Gig Business

How to Deal with Nerves

By Matt Holland

Dealing with nerves is a normal part of being an entertainer. Stage anxiety affects performers of all experience levels, genres, and ages. In fact, having anxious feelings before a gig can actually enhance your stage presence and performance! However, allowing stage fright to take over can greatly hinder your abilities. It’s important to learn how to control its effects. Here are a few ways to better handle nerves and stage anxiety.

 

Prepare yourself mentally.

Visualization is a mental exercise used by the best of athletes and can be applied to any performance-based activity. The exercise involves creating a detailed mental image of what you hope to happen. Using your imagination, envision yourself in a performance situation where everything goes perfectly. By doing so, a great performance is actually more likely to happen.

Prior to your performance, take 5-10 minutes and really visualize every aspect of the gig in detail. If you’re a guitarist, imagine the guitar around your shoulder. If you’re a magician, imagine the cards in your hands. The more detail, the better. Visualize giving the best performance of your career, the audience enjoying each moment, and the feeling of accomplishment after it’s over. You may be surprised at the immediate confidence boost you’ll get after some positive visualization.

 

Take away the power of fear through practice.

Performance anxiety is partly rooted in the fear of making mistakes. But if you’ve put in the practice, you’ll have more confidence in your abilities and be less likely to blunder.

When practicing, prepare yourself for a variety of conditions. In a controlled environment, replicate situations where you’d face big distractions. If you have trouble concentrating with a lot of noise, practice more often with sounds in the background to actively work on your focus. If your stage anxiety causes you to be short of breath on stage, exercise for a few minutes prior to practice.

Mistakes are inevitable. Learn how to recover quickly when you’re practicing so that when mistakes do occur, it’s not the end of the world. Take time to set up “home performances,” and don’t give yourself an option to restart. Do this for all your material so you’re prepared to handle the situation in a live performance.

 

A healthy body means a healthy mind.

Anxiety is a mental state with physical reactions. When overcome with anxiety, you may have sweaty palms, an increased heart rate, and even shortness of breath. Exercise and diet can help decrease these physical reactions and can also help you have fewer anxious thoughts.

Exercising regularly can, overall, help you feel better and more confident. Being comfortable with yourself can make a huge difference when standing in front of an audience. Some psychologists believe that a 10-minute walk can provide the same mental benefits of a 45-minute workout and last hours afterward. On the day of your next performance, try walking, stretching, or jogging as a part of your routine.

Sugar and caffeine are both stimulants that can greatly increase or even trigger anxiety in some. You may be tempted to amp up your performance with some coffee, but if you’re prone to stage anxiety, stick to your normal routine or even cut back on performance day. Nerves alone should be enough to keep you alert.

 

Plan ahead to avoid unnecessary stress.

Be prepared so you don’t cause yourself additional stress. Worrying about being late, forgetting some of your gear, or not knowing how to get to the venue are all preventable issues. Here are a few ways you can make the gig day easier.

  • Communicate with your client a week prior to the gig to work out any details. Make sure you have the correct venue address, contact information, set-up times, as well as parking arrangements worked out.
  • Gather your gear the night before. Getting your things in order the night before allows you to have less on your mind the day of the gig.
  • On gig day, leave early. Give yourself plenty of time to deal with traffic or even car trouble.

 

Take the focus off of your nerves.

Instead of dwelling on your nerves, think about the enjoyment of the crowd. Focusing on the audience or the “product” of your talent can help you step away from your feelings.

For musicians, try directing your attention to the music itself rather than your environment. Truthfully, the audience isn’t there to see you but to experience the music you’re offering. When you concentrate on the thing you’re most passionate about, you can give the crowd your very best.

Magicians, speakers, and other performers may want to focus more on the audience, their participation, and their reactions. If your talent calls for audience participation, the sooner you can get them involved, the better. Breaking the ice in these situations allows you to feel as if the crowd is working with you and not against you.

 

Know that you are not alone.

Remember that if you struggle with stage anxiety, you’re in great company. Even the most loved pop stars and celebrities struggle with nerves! Stage fright is experienced by the great majority (if not all) of performers. Learning to handle the anxious feelings is simply par for the course.

“If you have stage fright, it never goes away. But then I wonder: is the key to that magical performance because of the fear?” – Stevie Nicks

For some, the troubling feelings before or during a performance may never go away. And that’s okay! With some preparation and practice, you can decrease the effects of stage anxiety. Like Stevie Nicks said, in the end, the anxiety you want so badly to disappear may actually be what makes it a stunning performance.

 

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4 Comments
  1. Mr E B September 18, 2017

    A method for dealing with stage fright that’s always proved effective for me entails taking nervous energy and turning it into excitement. Accept your nervous emotional energy and use that same energy as fuel for ‘excitement’ on the stage. You feel nervous? Start thinking about how excited you are! It’s worked every time for me since I started using the technique way back in 1984. I creditLes Wise, one of my teachers at the Musicians Institute (when it was still G.I.T) for best performance related advice I’ve ever received.

    Reply
  2. Raymond Lohengrin September 19, 2017

    Thank you for such a great article. I always follow these techniques, it makes a great difference!

    Reply
  3. inez September 19, 2017

    Great tips. Thank you!

    Reply
  4. Gary Paul November 5, 2017

    A bit of advice given to me by a teacher at Performing Arts High School in NYC:
    “Don’t try to get rid of the butterflies in your stomach; just get them to fly in formation.”

    Reply

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