Tackling Stage Fright – How to improve your confidence on stage
Transform your stage fright into show-stopping confidence! Unlock the secret of fearless singing in your choir, band or whilst singing solo!
Written By Mary Williams – Choir Leader, Singer & Blog Writer
If you have ever felt wobbly, shaky legs, a racing heart, feeling sick and filled with consuming fear at a performance – or even at just the thought of it days and weeks in advance – then you have been experiencing stage fright.
Anxiety totally overwhelms your body, making it difficult to perform to your best – and it is so frustrating!
As a seasoned performer supporting my singers in the choir leader and music director role, I know it’s a big scary deal. And although you’ll never make it go away – you can learn to manage the effects of stage fright and performance anxiety to make it more manageable.
I get stage fright myself – in a big way. However, you might never know that I do. I hide it as well as I can.
Over time, I’ve found ways to cope that I want to share to help other singers. More about that as you read on.
I taught a Pick” n’Mix Class at LABBS Harmony College in April 2023 in Nottingham, and I promised my attendees a blog summing up the main points and what we can do to empower ourselves to overcome this frustrating hurdle. So here it is.
What is Stage Fright?
I looked up the definition of Stage Fright.
“Stage fright is also known as performance anxiety. It is the fear, anxiety or nervousness experienced by a performer before or during a performance.”
It also occurs when people might have to speak up at work, go for a job interview, meet new people, or even whilst recording their singing voice to review their vocal progress in the choir or during “song checking” that some choir groups do to ensure music has been learned (not my A Cappella Chorus I hasten to add!).
What are the symptoms of stage fright and performance anxiety?
I’ll never forget my Barbershop quartet experience singing in a mixed quartet competition. We got to go straight through to the big convention stage. There are no prelims or stage time – we just had to get up there and do it. It’s a REALLY BIG deal singing to a vast auditorium of perhaps over 1000 people and more.
After I had felt somewhat off my breakfast, I proceeded to “get busy”.
So after too much hair fiddling, clothes adjustments, pacing, and walking around, my heart felt like it was speeding out of control.
I was talking far too much about nothing. A big hint to those who think they know me and don’t know me is that when I talk too much – it really means I am feeling particularly anxious. Please be kind.
The time draws near to the performance, so I visit the loo 10-20 times in an hour. Umm.
By the side of the stage, my anxiety was almost unbearable.
Standing at the side of the stage, I feel like I can barely breathe, and my heart is pounding through my chest. I am sure someone can hear it. I walked into position and prepared to sing, and then the knee on my left leg started shaking. Surely, I felt like everyone could see I could barely stand up. My voice wobbled in fear, and my mouth filled with spit. I thought I was going to choke on my saliva.
Then we finished, and I felt gutted I didn’t perform my best. I barely looked at my comrades and didn’t want to look them in the eye as I had let them down in my mind.
That feeling lingered with me all day, and someone else passed a careless comment that I looked nervous and didn’t do my best, basically reinforcing the personal negativity I felt about how “bad” I felt.
I was dejected and felt like giving up until the next day when I realised that the only person I was punishing was myself.
From then on, I changed how I approached stage fright and anxiety. It isn’t going away, but it’s about being prepared for it to reduce the symptoms.
Now it’s not been an easy ride over the years, but I can now walk on a stage and feel in control of the situation, embrace the fear and be easy on myself when it strikes like a bolt out of the blue.
“Too much information” – Other memorable stage fright experiences
Once in a performance, my stomach went into overdrive in just a few seconds – surrounding my fellow quartet performers on stage with extreme stinky flatulence whilst singing a romantic ballad.
All whilst suffering sudden stomach cramps, which arrived from nowhere as we began the stage walk-on. The sight of the audience triggered the fear response from nowhere.
The good news – they never noticed (until I mentioned it afterwards), and I tried to pretend it wasn’t happening. And apparently, it was one of our best performances.
And another where I walked up the steps onto the stage filled with pretend fragile confidence, and the stage light catching my eyes, made it feel like the longest five seconds in the world. My brain blanked until I remembered my cue.
