7 Ways to Overcome Performance Anxiety

Updated: Dec 3, 2019

Sweaty palms, shallow breathing, dry mouth, shaky voice, high pitch, butterflies, rapid speech.  These are common symptoms of anxiety while performing, otherwise known as  #stagefright, camera panic or mic fright.

Public speaking can be a bigger fear than financial ruin, sickness or death.  

Even if public speaking isn’t your absolute biggest fear, it’s likely you’ve experienced performance anxiety at some point in your life.  Even though much of what contributes to stage fright is psychological, there are ways to adjust your physiology and environment to bring you back to a state where you can perform at your best.  

The following steps could help you feel less overwhelmed by anxiety and fear before a performance. 

Control your breathing

One often overlooked way to adjust your mood is to regulate your breathing.  Controlling your breathing can help slow your physiology to a calm, relaxed and controlled level while also helping you feel more centered.

When we’re upset, excited or nervous, our breathing becomes fast and shallow rather than smooth, slower and steady when relaxed.  When relaxed, breathing comes from lower in your chest and is supported with your diaphragm.    

In private coaching we work on diaphragmatic breathing, developing greater breath capacity, breathing through words and making sure whatever your technique, it isn’t a distraction to the audience.  

The more diaphragmatic your breathing, the greater your breath support.  And if you have long sentences, dramatic copy or large words to articulate, breath support becomes all that more important.  

Shift anxiety into excitement

Turn fear into fun by reframing what’s at stake.

We typically embrace exciting moments and things that we are looking forward to.  When we are excited we focus on what could go right instead of what could go wrong, allowing us to jump deeper into the moment.  

One way to reframe a situation is to ask yourself questions that place you in an optimal state of mind.  In private coaching we work on asking yourself constructive performance based questions that reshape and rechannel your mindset and help deliver a smooth, poised and compelling message.  

Some questions you could ask yourself are, “What is exciting and fun about this?”   How do I want my audience to feel?  What is the emotion I’m trying to convey?  What is my overall purpose?”  

The idea is to come up with questions that take pressure off of yourself and place your attention on the moment at hand and your audience rather than any level of anxiety surrounding the moment.  

Skip the venti triple shot blonde roast 

Sure, #caffeine gives you a needed jolt to wake up, and millions of people rely on it to turn on their brains each day, but it can also take you too high and  into an energy realm that is hard to rein in or control when trying to deliver a measured performance.  

I learned this the hard way while doing morning radio.   Back then I was a night owl, which made it that much more difficult.  And since my days started at 4am I turned to coffee to wake up.  Not only does a morning radio host need to be awake, but it is essential that one actually sounds awake and sharp when announcing news, traffic and weather.  

I wrongly assumed caffeine would quickly propel me to that perfect morning awake and alert sound.  In actuality, it regularly propelled me beyond that sweet spot and into a realm of uncontrollable over the top energy.  At that point it becomes as difficult to reign it in as it is the amp up to sounding alert.

When over-caffeinated I came across as slightly jarring for morning listeners just waking up who are wanting to ease into the day with an update on news, traffic and weather. 

If you require a shot of caffeine, opt for a hot tea instead.

Tea has less caffeine than coffee, can achieve the same level of alertness and even has health benefits. Tea, such as chamomile, even has a calming effect.  

Some teas, along with keeping you hydrated, can also help relieve nasal congestion, calm your nervous system, improve circulation and give your pipes a more pleasurable sound.  

Stay on the stage and in the present

You’re either on the stage or in the audience, you can’t be in both places at once. 

If your mind is “in the audience” you shift to being self-conscious, seeing yourself, hearing yourself and being overly critical.  A mind that is “in the audience” and not on the stage further contributes to anxiety, stress, and pressure.  As a performer your attention should 100% be on performing in a way that connects deeply with your audience.  

Focus on meeting meeting the audience where they’re at

Instead of thinking about your own feelings and emotions, focus on your audience and how it will receive your message.  Match your tone to the emotions that you want your audience to feel.  In private coaching we identify emotional goals for the audience and placing ourselves in the corresponding state of mind.  For instance, if you want to reassure your audience, you would first feel reassured yourself.  This shift helps you sound more reassuring in your delivery, while also taking your energy away from anxiety or nervousness.

Stage fright distracts us from the present moment and places our attention on the future and on the things we wish to avoid.

Stay in the present

Stay intensely in the present moment.  As if your life depended on it.  Place all your energy on staying in the now and not letting your mind get too far ahead of your message.  If you are experiencing stage fright, your mind is picturing future events going poorly.

Leave the performance space briefly 

Change your surroundings to ease your senses.

Leave and come back.  Step away for a bit.  Remove yourself from the performance area that can be filled with tension and anxiety.  Sometimes it is impossible to shake anxiety when we are surrounded by the things that are making us nervous.  In these situations, we need to leave the area for a bit, get centered, then come back.

You also want to avoid letting your anxiety bleed off onto others in such a way that makes them nervous. 

Your goal is to be mentally prepared, which includes being calm, relaxed and in conversational mode once you step into the place you will perform.  

Once you finally are mentally prepared it could be a good idea to step into your performance area, visualize your performance going well and rehearse your performance in your mind. 

Fill your mind with images of you performing flawlessly against your performance backdrop.

Find a private space, perhaps a backroom or stairwell, where you can be alone with your energy to center yourself and focus.   If you cannot find a private indoor room, step outside.  Sometimes fresh air or sunlight can help calm us.  Naturally, you would remain mindful of the time constraints of your session. 

Find your zen

Meditation isn’t for everyone and it’s not always possible or practical in the moments before going on stage, but it can certainly  help to meditate during the days leading up to your performance. Meditation helps to calm and center you while visualizing a flawless performance.

Our nervous system doesn’t know the difference between an experience vividly imagined and one actually experienced.  Meditation allows your brain and nervous system to experience your performance before you actually deliver it and helps to control your focus, stay on stage, stay in the present, get excited and connect with your audience.

Realize that everything in the physical world was at first a thought.  Meditation takes you to the level of thought where you can create an outcome as you wish – before it happens in the physical world.  And without limitation. 

After you meditate, your brain and nervous system will have literally experienced your desired outcome and will help you feel calmer and more confident when facing it in the physical world. 

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