How To Overcome Stage Fright

Release Date: 9th November, 2021

Hi everyone, and thanks for signing up to my mailing list to receive these little fortnightly letters from me. IMAIL has been a wonderful way of connecting with you all throughout Sydney’s lockdown, but I look forward to continuing it into the future so please do let me know if you have questions or ideas of what you’d like to hear from me. I’m all ears!

My first gigs back post-lockdown are coming up this weekend and I couldn’t be more excited to get back on a stage! I’ll be opening for Lindsay and Jay of Frenzal Rhomb (unplugged) in solo format at Crowbar Sydney this Friday and Saturday night (tickets here). Part of me feels like it’ll be like riding a bike and I’ll feel right at home the second I get up there, and another part of me feels like I may throw up all over the front row… After Sydney’s first lockdown in 2020, my first gig back was with my band at the Vanguard in Newtown, and my hands were shaking so badly that I had trouble playing guitar. As someone who already suffers from a lot of anxiety, I found that returning to the stage after so long was truly a rattling experience, as I’m sure it was and will be for many others. That’s why today I wanted to discuss ways to overcome stage fright. Perhaps you’re a performer returning to gigging after lockdown, perhaps you’ve never performed but want to start, or perhaps you don’t play music but want to get better at public speaking or anything that involves being vulnerable in front of others. In any case, I’d love to share my stage fright tips with you!

Nerves are NOT a negative thing.
Often as humans, we feel something we perceive as unpleasant or uncomfortable and immediately try to shut it down or push it away. This is something I’m very guilty of, and I talk to my therapist about it all the time. We try to repel the “bad” feelings, which is a natural reaction. However, what I’ve learned is that feelings we frame as “bad” can often be really useful to us. If we can learn to frame these feelings in a more positive light and use them to our advantage, we’re unstoppable.

Nerves are actually a wonderful thing – they mean you care about what you’re doing. I heard that Frank Sinatra once said “The day you stop getting nervous is the day you should stop performing”. It’s all about learning to use your nerves to your advantage; taking the nervous energy and channelling it into kickass stage charisma. Think of your nerves like a glass of bubbly soft drink inside of you that is fizzing and ready to explode – that explosion will be the energy, adrenaline and passion you need to put on an electrifying show. You know when you watch a gig and the people on stage are bouncing around looking like they’re having the best time and can’t contain their excitement? That energy has to come from somewhere, and I bet you anything it mostly comes from nerves. And it’s infectious to watch!

Back yourself.
This is so much easier said than done, but a huge part of battling nerves is to speak kindly to yourself before a performance and to remind yourself of how much you know your shit. I highly recommend taking a quiet 5 minutes alone before going on stage to tell yourself “You have prepared for this, you know what you’re doing, and you’re going to kill it”. Give yourself a pep talk in the same way you’d wholeheartedly encourage a best friend before they did something scary. I’ve noticed a hugely positive difference in my performances whenever I make time beforehand to get in a room by myself (even if it’s just the bathroom), centre myself, take some deep breaths, and remind myself that I’m good at my job and I’ve got this. It’s easy to get caught up in a backstage whirlwind of busy activity and excitement, but try to take even just a minute of quiet to yourself to get ready and get your thoughts in the right place before you step out onto the stage.

Prepare.
This one speaks for itself. Commitment to preparation is the enemy of anxiety and stage fright. You want to know your material so well that all you have to do on performance day is focus on the art of performing and coping with your nerves, not on remembering your material.

Everyone wants you to succeed, and you care more about mistakes than they do.
It’s easy to get in your own head before you step onto a stage. All kinds of fearful thoughts begin to surface like “What if I make a mistake and everyone laughs at me?” or “There are people in the audience who will judge me”. The truth is that 99% of the time, every single person in that room wants you to succeed up there. No one goes to a show rooting for the artist to fail because, let’s face it, as well as being a dick move, that is totally uncomfortable for an audience member to witness. Audiences always want to feel comfortable watching live music, and they generally want to see you smash it out of the park, so do your best to quieten the voice which tells you that everyone is waiting for you to fail so they can laugh and point like a schoolyard bully.

Mistakes will happen. I’ve seen some of the most iconic performers in the world not hit notes properly, forget lyrics or even fall over in the middle of a performance. Normalising the idea to yourself that you will make a mistake, maybe even a few, is very important, because you’re only human and it’s unrealistic to think you can be perfect. The trick is to roll with the punches. What will affect the performance is not the fact that you made the mistake, but how you dealt with it in the moment. Most people do not care (or even notice!) if you make a mistake and will forget about it within approximately 3 seconds, as long as you do too. The worst times of my life on stage have been when I’ve made a mistake, but let it visibly plague me and rattle my confidence for the rest of the show. Let it pass, either ignore it or maybe even have a bit of a laugh and smile about it, then move on. Everyone is behind you.

I hope those of you freshly out of lockdown are enjoying your freedoms and keeping safe. I’d absolutely love to see you at a show soon! As well as the previously mentioned Frenzal supports this weekend, tickets are on sale for my Joni Mitchell show on Jan 22 at Mary’s Underground in Sydney (early and late sessions), where I’ll be playing the entire album Blue to celebrate its 50th anniversary, as well as other Joni classics. I’m having the most fun preparing for this show, so grab your tickets here! I also have a very exciting announcement to make this Friday, so stay tuned for that…

Until next time, I love you and take care,
IC x