditions at literally every level- from All State, Juilliard, Broadway, countless orchestras around the world, management, and positions in multi-Grammy Award winning groups. Winning your dream audition or reaching peak performance can be a reality. We have been grateful to see unbelievable transformations. We find that people have plenty of time to prepare, have the discipline to succeed, and have the right resources to win. However, performers may be effective in one category of preparation, but then totally neglect another important part. This is where the Liberated Performer Theory of Audition and Performance Success comes in. It is a holistic approach that you can use to create your own unique strategy as you prepare. Let’s begin!

 The theory consists of three categories that all influence each other.

1.     Your ability to successfully complete the task (self-efficacy)

2.     Your self-worth as a person (self-esteem)

3.     Your control over the performance environment (locus of control)

Category 1: What contributes to your belief that you can successfully complete the task? (self-efficacy)

Technique: We need to make sure we can get through the performance and feel confident about all technical passages. This way, we can just perform the artistic ideas. We can improve our technique by pairing the right exercises with the technical obstacle. For example, if you have intonation obstacles, search for intonation exercises. Also, we can create systems for keeping our already developed technique at peak level. Remember, in 99% of the time, the purpose of technique is to translate your artistic ideas.

Artistic ideas: In order to bring life to the piece, we need to develop artistic ideas. Without artistic ideas, we do not have a strong purpose on stage. We can create artistic ideas based on our artistic identity, copy our teacher’s ideas, learn from others, and gain artistic clues from the music (or source material). Simply having a clear vision of what you want to perform gives you something to focus on besides distracting thoughts or unwanted emotions.

 Anxiety Management Techniques: Let’s say you have your piece technically ready as well as a clear artistic vision. However, you begin to get tense, sweaty, or whatever else happens when you get nervous on stage. This is where a performer needs to develop anxiety management techniques. Examples include processes like breathing and visualization exercises, and fail-safe responses. You can check out the videos and articles on breathing and visualization on the website. By incorporating anxiety management techniques, we are able to reduce the anxiety thus performing closer to our full potential.

 Previous Successful Performances: There is nothing like performing your piece in front of an audience for the first time because we all know it’s a different feeling. In fact, professionals launching a new program will always try to schedule a performance before they tour. However, if you’re preparing for an audition or competition, you do not have the luxury of multiple performances like you would if you were touring it all year. Therefore, you must gain successful performances before the audition. This is not a new idea, but we push our performers to schedule as many performances in public as it takes to reach the Liberated Performer performance state. The Liberated Performer state is when you perform in public with high technical execution, intelligent and creating artistic ideas, and confidence. Experiencing successful performances for all of your repertoire is a big factor for success when the pressure increases on stage. The amount of times it takes to get to that performance state depends on multiple factors such as technical difficulty but it usually takes around 10-15 performances from what we have seen. Do NOT neglect performance practice.

 So, those are some of the factors that contribute to a strong self-efficacy. However, what if you fundamentally don’t believe you are worth much as a person? Let’s visit self-esteem and see how it affects a performance.

 

Category 2: How does your self-worth affect your performance? (Self-esteem)

 Low self-esteem can prevent you from feeling confident and reduce the quality of your performance. Someone with lower self-worth may not think they deserve to win or perform well, have an anxiety disorder, entangle their self-worth with the success of their performance, constantly seek validation, or never think they are good enough.

One reason why most performers neglect this part of preparation is because they often confuse the results with how they are feeling. For example, someone with low self-esteem can still sound better on a performance than when they had a higher self-esteem if they were better prepared for the former performance. However, we are talking about an individual’s peak performance. A higher self-esteem allows us to be more comfortable with being vulnerable and expressing ourselves. It’s also a much more enjoyable performance experience!

 In order to address low self-worth, one can work with a therapist, overcome a fear, gain new experiences that reinforce a different identity, take on new perspectives, gain self-compassion, and surround themselves with a nurturing environment to sustain results. While the journey to increasing your self-esteem may take a while, it directly pays off not just on stage, but in life. Believe me, I performed for years with low self-esteem and made me question why I was performing in the first place. Raising the always fluctuating self-esteem level saved my career and happiness as a human being.