Luckily, I wear a smartwatch, so I know by the loud buzzing and alarm to remind me to take it off as it detects an “Abnormally High Heart Rate” on these pre-performance occasions. I’m not sure I’ll ever rid myself of that issue.
Now things are better most of the time.
What are the symptoms of Stage Fright?
These symptoms can vary in different people, with symptoms either or both physical and psychological. And they can differ in intensity from person to person.
Some of these listed below may be familiar to you.
|Symptoms of Stage Fright||Symptoms of Stage Fright|
|Need to use the toilet frequently.||Stomach Issues|
|Freezing or Hyperactivity||Dry mouth or dribbling mouth full of spit|
|Knees shaking||Joint and physical pains|
|Wind & farting||Shaky Voice|
|Headaches & Migraines||Palpitations & racing heart|
|Sickness & Nausea||Wanting Alcohol or Drugs to “help” relax|
|Withdrawn||Snappy and angry|
|Saying wrong things||Lost Voice|
|Self deprecating talk||Getting lost and doing unnecessary things.|
So why does stage fright happen?
Various factors cause stage fright and anxiety about performing. These include fear of failure, worry about judgement, lack of preparation, past negative experiences, and your body’s natural fight-or-flight response to perceived threats.
In reality, these are perfectly real, normal, and human experiences. And it is fine to feel them, so don’t beat yourself up. It means you care.
Understanding the common causes of stage fright can help you develop effective strategies to overcome it.
Now what can we do about it?
Here’s a brief lowdown on some things that have helped me overcome the worst symptoms of Performance Anxiety as a performer in a quartet, choir and as a solo singer.
Reframing the experience of stage fright.
The physical symptoms of fear and excitement are very similar.
Think about it. Your heart races faster when you experience either feeling as your body prepares you for the experience ahead. Physically, this response prepares your body to perform your best in the situation.
So, my tried and trusted solution when the fast heart rate appears is to reframe my thought process (and remove my Smart Watch!)
Instead of performance fear being allowed to take over my body, I think, “I’m excited!”. My body wants me to do my best hence its hyperactive state.
Positively fool your mind and body with mind over matter.
Excitement, not fear.
My heart is racing; I feel sick, and trepidation = EXCITED!
Thoroughly prepare your music so you don’t have to worry.
If you don’t know your music thoroughly for your choir or solo singing performance, you will set yourself up for undue worry.
Get yourself to a safe place where you don’t need to worry about potential singing mistakes as you have the music so rehearsed – it’ll happen automatically and come out of you like a habit, even if you go blank!
- Know your music inside out and be fully prepared and rehearsed.
- Practise as you mean to perform over and over. Please don’t save the performance for the day; you will be uncertain you can do it, creating anxiety.
Set realistic expectations for your singing performance.
Remember, you are human, and humans are flawed and not perfect. Don’t try to be so.
You will make mistakes and fail to achieve your best in a singing performance or concert if you aim for perfection. Let your idea of 100% success go – mistakes happen to almost everyone I know. They beat themselves up unnecessarily, making themselves and the people around them miserable in the process.
So set yourself sensible, achievable goals and focus on progress rather than perfection. You will be disappointed if you seek perfection. It’ll never happen. Realistic expectations will reduce stage fright and enhance overall performance.
Think about Smart Goals.
These are Specific (S), Measurable (M), Attainable (A), relevant (R) and Time-Bound (T). These must be regularly reassessed as you progress and develop in your choir, as a solo singer, and throughout your singing journey. Take one small step at a time.
Again, this is a massive reminder that everyone makes mistakes, and the most important thing is that you learn from your mistakes to get better at singing in public.
Celebrate that you got up there and give positive vibes to yourself and everyone who did it alongside you (which is 100% more than those who didn’t)—well done!
Visualise your perfect performance to reduce Stage fright.
Creating an image in my mind, like a mental video of my successful performance and how I might feel, helps me build my confidence and reduce my anxiety.
