In this, the final part 4 of our mini series on speaking from the stage, we’re covering mind games, perfectionism, and your audience. If you missed the earlier installments, find them here: parts 1, 2, 3). A few nagging question remain:

a few more questions on public speaking for musicians

“I have a hard time transitioning from speaking to playing when I’m on stage—what can I do?”

It’s not surprising. We’re accessing different parts of our brain when we’re organizing thoughts and speaking as opposed to when we’re performing.

The good news is, these are both forms of communication. If you’re coming from a place of honest generosity and openness, it can help to acknowledge a shared impulse behind each.

The bad news is, it’s still accessing different parts of your brain, so it demands “switching gears.” And since many of us are more nervous about speaking than performing, the speaking may set us up for a rocky start to the piece we’re introducing.

So what do you do?

First, get clear about what you want to say and why.

Write out a script so you can really think through the points you want to make. Check to see that you’re providing the audience an entry point to make a meaningful connection with the work. I write down what I plan to say—not to memorize it and so I sound like a robot—but to feel more confident when practicing my remarks. Writing it down helps me clarify what I want to say. When I read it I can be more objective about whether it’s worthwhile.

Second, practice transitioning from speaking to playing.

Do multiple run throughs of your introduction and include starting the piece you’ve introduced so that you really practice the transition itself.

Notice what helps you organize your thoughts and energy before you start to speak. It helps ground me if when I stand I can feel the soles of both my feet. Focusing on body awareness helps slow down my racing thoughts. I also bend my knees slightly and bounce a little to make sure I’m not locking my knees. I want to “own my own space.” So I breathe with my diaphragm so that my belly fills with air. And if I’m backstage or in a hallway before going out I’ll do a power pose. Then leading right up to the moment of speaking, I focus on being grateful. It gets me out of any ‘catastrophizing’ or predicting of the outcome and keeps me grounded and present in the moment.

Third, use a process cue

Once the speaking is done and you’re moving into place to perform the piece, take a moment to breathe. If you want, try bowing your head slightly as you breathe and prepare to perform. Use a “process cue” to help you center yourself. Noa Kageyama, in one of his terrific Bulletproof Musician blog posts explains the use of process cues:

“There is a tendency when stressed to hyperfocus on minute details. This may be highly desirable in the practice room, but can be paralyzing on-stage. The solution is to focus on a right-brain process cue, in essence, a reminder of what it sounds, feels, or looks like to produce the exact sounds you want.

There are two possible ways to do this. One, you could brainstorm and experiment with words that cue up the sound/feeling/images of producing the beautiful sound, clean articulation, or solid intonation that you wish to produce. Examples of such words are smooth bowing, light fingers, even shifts, fluid, powerful, calm, or easy. It’s not the word that is important, but the resultant mental sound/feeling/image of performing exactly the way you want to that is key.”

Make the space and time to use a deliberate process cue when you’re transitioning from speaking to performing. Take a moment to breathe and in that moment use your process cue to flood your consciousness with the sensation, emotion, and sound of your intended opening.

“I still can’t stand to do the speaking. It distracts me from preparing to play. I need to put all my energies on playing my absolute best. I want it to be perfect.”

I can relate. For me, many performances felt like I was trying to manage 50 different moving parts at once. And I was often on overload.

With not so happy results.

Here’s the real deal. If we’re focused on playing perfectly, we’re focusing on the wrong thing. We’re essentially trying to “lock down” and micromanage our playing when actually what we need to do most is trust our preparation and let go.

Hornist Jeff Nelsen, faculty member at Indiana University and former member of Canadian Brass points out that flawnessness should not be our primary goal. Instead, he advises, in his 10 Tips to Becoming Fearless “Focus on what you want to convey, over and above the technical qualities of your performance, and trust your preparation to keep your errors to a minimum.”

If you realize that perfection is not for humans, and that mistakes are inevitable, you may give yourself the leeway to take more risks in your performances—to be more human in both your speaking and your playing. Risking is the “letting go” needed to bring a performance to life. Give yourself permission to fail and you may be surprised by a new freedom in your music making as well as your public speaking.

Perfect performances are not what your audience wants.

‘Live performance coach’ Tom Jackson works primarily with rock, pop, and Christian music acts to help bands hone their stage performances, but his message applies to all of us. In terms of what we’re aiming for in our performances, Tom says that ultimately it’s about more than playing really well and looking good. “Because if that were all that’s needed, well, we’ve all seen plenty of artists who do that come and go. What it IS about is an emotional connection with the audience.”

Tom says (in this terrific interview) that audiences go to shows for three reasons. They don’t know this consciously, he says, but this is why they go:

1. “To be captured and engaged. All that really means is they want to be present. They’re not sitting there thinking about kids, keys, cars, school, whatever’s next day or later on that night.” They’re completely present. Tom likens this to seeing a film and getting so immersed that you lose all sense of time.

In our increasingly short attention span lifestyles, when we’re constantly being interrupted by our devices, speaking from the stage can be a great personalized welcome to the performance, and a kind of lifeline to help audiences make a human connection so they can focus on the message of your music.

2. “They go to experience ‘moments.’ Tom explains this is about being moved or touched or having something suddenly click with us in one or more specific moments within a performance. These are the inexplicable moments when, as an audience member, you catch your breath, or your eyes well up, or you get a rush of insight, warmth, or energy.

The prelude to these moments that Tom describes may be the warmth and genuine enthusiasm of your verbal introduction. Your speaking can be the “onramp” for your audience to make emotional connections.

3. To have their lives changed. Maybe not radically, but we as audience members respond to artists who do something onstage that changes us in some way and moves us to a different place, psychologically, spiritually, or emotionally.” 

What I love about Tom’s message, is that when we consider audiences this way, we can see that they aren’t there to judge us, that they’re in it for the same reason we are—for the love of a shared human experience. And a desire to make meaning. It’s worth considering how your speaking can help set up the audience to have their lives changed!

Let this sink in: the audience is on your side—whether you’re speaking from the stage or performing.

This week: experiment with how you prepare before any public speaking situation. Try the tips we’ve covered in the series. I’d love to hear what results you get!

As always, I welcome your feedback and suggestions: reach me at

And if you’d like to discuss your career goals, and find out how coaching can help you achieve them, let’s talk! I’m at

Looking forward to hearing from you:



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