First of all before we begin looking at techniques for overcoming nervousness, I would like you to read this and really think about what it means:
“There is nothing to fear but fear itself”
– Inspirational words used in the inaugural address of Franklin D Roosevelt
When fully understood and appreciated this saying can be a hugely positive force on your performance. Nervousness when performing is a perfectly natural thing to experience, a certain amount of nervousness is good, it can keep you on your toes and shows you care about your performance, the problem arises when you allow that nervousness to become fear. Fear can seriously hinder your performance, people skills and can also destroy the impression that you are a master of your craft in a blink of an eye. If you find yourself getting nervous just at the prospect of showing some magic tricks there are many ways to help combat this and stop it becoming a flaw in your performance.
When I began performing magic to friends and family I found that even though I had practiced my magic tricks behind closed doors I could immediately feel my heart rate increase and hands begin to tremble. This feeling would overcome me like a crippling illness almost making me freeze with fear; my mind would go blank and you could clearly see my hands shaking as I offered spectators cards. This can be very common when putting yourself in the limelight, it is a form of stage fright that is perfectly natural, the problem only really occurs when overcoming nervousness is difficult and you begin to let it take control of you.
I have put together here my top tips for beating stage fright to help you enjoy every performance that comes your way.
- Be Prepared
When I say be prepared, I don’t just mean practice your tricks in front of a mirror. I mean practice everything, practice making sure you have everything set out in your correct pockets, practice your patter, practice any jokes or funny lines you add into your performance to create misdirection. I practice my whole magic routines from start to finish so I can understand how they flow into each other and I can see what happens to my pocket management along the way.
I also write a list of the tricks I am prepared to perform. For me a visual aid that I can reference back to in my mind really helps. If you find your memory works better with audio, record yourself listing the tricks you want to perform and play it back to yourself a few times before you go out to freak out your spectators.
- Start with very easy tricks
It can help to start with an easy trick, maybe not a self worker (although it could be) as this will help you gauge what sort of audience you have. Do they love magic, react well, or are they quiet yet appreciative. Because you chose an easy trick, you don’t have to worry if you have controlled the playing cards correctly or whether they saw your pass etc. I begin with Chicago Opener as it is a great two phase card routine that the first phase is almost self working, (no controls needed) and the second phase implies you have got something wrong and then smacks them between the eyes with a surprise finish. This routine quickly establishes my skill level with some quick and visual magic and it also allows me to make sure I am concentrating on making sure they like me and are having a good time.
- Get as much experience as you can
Perform whenever you can, the more you perform the better you will be at overcoming nervousness, period. And I don’t mean perform in front of a mirror or to a webcam, I mean perform for real people. Everyone has experienced that annoying feeling when you practice something and get it looking really good in front of a mirror to then go and show someone and it goes wrong and that polished move you were doing so well now looks like you haven’t practiced at all. The reason this happens is that when you perform in front of a camera or mirror it is an introverted performance, you are performing in your head critiquing things as you go along and even though it feels like you are doing things ‘real time’ there are pauses and you repeat things when they don’t look smooth without realizing you are repeating the moves. When you step up in front of a real person the performance needs to be outgoing and extroverted, you are no longer looking at your hands, you have to look at someone’s face and talk to them as well!
When you practice you never get the feeling that the mirror has just seen something and figured it out. When performing for real people they may look at your hands when you make a move and you may immediately feel exposed. This will cause you to speed up and get more nervous, which is a very bad thing. Experience will tell you that most people (even if they are looking in the wrong place at the wrong time) will not be able to tell what is going on, they have their own inner monologue to deal with and their methods may be completely wrong. Go slowly and deliberately and this will help create larger moments of misdirection which will give you breathing space vital for overcoming nervousness.
- Breathing Techniques
This is one of the best tips I can give any performer and it is the tip that helped me the most in overcoming nervousness.
Breath properly and deliberately.
I cannot stress how much this will help you when you perform your magic. When you next become nervous, stop and take a moment to think about how you are breathing. I will bet you are hardly breathing at all, of course you are breathing or else you would die, but you are not breathing properly. Your breath’s become shallow and few and far between, you’ll have the tendency to hold your breaths longer than you should.
This is REALLY BAD for overcoming nervousness.
Breathing is directly linked to your heart rate, the less you breath the more your heart desperately pumps the blood around your body to maximize its withdrawal of oxygen from your blood supply. This in turn increases the heart rate and gives an overpowering feeling that you are unsettled, not good for overcoming nervousness! The heart beat increasing will also add to the shakes which can present itself with a vicious circle:
You don’t want to perform because you feel nervous…
The more nervous you get, the more you want to hide…
The more you hide away the less you perform…
The less you perform, the more intense the nervousness can get…
It is important to tackle this feeling head on and try your best to push it from your mind. Before performing I give myself a couple of minutes where I breath deeply and slowly, I just empty my mind and focus on the feeling inside my body. If my heart rate is high I breath deeply and concentrate on it lowering, I simply imagine my heart rate getting slower and more relaxed, as long as you are breathing deeply this is exactly what will happen. Once I am centered I know I am ready to perform, everything else will flow naturally.
Please read this saying again and apply it to your thought process.
“There is nothing to fear but fear itself”
Be the confident performer you want to be. You have practiced your magic, you have practiced your patter, and you know your moves are slick so there is nothing to worry about. Go out and have fun with people and they will have fun in turn. Remember people’s lives are not at risk, your life’s savings are not on the line, you won’t cause a major catastrophe if anything goes wrong so what is there really to worry about?