I frequently use this mental rehearsal and visualisation technique for music, singing, speeches, and work presentations. Some people write how they feel down in a story form, too – so do what works best for you.
- Find a quiet, comfortable space to relax and focus.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths to clear your mind.
- Imagine themselves on stage, feeling confident and prepared.
- Visualise every detail of their performance, including the day’s preparation, sounds, lighting, audience reactions, and emotions.
- Picture yourself finishing your performance successfully, receiving applause, and feeling proud of your accomplishment.
- Practising visualisation regularly and incorporating it into your pre-performance routine on the day to ground yourself is essential.
Set yourself up for singing success with Positive Affirmations.
Use the concept of empowering statements that help to reframe negative thoughts and boost self-confidence.
When I sang in LABBS quartet prelims in June 2022 with my quartet Red Velvet, I was in the changing room with my favourite pen and a fancy notebook.
Then I wrote down what I wanted to feel and the positive things I was bringing to the stage.
“I am well prepared and ready to share my gift and story with the audience.”
“I enjoy singing and expressing myself on stage”.
“I accept my imperfections when I make mistakes and will be kind to myself”.
“I will be kind to others.”
“It’s only singing, not life or death”.
Create personal affirmations that resonate with you and address your fears and insecurities.
You can also read them aloud and use them just before singing on stage. You’ve got this, and it will give you a huge confidence boost.
How to prepare in the days and weeks leading to your singing performance.
I get plenty of good sleep in my usual routine and get some fresh air and sunlight every morning. My diet is clean and healthy, with lots of water, and I avoid over-processed foods.
I avoid drugs and alcohol. Alcohol appears to make people feel less self-conscious, yet it’s a depressant that affects your vocal quality and precision. Therefore, I wouldn’t do anything that could ruin all my months and weeks of hard work practising my singing.
I also quietly avoid anyone or anything who can bring me down and others I love and sing with. Sometimes, other people can unintentionally create a negative vibe and threaten fragile self-confidence.
Perhaps someone who feels we must fix last-minute things- their own anxiety rearing its head based on their fear of failure. Or people who pick up mistakes in everything others do, deflecting their worry onto you.
Never mind the well-meaning “empathy” response from friends who believe they know what you are thinking, telling me how nervous I must be!
I need calm and certainty – not chaos, on the days leading up to a performance. Your unconscious bias must be aware of the facts from the fiction and not influenced by other factors.
Slow breathing will calm you when you have stage fright.
As singers, we do a lot of breathing practice as part of our vocal exercises.
However, you can use similar exercises to stay in control as part of your warmups and then slow down your racing heart when stage fright is most likely to hit you.
Deep controlled breathing helps calm the nervous system and reduce anxiety.
I have tried this exercise whilst wearing my Smart Watch, and you can see the effects within a few seconds.
How to breathe slowly to help with stage fright and anxiety in singers.
- Sit or stand comfortably and align your body.
- Place one hand on the chest and the other on the abdomen.
- Inhale deeply through the nose for a slow count of six, allowing the abdomen to rise while keeping the chest relatively still.
- Exhale slowly through the mouth for a slow count of six, allowing the abdomen to fall back toward the spine.
- Repeat this process for several breaths as required, emphasising slow, deep inhalations and exhalations.
I have other variations where I use a visual grounding as a further aid.
Say there is a rectangle shape like a TV screen on a wall, window, or door. I’ll look at one corner and then count to six as I breathe into my stomach, letting it rise naturally and moving my gaze to the next corner.
Then I will breathe out for the next six as my gaze moves to the next corner.
Follow a consistent vocal warmup routine on the day of the performance.
There are better times to try new things. Use your favourite vocal exercises, harmony exercises and rounds that you love and work for you.
Plan the warmup and ensure you don’t have to worry about not being vocally warm and ready to sing once the performance begins, and it’ll run like clockwork.
