The following is a transcription from a conversation on the MoM Podcast between Dominic Reyes, Ben Williams and Paul Knight. They discuss problems magicians often encounter. This transcript is an abridged, cleaned up version of the conversation. If you prefer, you can listen to the full podcast.
Dominic Reyes: Today, we’re gonna start off with a question that’s been sent into the Magic Shop, Ben do you wanna start?
Ben Williams: Yeah, sure. This is actually one of the most common questions that we get asked. I’ll shorten the question because everyone asks it in a slightly different way:
Now, this is something that I actually had to deal with when I began performing magic because I’m not really that outrageous a person, except of when I’m in magic mode. When I first started performing, it was very unnatural for me to be the center of attention. I was scared. It would cause me to get really nervous, begin shaking and I visibly shake when having people select playing cards and things like that. Now, obviously you wanna not have that, because you want to exude confidence when you perform.
There’s a few little tips that really helped me that I’m sure will help you too:
The first one is just be prepared. Learn your tricks inside out, so that you know where you are at any point during any routine. Also I’ll have some patter, just back up if I need it. Because It can help you get through the routine very easily.
Secondly, I would say to try not to, it sounds silly, but, try not to think about performing too much. The more you think about it, going to perform, the more you’re gonna put fears in your own mind. The more fear you have, the worse it will become. So you have to accept that you’re gonna perform for some people, and not think about it. Try to put it out of your mind, so that it’s not a focus.
The third tip: it’s probably the most important one, is to control your breathing. Because I don’t know if you realize this, but when you’re feeling nervous or scared you’re not breathing properly. You’re not breathing right. You’re taking much shallower breathes. So the amount of actual oxygen in your blood stream is decreased and that makes your heart pump even harder to get the blood around your body. It wants to milk as much oxygen out of it as possible.
When you shallow breath, this it is a vicious circle. Because you lose confidence, you shake during a performance. That puts you off doing it again, which in turn gives you more fear. The more fear you have, the more tense and stress your body gets, the less you breathe properly, the more nervous you get, the more you shake, and it’s a circle that you just go round and round in.
When you go to perform, accept that you are about to do some magic. Know what you are about to do and just spend 30 seconds to a minute, taking some really deep breaths. Breathing in and out. It’s almost like self-hypnosis. You’re just relaxing your body and you feel your heart rate decrease and everything relax a bit. Try to monitor yourself in that sort of way. Realize that feeling scared and nervous is physiological, this issue, as much as it is mental, and I’m sure if you start to control your breathing, that will be 70% of the battle over. So those are the three things that really, really helped me.
Dominic Reyes: Do you think part of it is adrenaline?
Ben Williams: Yeah, there’s adrenaline in there as well, which will never help the shakes. What you’ll find though is once you get more comfortable with performing, the adrenaline is just a bit more of a buzz. And it can actually serve well to push you to do things which you might not usually do.
When I perform and I’m having a good time. I get a bit of a buzz of adrenaline when steal someone’s watch. As opposed to just doing, a static card trick, something like that.
Paul Knight: You actually find it pushes you further.
Ben Williams: You need to understand the difference between what the adrenaline is and what the fear is. When you first start out, it’s all cloudy, it’s all just nerves, it’s all just a massive fear to do anything. You don’t want to get something wrong. There are so many things flying through your mind, so that’s why I say prepare yourself and try not to think about what the performance is going to be like. If you know what you’re doing and you’ve studied the tricks, then you have nothing to worry about. You have nothing to be scared or nervous about. The old saying, you know, “There’s nothing to fear but fear itself.”
Dominic Reyes: So do you think rehearsal, as well as practice can help?
Ben Williams: Yes, rehearsals definitely help. Though there’s only so far you can go with rehearsal. If you find you are getting nerves when you are going up to people, you’ll find that rehearsing to absolutely perfection will help. But as soon as you go to perform for somebody, the nerves or scary feelings will kick in, and you’ll feel you’ve been knocked back to square one. You need to perform to people and just accept the fact that you’re going to perform. It sounds bizarre, but you have to accept the situation and try to let go mentally.
Paul Knight: I would pick my time to do it for people, if people ask to see some magic. I would say later if I wasn’t ready.
When you first start showing people you don’t know, some magic. After you have gone through the whole friends and family process, and you want more, you can often feel, when in you’re in a public situation, that you feel brave enough to show somebody some magic. But then there’s always these nerves that really hold you back.
When I started performing professionally, I had all the fears and thoughts about what the venues going to be like. I was worried about it being too loud, light, dark, and how many people were going be there. I worried about if they would receive me well. There are a billion and one reasons to feel scared and nervous, like that going through your mind when you start performing professionally.
The solution to worry, is to be prepared. If you are worried about venue, contact them. Find out what room you are going to be in. Ask if there’s going to be DJ playing music at the time. Just ask as many questions as you can, so you have as much knowledge about what you’re embarking on as possible. We all fear the unknown. But if you know what’s going to happen, then there’s no reason to fear it.
To be honest, I still get nervous even going to gigs now. Before I’ve gone to the first group. But the reaction of the first group always eradicates all that nervousness straight away, it settles you and brings all of the confidence back.
Ben Williams: I quite regularly use Chicago Opener as an opening card trick. It’s on the Michael Ammar, Easy To Master Card Miracles Vol 1 DVD titled Red Hot Mamas. Because the first phase is pretty much self- working. It’s a free selection, there’s no controls that you have to do, it’s very fair. So by the time you’ve done the first reveal and you’ve got the great response, you’ve not really had to do anything. You’ve not had to think about any hard slight of hand or anything like that. And it’s always a very fair display.
Dominic Reyes: Then you have the second phase which blows their socks off. That’s one of the great things about Chicago opener, it goes wrong, well apparently goes wrong. You’ve got that sort, awkward moment you can play with It’s your first trick, so they feel bad for you as well. They feel embarrassed for you, and then it goes right and gives them a release. The result is a big round of applause, nice!
Ben Williams: Yeah, try and pick something like Chicago Opener as your first trick. Something you are confident using and doesn’t require too much work.
Dominic Reyes: Do you still find you feel nervous when preforming?
Ben Williams: Yeah I still get the butterflies sometimes. Especially at very important gigs, or gigs in certain parts of the country.
Dominic Reyes: A gig outside of your comfort zone.
Ben Williams: Exactly. I’ve been doing this so long, I know what I’m doing and that my material works. So, there’s no reason for me to start implanting new fears into my own mind. Every human being at their core is the same. Use that knowledge to your advantage. Try not to scare yourself too much.
Paul Knight: You only make yourself nervous, nobody else is doing it.
Dominic Reyes: If you are finding that you are shaking. Try do something that doesn’t require you to use your hands. Performing a mentalism trick as an opener may help you. You get the reaction and you can relax.
Paul Knight: For example. Say a magazine test or something like that. The focus is more on the spectator looking in the magazine. So you’re not the main focus. You get the reaction and you relaxed and then, you can work into it now.
Ben Williams: It’s important to drink lots of water, as well. I’ve noticed many times I’ve been performing for two, two and a half, three hours maybe. And suddenly stop to realize that I’m feeling really tired. The real reason is that I haven’t had anything to drink. I haven’t stopped and had a glass of water.
Dominic Reyes: It’s vital to keep hydrated. Have a bottle of water in your close up case. Whenever you return to it to get some more cards or to set up a trick, take a swig.
Ben Williams: I recommend you also read the post about overcoming nervousness.
Dominic Reyes: It’s in one of the popular posts at the moment.
QUESTION: How do you overcome your fear of performing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below: