So you want to perform huh?

Awesome news! Performing is the ultimate way to show off your new found aerial skills, share them and express yourself in front of others. For some of us this can be as natural a thing as sharing a cup of tea - for others this can be a palm sweating, gut-wrenching, heart racing experience that can turn even the most confident person into a lump of nervous jelly.

Don't worry you are not alone

If you dread the thought of getting up in front of a group of people and performing, you are not alone. Millions of people suffer from performance anxiety, commonly called ‘stage fright’. Athletes, musicians, actors, and public speakers quite often suffer from this.

Stage fright can help...

In small doses I find it’s a good thing - being nervous before I’m about to go do a show means I will probably give a better performance. I’ll be all fired up and super aware, ready to react to anything. Whereas if I’m completely flat and not nervous at all, no energy pumping or adrenalin firing, then the show will usually fall flat too.

But I'm a nervous wreck!

However it’s when stage fright gets out of hand and turns you into a nervous wreck that it can prevent you from giving a good show and worst of all may even stop you from doing the show at all (funny how we can get ill or injured prior to a show). All this can then negatively affect your self-esteem and self-confidence. Although it may be impossible to totally overcome performance anxiety, there are many things you can do to control your emotions and reduce anxiety.

It's your fight or flight mechanism kicking in

Being the centre of attention and having all eyes on you can be stressful. Your body reacts to this situation in much the same way as it would if you were being attacked. Your body's 'fight-or-flight' mechanism kicks in, which is why symptoms of stage fright are similar to symptoms that occur when you are in real danger.

How you know you have stage nerves

These are some of the bodily symptoms of stage fright (performance anxiety)

  • Racing pulse and rapid breathing
  • Dry mouth and tight throat
  • Trembling hands, knees, lips, and voice
  • Sweaty and cold hands
  • Nausea and an uneasy feeling in your stomach
  • Vision changes

Your experience of stage nerves is affected by 3 main things:

1.) Genes

Genetics play a huge role in how strong your feelings of anxiety are in social situations. For instance, even though John Lennon performed on stage thousands of times, he was known for throwing up before going on stage for his live performances. Some people are simply genetically wired to feel more scared when performing or speaking in public.

2.) Level of task mastery

We’ve all heard the saying, “practice makes perfect.” The main benefit of practice is to increase your familiarity of a given task. As this familiarity increases, feelings of anxiety decrease, and have less of a negative impact on performance. In other words, the anxiety you feel about performing will be less, the more comfortable you feel with your routine.

3.) Stakes

There is a massive difference to performing in a friendly showcase to your friends and fellow students than to say in a huge theatre or cabaret night where your reputation could be massively damaged if you screw up. When the stakes increase your body will trigger the release of more adrenaline to help you through. This can result in paralysing fear and anxiety.

Learn how to control stage nerves

As humans, we’re hardwired to worry about our reputation above almost all things. There are primitive parts of your brain that control your reaction to threats on your reputation, making these reactions sometimes difficult to control. Confronting your fears and vulnerabilities, accepting yourself for who you are, and not feeling like you have to prove yourself to others, is the first step toward overcoming performance anxiety. Keep in mind that nobody is perfect, nobody expects you to be perfect, and it’s OK to make mistakes. The second step is learning how to redirect your negative thoughts, beliefs, images, and predictions about performing in public.

Try these tips to reduce your stage fright

1. Shift the focus from yourself and your fear to your true purpose — contributing something of value to your audience.

2. Stop scaring yourself with thoughts about what might go wrong. Instead, focus your attention on thoughts and images that are calming and reassuring and how it is all going to go right.

3. Refuse to think thoughts that create self-doubt and low confidence.

4. Practice ways to calm and relax your mind and body, such as deep breathing, relaxation exercises, yoga, and meditation. It is useful to practice these techniques before show day so that you can pull them out of the bag when needed.

5. Remember to breathe. When I am nervous I forget to breathe which then in turn makes me tired. It’s best to take a few long, slow breaths somewhere quiet before a show to get settled and get your breath in the right place.

6. Exercise, eat well, get adequate sleep and practice other healthful lifestyle habits. Try to limit caffeine, sugar, and alcohol as much as possible. Eat a sensible meal a few hours before you are to perform so that you have energy and don't get hungry.

7. Visualise your success: Always focus on your strength and ability to perform well.

8. Practice, practice, practice! Make sure you have rehearsed your routine a lot and know it inside out. In fact you could actually do it in your sleep right?! You want to be able to get to the point where you don’t have to think about how to do a trick or what comes next in your routine so that you can focus entirely on connecting with the audience and enhancing the delivery of your routine.

9. Always do a tech run. Again you don’t want to be worrying about details such as whether your costume is going to come off or whether the hoop is at the right height. Iron out any problems beforehand - work out exactly what you need - do a costume run through and so on. Btw that’s what tech runs are for. Never ever perform without a tech run! The less you have to worry about your routine the more you can focus on doing it well.

10. Make connections with your audience: Smile and make eye contact, think of them as friends rather than enemies. Focus on the friendliest faces in the audience.

11. Act natural and be yourself.

12. Laugh when you can, it can help you relax.

13. Make yourself look good. When you look good, you feel good.

14. Keep in mind that stage fright is usually worse before the performance and often goes away once you get started. Know that as soon as you step out into your audience your body will know what to do. Something will take over - you will be in the zone, at one with your apparatus, the music, the audience. All systems firing - in fact you’re on fire!

15. Give up trying to be perfect and know that it is OK to make mistakes. Be natural, be yourself and enjoy yourself out there.

So to sum it all up...

Shift the focus off of yourself and your fear to the enjoyment you are providing to the spectators. Close your eyes and imagine the audience laughing and cheering, and you feeling good. Don't focus on what could go wrong. Instead focus on the positive. Visualise your success. Avoid thoughts that produce self-doubt.

Practice controlled breathing, meditation and other strategies to help you relax and redirect your thoughts when they turn negative. It is best to practice some type of relaxation technique every day, regardless of whether you have a performance, so that the skill is there for you when you need it.

Take a walk, jump up and down, shake out your muscles, or do whatever feels right to ease your anxious feelings before the performance.

Connect with your audience -- smile, make eye contact, and think of them as friends.

I hope that this post has helped. If you are reading this with a show coming up - I just know you are gonna go out there and rock it big time.

Please feel free to like, comment and share - I would love to know how you cope with stage fright and pre-show nerves...