How to be confident in a crowd – Part 2

Published by Music in Offices on

Your mouth and throat dry up, your heart feels like it’s going a hundred miles an hour and your legs are shaking. What do you do?

Eleanor Rastall shares her tips on exchanging that anxiety for enjoyment, whether for a musical performance or a work presentation. In the second of her three-part series, Eleanor shows us how to break down the anxiety and not let it take control.

“s a choir leader and singing teacher I am often asked about performance nerves and stage fright, and as a singer I know well what it feels like and how debilitating the effects can be. For many years I poured energy into cultivating a calm exterior to hide the anxiety, but then started thinking about a better use for that energy – using it to reduce anxiety rather than hiding it. And this is the path I have been exploring now for some time.

And the best thing about my discoveries along the way is that the techniques are transferable – the same strategies work for stress and anxiety in everyday life, in public speaking, social situations, presentations, job interviews etc etc.

The most important and freeing realisation I had is that self awareness is key. Anxiety loses much of its power if you can recognise its symptoms and have strategies for dealing with it. Understanding my thought processes as well as the physical symptoms of anxiety has helped me to reduce both the anxiety itself and its effect, and be able to take control of my anxiety during a performance.

The tips and ideas in this series all revolve around increasing your self-awareness and self-knowledge and then using that enhanced understanding to benefit your performance and comfort level.

So firstly, good performance requires practice.

Well, duh! I hear you say. But I am not talking about the (ideally) regular practice you do to learn how to play your instrument well. I am talking about practising performance in its own right.

Why on earth should we be able to perform in front of an audience of 50 people as easily, as consistently and as successfully as we play to ourselves alone in our living room? It is a completely different situation, with different pressures, fears and exhilarations. Yet there is often an assumption that if we can play then we can also naturally perform and – illogically – a sense of failure when the consistency or level of the performance doesn’t match that of our practice sessions.

Practice performances have two main benefits:

you get used to playing in scenarios that have more pressure attached to them than your lessons and personal practice sessions.

It allows you to learn what might go wrong, what you might forget, what bits of the piece aren’t solid yet, how your body might react differently in a performance situation and so a) be prepared for what might be different and b) start to explore ways to deal with these changes in performance.

Ideally you would create practice performance scenarios that have the pressure of an audience but without high stakes (so no potential dire consequences, otherwise it isn’t practice!), for example:

  • you could audio record or video yourself so you can experience the performance from the audience point of view;
  • you could dare to practice when you know someone else can hear you;
  • you could ask a small number of friends or family to sit and listen to you in your living room;
  • you could hire a performance space or studio and perform to friends and family who you know will be supportive.

It may feel difficult or embarrassing at first but the more you do, the easier it gets, and the better you can get to know your own personal anxiety symptoms, causes and effects. Be resilient in your practice – push yourself past your comfort zone!

Which brings me to my second tip, cultivating awareness, which I will explore in the next post.”

Thanks so much to Eleanor for these insights – I hope you find them useful as I do!

We had fantastic feedback from participants at the last workshop such as this comment from Dorota Donigiewicz at Standard Chartered:

“It was really well prepared, challenging (in the best sense of that word) and truly useful … I would highly recommend the class… as a useful tool to learn how to tackle those performance nerves. Fantastic job by Eleanor!”

If you would like to explore this further with Eleanor, please contact  catrin@musicinoffices.com for more details or to book a place (free to MIO members).

To contact Eleanor or for more information about her events and workshops please see www.eleanorrastall.co.uk.