Thursday, July 26, 2012

Preparing to Perform 101

Rehearsing (photo by Justin Hackworth)

Do you ever get nervous about public speaking or performing in front of an audience? What goes through a performer's mind on the day of a show?  I'm sure it's different for everyone and varies by the type of performance.  But I can tell you what I've learned about performing over the years and how to make it a good experience.   Here are some pointers that I've come to live by as a performing musician:

1.)  Harness your energy: It is completely normal to feel nervous about performing in any kind of setting.  This is adrenaline and energy working within you and it's actually essential to a good performance.  The trick is to harness this energy and use it in a positive way on stage.  Remember that all forms of energy can morph into new forms of energy (remember high school Physics?).  Don't make it wrong that you feel nervous.  Merely observe the fact that you are having nervous feelings and let it be ok, knowing that you can use that energy in a positive way on stage.

2.)  Protect your energy:  There are a million things that need to be tended to on the day of a show.  You need to delegate as many of those things as possible to other people so that you can preserve your energy for your performance.  The more people you invite into your life on the day of a show, the more drained you will feel.  If you are the main performer, when possible, make sure there is a private place for you backstage to change and collect your thoughts before your show.  Have a manager or someone you trust guard this space with their life.  Create a custom greeting for your voicemail in the morning that tells callers you will be unavailable, instructing them to call a manager if they need to get a hold of you. Only answer calls from that one manager throughout the day.

3.)  When on stage, thou shalt not think:  I think I first heard this phrase from renowned performance coach, Tom Jackson.  Don't ever let yourself think about what you're doing on stage.  Somehow, when you are consciously thinking about your performance, your audience will immediately become aware of it and you will too.  This is when second-guessing and insecurities can take over in front of your crowd.  Thou shalt not think when thou art performing!  Trust your muscle memory, and just let go.  When you can master this, it will feel amazing and any slip-ups that happen become endearing to your audience because when you are relaxed, they are relaxed.

4.)  Meet and Greet AFTER the show: If you have a meet and greet time with your fans, I recommend doing this after your performance.  Why?  Again, you must protect your energy before the show and if you have to run to a meet and greet and then run back to get changed backstage, it will feel stressful.  Also, there is a level of mystery between your fans and you that makes you exciting to them.  I think it's better to allow that sense of mystery and excitement to remain until after the show is over.  Then you will have had this really cool experience of sharing music with them and they will be even more eager to meet you.

5.)  Eat healthy foods:  This is pretty self explanatory.  You want to feel good on the day of your show and the way you feel will translate to your audience.  If you don't eat well, you won't feel well.  The end.

6.)  You are the faucet, not the water:  One of my coaches, Trina Harmon, always reminds me of this.  There is no need to try and prove anything to your audience.  You are merely the channel through which light and love are being transmitted to those around you.  Your show is not actually about you.  That takes a lot of pressure off of you as the performer, right?  Remember, you are the faucet, not the water.

Are you a performer, public speaker or do you compete in your respective field?  I'd love to hear your tips about how the magic happens for you on game day.


  1. Mindy - this is such a great article and so happy that you wrote it. I am also a composer/performer (but different genre than you, I'm a classical-crossover pianist) and I have struggled with my battles with stage fright over the years. Sometimes it is okay and I get through it, but other times I have completely flubbed up my performance and it's those times that I always think about in the back of my mind - because I fear them happening again. I have a major CD release concert coming up in a concert hall next month and I admit I've been having panic over it. Your article helped tremendously, especially #3. I have had moments where I'm on stage performing and all of a sudden, I realize I'm performing and I start thinking about my fingers and what notes they should performing and it completely messes me up. I've even had thoughts of "Eh hem, you know you don't really play the piano so what are you doing?" which is silly - because of course I play the piano, have for 30 years and was a piano major in college LOL. Just these little doubtful over-thinking thoughts that bite me in the rear right during a performance. anyway thanks for your post - I needed this! Feel free to stop by and say hi - would be great to get to know you.