For me, my choirs know that usually includes the round Rose Red. We work through it in stages from bubbling to vowel matching and using singing tools to make the most of their voices. Even if I’m nervous, I find it calms me down as my old faithful exercise.
Find Your Performance Persona and Use Posture, Alignment and Body Language to Help Stage Fright
I have learned that if I look and feel the part, I instantly feel more confident.
You can tell when someone is worried about performing, but it can be as simple as play acting like your own superhero performance persona that’ll fix it. I guess it is a “Fake it to Make it” Approach to tackling stage fright.
Imagine you are the singer or performer you admire, watch their videos, look in the mirror, and try to be like them.
You’ll see they stand tall, shoulders relaxed and open-chested. Their body will be relaxed, free of tension, and nothing will clench.
Pick the person you admire, act like them and rock your Performance Persona like a boss. You have nothing to lose, and you’ll be amazing.
Relax your hands and arms to feel less anxious performing on stage.
One of my hot tips to relax on stage instantly is to “relax the arms and hands.
I used to notice that I used to carry my stress in my hands, and you’ll see it in yourself and others. Sometimes they will have stiff straight fingers and other times, they will hold them in tight fists. Let it go.
I don’t know how it works, and it’s simple, but it works fabulously for me and many of the people who sing in my choirs, small groups and quartets.
And try a “thumb on the bum” – a grounding move I use to engage and reset my core to help my voice resonate when it wavers and wobbles –and it makes me feel better about myself too.
Wonder Woman’s Power Pose
One of the first things I discovered was the Wonder Woman Power Pose. I use it anywhere I need an instant boost to my self-confidence with minimal effort before giving a performance or presentation.
This easy-to-achieve power stance helps change my life as it fools my mind to be a bit braver.
Hands-on hips, feet shoulder-width apart. Look forward and be a confident superhero!
Helpful Tips for Whilst on Stage to Calm Stage Fright
We all know the symptoms, but what will happen if they hit you whilst on stage without much warning? Here’s a list of my top advice to do at the moment when you are singing and presenting.
- Treat the performance the same as you did in rehearsal. Perform as you practice (which should be identical!). Don’t do anything you didn’t plan.
- Remember, the floor doesn’t move – trust it!
- In choir/chorus – keep your eye on the MD or choir leader in one fixed place, and don’t get distracted looking elsewhere. Roving eyes are a significant giveaway of nerves and unpreparedness!
- In small groups and soloists, find a friendly smiley face and stick to looking at them. If that is too much to look at people, go for an Exit sign or something similar that you can fixate on.
- Tell your story and immerse yourself in the music. Forget the audience is there.
- Remember that everyone is on your side and wants the best for you. And if you make a mistake, I suspect many won’t even notice if you keep going as if nothing has happened!
- Remind yourself this is fun – I doubt you will die through nerves.
- If you dribble salvia through nerves like me, just let it out and let it splutter. You won’t choke!
- If your legs feel like they are shaking, remind yourself you won’t fall.
- If you get stomach disturbances like me occasionally – let the wind, farts and air out but don’t let anyone know what is happening! They’ll never know.
What if I make a mistake?
If you do make mistakes or mess up the lyrics due to the Stage Fright, don’t panic. It’ll be okay.
Just keep going, forget about it and never apologise. You’ve done more than most by getting on the stage, and people are very forgiving (and that’s even if they noticed)!
Conquering your stage fright takes time.
Writing this into one blog article was difficult, and despite it being over 3200 words, I still felt I needed to go much more in-depth. I’ll write more about this again. However, I didn’t think anyone would read to the end if it were longer!
Overcoming Stage Fright is an ongoing process that requires consistent effort and practice.
By incorporating these techniques into your daily life, rehearsals and doing more performances to get experience – it will become easier to manage your fears and anxiety in singing and performing on stage.
It’ll never go away, but over time it becomes more manageable.
Good luck with your future performances, and if you want me to come and help you and your fellow singers in an in-person session about this in more detail, please get in touch.
Thank you for reading the singing blog post. I hope you find it useful.
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