Nerves and Jitters, pt 2

See Part 1 of Performance Anxiety – Relief for Presenters and Performers
full article also available in PDF


Those first three tools from my previous post really do get the most complete and reliable results.   But for the curious, see below for more strategies to address Performance Anxiety and Stage Fright.

4.  Yoga-style Breathing Exercises and stretching.
Try 10 slow, deep breaths while stretching the back, torso, groin, chest and neck.  This and other breathing exercises can slow your heart rate, which is a good trick.   However, don’t do the slow breathing thing unless you’ve already done #3, or you risk looking sleepy, lazy or depressed.   Remember, yoga methodology is not primarily about social connection and communication, whereas performance is.

5.  Vocal warm-up.
Use the warm-ups you find most enjoyable from your relevant discipline.  Here’s a Royal Shakespeare Company warm up.  Here’s a warm up from a lovely opera singer.  BONUS:  there is one exercise that appears in almost every genre of vocal discipline – the motorboat sound, which coordinates breath output without adding tension in the neck.

6.  Movement disciplines.
Training methods like Alexander Technique, Skinner, Laban, Klein, NIA, Tai Chi, ballet, Zumba, all the various yoga forms – can all be wonderful.  However, if your favorite movement discipline isn’t thoroughly addressing your gut-curdling fear, ask yourself whether it’s aerobic or not.  See #3 above.

7.  Spa-type treatments.
Massage, sauna, hot tub, steam room, shower, heating pad, facial, etc –   who doesn’t love this stuff?  However, as with #4, be careful you don’t come out looking lackadaisical, like you just got out of bed.

8.  Memorization, part A.
The fight/flight alert system can sometimes cause us to freeze our thinking, so that we can only fall back on what has become “automatic”.   For some performers, this falling back is a welcome moment of comfort, as they get into the flow of a song, memorized prayer or familiar mission/vision soundbite.

9.  Memorization, part B.
Many performers who thought they had thoroughly memorized their material find that they lose lyrics or “go up on lines” (aka forget what to say) when they actually see the audience.   Eye contact initiates a different kind of brain activity than solo study does.   Bad coaches will say ‘then don’t look at the people.’

Eye avoidance is NOT a sustainable strategy, and will ruin your audience connectivity.

Go back to #1, and get used to it.

If your discipline doesn’t require exact memorization, don’t do it.  Instead, reduce your full speech to bullet points, memorize those and fill in the details spontaneously, for the audience you really see in front of you.  This prevents speakers from getting addicted to exact inflections, an addiction that can make a presentation sound perfunctory, like a boring pre-flight speech.

10.  Power poses.
There’s some evidence that shows holding a series of powerful Wonder Woman-type poses for two minutes or more can increase testosterone levels and feelings of confidence.   There’s also some evidence that it doesn’t, though.   Like other tactics, if it works for you, great.  It’s quick and cheap.

11.  Placebos, lucky charms, and ritual.
These are cognitive tools that work well on some people, but not on all.  Examples:
“This soup is an ancient Hawaiian recipe that cures anything.”
“I have to wear my lucky ring or I can’t perform.”
“I eat roast chicken and sweet potatoes at 5:30, without fail.”
Downside:  serious problems occur if the lucky charm is unavailable or the ritual is altered.  It’s best to avoid “must haves”.

12.  Special diets for delicate digestive symptoms.
The fight/flight response shuts down digestion in order to prioritize blood flow of stress hormones. This shutdown causes unpleasant symptoms like butterflies, gut spasms, stomach aches, nausea, diarrhea, frequent urination, flatulence, dry mouth and more.   Some people use a BRAT diet or other exclusion diet to minimize the unpleasant effects.  Others focus on timing their intake (and outflow).

13.  Special diets: comfort foods and folk medicines.
This mixes the power of #11 and #12.   Some people use special teas, lozenges, sprays, supplements, candies, or other foods that may or may not have some actual calming effects, though these are seriously strengthened by placebo and ritual-comfort effects.

14.  Beta Blockers.
These chemicals are well proven to interfere with the natural hormonal systems and reduce adrenaline production.  Expense, addictive properties, and side effects make these relatively unpopular.

15.  Alcohol, narcotics and other inebriates.
Not recommended. Results are unpredictable, methods are unsustainable, and use of these substances delays the performer’s *actual* development of skills and confidence.

16.  Hypnosis, NLP, self-talk, pep talks, prayer
These revolve around convincing the brain of something – e.g. that it is not in danger, or is not afraid, or is worthy of success.  I’ve seen these tactics work well for some people, but not so reliably that I’d put it any higher on the list.  For me, my inner caveman doesn’t put much stock in talk.
Got other strategies you truly believe in?  Post them in comments.

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