Now let’s say we have a strong self-efficacy and high self-esteem. This is a powerful combination to prepare for our auditions and concerts!  However, what if we are still under performing when we walk into the final round of a competition? This brings us to the final aspect- the environment you are performing in (locus of control)

 Category 3: How does the environment affect your performance and how much control do you have over it? (Locus of Control)

 The environment can completely change how we feel during our performance. The intensity of a competition can overwhelms us, the weather can delay our anticipated performance time, the judges and audience can have mixed opinions on our performance, there can be politics involved in the results, or the judges can be tired and grumpy.

 This raises the question of what do we actually have control over? The answer is not much. We often assume we have more control over an environment but it’s simply not true. The only aspect we can really control is ourselves and our reactions to the environment. Therefore, we need strategies and processes like contingency plans, pre-performance routines, and a strong focus on the performance. While it’s tough to cultivate these skills, developing the ability to walk into any environment and be your best self is one of the ultimate goals in performing. Instead of letting the environment dictate how you feel, try taking control of what’s in your control and dictate how you feel to thrive off the environment.

 So, there you have it! The three categories of audition and performance success. From these categories, which ones do you need to prepare more? How can you further develop each category and get specific in your own preparation system? How does each part of the theory influence each other?

 If you have any questions, feel free to comment or contact us.

Thank you for reading and make sure to bookmark this page as these principles will come back over and over again as you teach or prepare for your audition and concerts.

How to Overcome Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety: Ultimate Guide

How to Overcome Stage Fright and Performance Anxiety: Ultimate Guide

Everything you need to know about performance anxiety in one massive guide. Develop the confidence to express yourself, execute at the highest musical and technical level, and enjoy your time on stage. Click now to learn more!

Overcome Stage Fright: Speak Confidently In Public

How To Speak Confidently On Stage

In 2017, my colleagues and I were ecstatic and grateful to receive honorary doctorates for our work at Denison University. With this honor, we were asked to give the commencement speech as well...to thousands of people. While it did not phase my colleagues, it definitely got my heart pumping followed by a rush of anxious thoughts. Now this wasn't the first time I was getting nervous at the thought of speaking in public, but it was definitely a situation with higher stakes. Some of the thoughts that went through my head were what if I messed up? Would the University be embarrassed that they just honored me? Would my colleagues be disappointed? Would the faculty and students question my value and forever remember me as the guy who couldn't speak? AHHH! Be right back, freaking out. 

Photo Credit: Tim Black

Photo Credit: Tim Black

So, what should I do to not feel anxious? 

Prepare. Sound familiar?

The first step is to develop great content. If you don't have great content, you won't feel as entitled to speak as well. It's like the difference between playing a piece that clearly lacks quality compared to your favorite piece. There's just a different mindset even if as a professional you try to play every piece with equal effort. Along with developing great content, you'll inevitably discover techniques like "making good eye contact". All of these techniques are in service of helping you communicate your great content. It's like learning how to produce a good sound quality with your instrument so the audience is not distracted and can actually listen to the music. 

The second step is working with a speaking coach. We all know the value of private lessons and coachings. Nothing gets you to your goal faster and more efficiently. In tandem with working with a coach, you will need to practice consistently and develop good habits. All the typical practice principles apply like taking it slow, doing it right the first time, listening intently, analyzing and applying the right solutions, experimenting, and repeating the passage until you can execute it 10 times perfectly in a row. 

The third step is to begin speaking in public! Join a toastmasters club or practice in front of friends. This is a crucial step because we all know that no matter how much you practice, it never guarantees how you will do on stage. You need speaking experience!

The fourth and final step is to speak with a clear intention in the present moment. A lot of times you will watch many presentations and speeches that have zero personality. This will not be good enough. There needs to be a performance aspect to it. You need to embody the character of what you are saying just like in music. 

In conclusion, you will need great content, techniques to convey your message, individual practice, public practice, and that X factor to speak in public successfully. This may sound like a lot of work, but as performers already, you have the foundation in place to move people with your words. So, do not fear, put in the work, be patient, and develop this vital skill!

34597240026_2c1d63bf68_o.jpg

-Coach Cory
contact@liberatedperformer.com