    Jennifer Thomas

  2. Thanks Jenni! I'm so glad you found it helpful. I'm sure your CD release will be fantastic!

  3. Wow!! That is So me!! Thank you both for sharing, ive always held myself back because of my nerves and self doubts, thinking no-one deals with this on this level. You pros always look so calm and collected! Inspiring!! Thank You!

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  5. Hey Bob! i see you've removed your comment. But I read it and you had some really great points!

  6. Ahh....didn't mean to. Computer issues. Here it is back again. I always save posts just in case. Thanks for your nice words and fast reading!

    These are great and a good reminder, especially for musical performance. This is a topic I take pretty seriously, so here goes. In my consulting work I do a fair amount of speaking, both stage and workshops. If I'm speaking on stage, I have a small, somewhat peculiar ritual before going on. I go the men's room (ahem, this works in ladies rooms, too), and I exercise my face, that is, I pull all kinds of faces, moving every muscle in my cheeks, forehead, mouth, all of it. I learned this from acting many years ago. It relaxes the face which often tenses up before the curtain goes up. Plus, if you watch yourself in the mirror you can't help but laugh and that's relaxing, too.

    Another thing I insist on is listening to upbeat music during the day (two cuts from Anchor in particular). And avoid anything that could possibly put me in a down mood or cause anxiety. I won't dig into news sites on the Internet or listen to talk radio. I will talk with people I can always count on for an emotional boost and I have a short list of those people, those that believe in me regardless. Hmm, maybe I should work on making that a longer list. Anyway, this is part of the protect your energy you listed.

    One point where I differ is when to meet and greet. For speakers it's a great idea to meet people before your speech. It gives them a connection which they usually don't have with us. I don't have fans coming to see me as you do for your music. So I want to connect with a good number of the audience beforehand and then I look in their direction as I speak and scan the room. We need to see friendly faces! You can count on that, but I can't, especially if I'm challenging them to think or do something differently.

    You're absolutely right about not thinking during the performance. Words or music, we need to let the feeling come through and that just can't happen if we do thought-checks throughout the performance. We've all done it and we know it hurts our effectiveness. I don't know about you, but for speakers it's possible to over-prepare and over-rehearse. Stage and musical performers need to memorize their lines and music, but the emotion needs to be genuine. For me, I memorize my opening and closing but not the rest so I can let it flow. I know the main points I need to make and the stories to tell, but it's a little different each time. Some speakers are totally opposite and memorize the whole thing, right down to when to move left or right, move this hand this way and then that, but I think that's artificial and it puts the focus on the speaker and not the content. And that ties into your faucet and water metaphor, which I like a lot.

    I could go on, but those are some of the main points I go by. Thanks for bringing up the topic! By the way, in the photo, that's the same dress you wore when you performed at Deseret Book in SLC a few months ago (and where you autographed my copy of Anchor I brought with me, thank you again). Vintage, great look, and as you know, clothing choice matters, too.

  7. Mindy- I loved this. I would like to share it with some of my vocal students if you don't mind. I feel it would be very helpful for them as they prepare for recitals and other performances. (Bob's comments were very good also.) Love that red dress on you:) Thanks for sharing these pointers.

  8. Well. my vision is failing...the chairs are red. Love the dress, regardless of the color:)

  9. Thanks for sharing these tips. I loved the faucet/water metaphor as well. :D

  10. I am so thankful that you shared #6. Although I'm not a musician, I am a mother, and this can apply so beautifully to my role as mama. <3 Definitely needed to hear it today.

  11. Hi MIndy, thanks for this post - I am an introvert with a huge love for the stage, and in recent times I've pushed myself to try public speaking and vocal lessons. In my first session of the latter I forgot myself; in the second I struggled the whole way through! Reading your post is really encouraging and helpful, I'll be practicing remembering these at my next lesson :)