How to Banish Stage Fright and Perform Confidently

Stage fright is common amongst singers and musicians, both amateur and professional, and we have seen many artists affected by this in our competition. However, stage fright can be overcome or at least managed if you know how.

Imagine yourself backstage, about to give a performance that could make or break your singing career. How do you feel?

Is your mouth dry? Do you feel light-headed? Are your hands almost dripping with sweat? Is your mind racing as you picture yourself losing your voice, feeling your throat becoming so tight that you can barely even speak, never mind sing?

These are common symptoms of stage fright, or performance anxiety. Dealing with stage fright is a part of every performer’s life, regardless of experience.

Countless iconic artists, including Adele and Lorde (Royals), are among those affected.

Lorde discussing performance anxiety and stage fright “I, like, totally threw up before my show last night. I am reduced by nerves. I can be completely crushed by feelings of all kinds […] I get nervous, I get freaked out, I get, you know, the usual stuff.”
— Lorde — Singer, songwriter, and record producer

The science of stage fright

Your brain identifies a high-stakes performance as a potential threat which triggers the fight or flight response.

The adrenal glands react by pumping adrenaline and noradrenaline around your body, decreasing the flow of oxygen around the stomach and increasing its delivery to your muscles.

When hormone levels are sufficiently high, physical symptoms begin to occur. In the worst case scenario, your blood pressure may drop so rapidly that you pass out on the spot.

Is there a cure for performance anxiety?

Performance anxiety or stage fright is actually an important process. As mentioned above, stage fright is your body preparing for “fight or flight”. So, the question is not how to cure performance anxiety but how to effectively transform it and use to your advantage.

While, persistent, paralysing stage fright is a form of social phobia that can be caused by both genetics and social conditioning, some argue that the greater the fear, the more likely you are to deliver an unforgettable performance.

Caution: Shameless plug ahead!Continue reading below.

Getting in the zone

The feeling of complete control on stage is known among musicians as entering the zone, a phenomenon explored by famous psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.

In his bestselling book: Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, the scientist explains how the perfect correlation between skill and challenge results in a state of optimal performance — or flow.

“The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one…

…Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.” Csikszentmihalyi explains in an interview with Wired.

Honing your craft

As mentioned, getting in the zone depends as much on the challenge ahead as it does on your skill level. When it comes to performing or auditioning, there are two things you have to master.

The first one is obvious: you need to train your voice. The second is improving as a performer: one who doesn’t crack under pressure but, instead, uses it to fuel the performance.

To prevent nerves from getting in the way of your act, consider working with a voice coach. Understanding the technical side of singing is one way of gaining confidence and controlling the voice even in a stressful situation.

Caution: Shameless plug ahead!Continue reading below.

Strategies for overcoming stage fright

Now that you know performance anxiety is a good thing, you need to learn how to harness it.

There are many supposed cures and while some might swear by chamomile tea or bananas, it’s possible that these are only placebos. What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

While best practices of eating and drinking [prior to going on stage] may not solve your performance anxiety directly, some foods and beverages may improve the quality of your vocals — which, in turn, could have a knock on effect on your confidence.

Reappraisal, or seeing things in a new light

Believe it or not, merely acknowledging that stage fright is a good thing is a step towards enhancing your stage performance.

Thinking of the upcoming audition as a challenge rather than as a threat increases your chances of doing well.

Recognising the physical symptoms of anxiety as a prerequisite to entering the zone is called reappraisal.

Beating stage fright with the power of imagination

To imitate a high-pressure situation, surgeons use virtual reality to learn their life-saving skills. Visualisation is a similar but more accessible strategy, commonly used in professional sport.

Performance Anxiety Expert “Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one… Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost”
— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi — Author of “Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience”

Visualisation helps high level athletes maximise their performance at high-stakes events such as the Olympics.

They don’t only imagine how they will move but also how they will react to the roar of the crowd, the bright lights, and countless cameras pointed in their direction.

There are a few types of visualisation used by business-people and star performers around the world.

Acting on many fronts

While stage anxiety can be caused by genetics, it can also be based on negative experiences; therefore, psychological exercises can be effective in dealing with it.

It is important to recognise that not all anxiety is equal and different strategies are suited to different people.

In an upcoming series of articles, you’ll learn how to use proper nutrition, power poses, breathing, visualisation, reappraisal and journaling to conquer stage fright and use it to your advantage.

With these tools, you will have everything you need to deliver the killer performance that you’ve worked so hard for.

Have you experienced stage fright? What techniques have you used to manage or overcome it? Please share in the comments below.

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JA
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JA

I have been involved for nearly 2 decades with a leading branch of mind training that amongst other things deals with performance confidence and overcoming fears and phobias. Through this experience I have seen countless times people’s pure stage fright turn in to wonderful levels of charismatic confidence that is tweaked to give your performance that exciting edge that makes the difference. The good news is this can be taught and learned with the right performance coaching, There is always room for improvement too, so well worth checking out who can help you add more of that charismatic edge to… Read more »

Mike Kirk (OMUK)
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Mike Kirk (OMUK)

Very interesting. It’s curious that if we are able to perceive this stimulus as both frightening and exciting, why we often interpret this as fear. Do you think that this is taught to us growing up, that this is a protective mechanism built within us or something else?

JA
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JA

Well of course many people naturally accept it as exciting so it is possible to not have stage fright and just feel excited. I think this article gives a reasonable description of the reasons fear and excitement are so close. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/laura-huckabeejennings/shift-fear-to-excitement_b_10488700.html

My training facilitates the process of change from fearful thinking to empowered thinking.
I hope that makes sense. 🙂

Migle
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Migle

Great article and useful tips for everyone suffering from stage fright! I have only tried breathing before, which on its own didn’t really help enough. I obviously need to add some extra techniques from mentioned above and try again!

Mike Kirk (OMUK)
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Mike Kirk (OMUK)

Hi Migle,

Thank you for your comments. Hopefully you will find these tips useful in practice and overcome your stage fright. It would be great to know how you get on.