Last week I spoke at the Classical Singer Convention and had a great time working with talented and motivated vocalists (YAY!).
It was a wonderful experience but I have to admit it didn’t start out that way!
What I mean is that before I gave the talk, I fell into the comparison trap.
I arrived a little early and went to the assigned room and ended up seeing the previous speaker wrapping up his session.
The speaker was clearly confident, wore an expensive-looking suit, had slick power point slides, and once he finished he had many people asking questions, getting his card, etc.
Seeing all this sent me into a tailspin of negative self-talk.
Now, I have a lot of public speaking and teaching experience (and quite a few performance credits from my previous life as a cellist) so you might imagine that I don’t ever get nervous or intimidated.
Everyone has performance anxiety to one degree or another. EVERYONE.
My negative self-talk consisted of me berating myself that I was underdressed and that I should have prepared visuals. This was bizarre because I hate power point and I was silently yelling at myself that I should have done them.
From that point my thinking segued into catastrophe mode, with my self-talk escalating to OMG this is going to be a disaster!
Maybe this kind of thing has happened to you, too, before important auditions, interviews, or meetings.
Here’s how it works as a self-fulfilling prophecy: with all that negativity we actually psych ourselves OUT of giving our best performances.
That is, unless we’ve practiced using some powerful tools to avoid the comparison trap and to counteract the negative self-talk.
So what did I do?
First, I got myself out of the room and did a little regrouping in the corridor. I needed to refocus and put some new, more reality-based messages in my head to replace the outrageously negative and inappropriate self-talk.
To counter the negativity messages, I used, “Fuck it: I’m prepared, I have something valuable to offer, and I’m curious about the people coming to the session and what we can create together in discussion and shared ideas.”
Other messages I told myself: that the audience may want a break from power point slides and expensive-looking suits. That I was offering them a fresh perspective, one that only I could deliver. That I like the dress I had on. And finally I told myself, let’s get to it.
It helped that I didn’t have too much time to agonize or to wallow in the negative self-talk. Getting moving, taking action is often a big help. The goal is to convert nervousness into energy, enthusiasm, and motion you can use in the performance or presentation.
How did it turn out?
Once I got started, something kicked in—I wasn’t self-conscious any more, I was simply in the mode of doing: of connecting with the audience. This is what happens in the best performances: we lose our sense of self because we’re completely in the moment.
The talk ended up being energizing and fun and there were many people afterwards with questions, wanting cards, etc.
One of my favorite pieces of feedback came from a participant who said “What I most liked about your session was that you are so real.”
The goal for any performance is to get past the self-consciousness, to get out of our own way so that we can focus on the message we want to communicate and connect with the audience. To be fully present, to be REAL.
We can’t do that if we are comparing ourselves to others or if we’re obsessing over how we think things are coming across, or are worrying about the passage we just messed up.
The good news is there are some terrific tools to help us with this.
Two books I recently read played a big part in my ability to turn around that negative self-talk last week, and I recommend them highly:
Amy is the “Power Pose” social psychologist with the 2nd most popular TED Talk. Her fascinating book explores the idea and science of how we can be more fully ‘present’ and has many terrific applications for musicians.
Another new book: TED Talks: The Official TED Guide to Public Speaking by Chris Anderson, the Head of TED.
This book has surprising applications for musical performances because it goes into details of preparation and delivery that will get you thinking in new ways about how you practice, rehearse, set goals, and experience your own performances.
Here are a few other resources for managing negative self-talk:
Noa Kageyama’s fab blog The Bulletprooof Musician on how to enhance your performance and practice.
I’m highlighting here a few of his posts on handling negative self-talk:
On Becoming a More Confident Performer
Worry Too Much? Take Back Control by “Batching” Your Worries
Self-Compassion: Does It Help or Hinder Performance?
I also recommend Wendy Braun’s blog. She focuses on meditations and visualizations to help with auditions. Intended for actors, these exercises are also fantastic for musicians: http://actorinspiration.com/
Last: here’s a handy Huffington Post article by Jancee Dunn on Negative Self-Talk: 9 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic.
As always, I welcome your feedback and comments!
Info on working with me HERE.
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