How to Get Over Stage Fright

I can still remember my first gig as a professional singer -- I was such a nervous wreck that I couldn't even open my eyes. Oh, and I stood there shaking in my high heels like a doe caught in headlights. It was absolutely horrible. Fast forward 14 years and I can walk out onstage in front of 10,000 people and not even bat an eye. I simply don't have stage fright anymore, as you can see from the video below (although that's only a crowd of about 1,000 so it's not that huge a group to stand up in front of). The following are my own personal tips for getting over a fear of standing up in front of the public or gigging in a large venue. But, as with anything, you've got to just get up there and do it, and the more you agonize over it, the more stressed you'll make yourself, so it's best not to think about it too much.

Some more tips:

  • If you screw up, keep going. Most of the people in your audience won't have a clue you did, so there's no point in getting embarrassed. Hell, I've been so out of it at times that I've forgotten the words to songs I wrote myself -- what did I do? I made up a new verse! My song, my rules and no one was any wiser!

  • Don't use drink or drugs. This will not help and can actually help induce a panic attack if you get too nervous -- take my word for it.

  • Remember, people have paid to see you! They must want to see you, so don't worry about whether or not they'll like you -- they already do!

  • Do a soundcheck beforehand to make sure you sound fab.

  • If you can't hear yourself, make sure you tell your crew to sort it out and they will.

  • If the spotlights are too much in your face, tell the crew to move them and they will.

  • If anyone heckles you, pretend you didn't hear it and keep going; if they heckle continuously, the audience will sort them out for you.

1. Be comfortable

You've got to be comfortable before you walk out on the stage. If you're normally a jeans and tshirt kind of person and you go stand on stage wearing a ball gown, you'll probably feel a bit out of your element. The key to getting over stage fright is being in your element as much as possible -- once you've overcome your stage fright you can start testing your comfort zone more, but initially you should try to be as comfy as possible. Personally, I'm very uncomfortable onstage unless I'm wearing something fairly specific, so don't feel odd about catering to your comfort zone in the beginning.

2. Do not stare directly at your audience

Don't try to get intimate with your audience the first time you get up there; it's too easy to imagine you know what's going through their heads whilst they're watching you perform. That, and if you start to stare at anyone in particular without realizing it, people will get uncomfortable (and yes I have known singers who've done this without realizing it).

3. Let your eyes go out of focus

The best way to look at your audience without looking at them is to let your eyes go out of focus. I'm not saying cross your eyes or do anything ridiculous, just let your eyes go out of focus enough that you're not making eye contact with people while you're gazing in their general direction. Once you've managed that, be sure to let your slightly-out-of-focus gaze wander, so your audience thinks you're looking around at everyone -- which is what you should be doing, anyway. Eventually, once you've gotten over your stage fright you'll be able to do this while your eyes are in focus. This was the single biggest thing that helped me get through my first year of gigging until I was comfortable enough to look at whomever, whenever.

4. Have something to do with your hands

If you're a guitarist or bass player, your hands are already occupied. But if you're a singer you may not have anything to do with your hands, but if you do, it could help you tremendously. For example, I never sing with mic-in-hand because I'd lose my balance if I did this (because my singing is very physical) and so I hold onto the mic stand. This not only stabilizes me, it give me something to do with my hands, whereas I'd feel awkward just standing there with nothing to do with them.

5. Videotape yourself

One of the best ways to feel more comfortable onstage is to videotape yourself and come face to face with what you look like up there. The results are likely to make you very embarrassed (God knows I was, the first time I saw myself on video!) but this will help you very, very quickly sort your stage presence out. And once you realize you look fine up there, you'll be that much more comfortable onstage.

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