How to perform despite the anxiety

If you’re anything like me, you tend to become a bit of a bundle of nerves when a large event is on the horizon and you need to perform. You feel the pressure start to mount, you think about all the opportunity that is riding on how you perform, and you start to feel perhaps just a little panicky. You realise that it’s a great opportunity, but you also realise that you need to perform up to a particular standard to ensure that the event goes well.

I’m here to tell you that there are some good ways to help overcome the anxiety, and to help your performance improve. Hopefully some of my tips-from-experience will help you for your next “performance”.

When I was in high school, there came a time when I had to choose which electives I would take up for my final years. After having initially selected French and Geography (which I knew I’d get high marks in), I changed my mind and chose Drama and Art. I had a feeling that I needed to study drama – I had been a painfully shy child and knew that taking up Drama might help me overcome this shyness. Thankfully, it did! Through studying Drama – where I had to memorise lines, get up on stage in front of people and perform as a character – I learned that speaking in front of people is a performance piece. Getting up on stage with all those eyes staring at you and all those people judging you is very daunting at first. You wonder what they think of you and what they think of your performance: good? bad? the worst they’d ever seen?

We tend to judge ourselves pretty harshly, don’t we!

Through forcing myself to get up on a literal stage and act in front of people, I realised that I was OK with it because I was acting. I wasn’t “me”: I was someone else. Whatever the audience thought about “me”, they were actually thinking about the “character”. This arms-length way of seeing the performance allowed me to step outside of “me”, and to get on with the job of performing without needing to worry about people’s opinions of me on top of what would already be a challenging task. By seeing the performance as an act, I find that it becomes far easier to perform.

Besides, the big secret that we tend to forget is that each of us has these fears. We are always wondering what other people think of us. Whoever gets up on that stage is wondering what everyone else is thinking of them. So, if we are all wondering what everyone else is thinking of us, your audience is too busy thinking of what others are thinking of them to really be that concerned with opinions of you. Once you realise that everyone else is worried about what everyone thinks of them, you can start to let go of the concern that everyone is thinking about you. No offence, but you aren’t that special 😉

The next time you have a “performance”: be it a presentation at work, a sales pitch, or a job interview; think of it as if you are about to get into character. You will be acting. Obviously, you want to be authentic and still be “you”, but the beauty of seeing the performance as an act is that you get to choose the character. You get to choose a character that inspires you. For me, it’s someone who is courageous, always passionate, dedicated, and out to make a difference. By getting into the zone of the “character” you aspire to, you can think through how a person with those traits would perform. Plus, by being a character on stage rather than “you”, you can blame any performance mishaps on the character rather than yourself, and therefore you have less riding on this performance and you can relax a little and just ease into the performance.

Does that make sense?

Time for an example.

How would a courageous, passionate, dedicated person act?

They would speak at a loud volume (not too loud), they would speak clearly – not too fast nor too slow – and with passion and energy in their voice. They would speak emotively and would be enthusiastic using a variety of tonality as they speak.

Now, get into character. Practice speaking and holding yourself in the way that such a character would. Practice in front of a mirror, a pet or a trusted friend. Are you convincing as this “character”?

Once you can feel that you are acting and in “character”, you can start to see the separation between yourself and the character. With this separation comes freedom. Any words spoken or actions taken are that of the character. You are channeling this character and bringing them to life in front of an audience. Any opinions of the performance therefore, are of the character and not of yourself.

Let yourself go. Enjoy the mode of performing and focusing your energies on delivering a solid, inspiring performance rather than over-worrying about what the audience thinks of you.

By focusing your energy on what actually matters – on a solid and successful delivery -, you will have more chance at success. After all, if you focus your energies on worrying about everyone’s opinion of you, you will be far more likely to stumble and let your nerves get the better of you.

Try this for yourself. I’d love to know what you think, and if you’ve experienced this kind of performance or if you’ve tried something similar.

Now, get out there and give it a good go! Inspire people with your words and your energy. You have so much to contribute to others, and if you let the thought of people’s opinions stop you, that’s a real shame. Don’t let those thoughts get in the way of what is possible.

/ Daisy

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