After working with some clients, they will tell me outright that they feel overwhelmed by all the new information and detail about performing. With others, they don’t have to tell me — I can see it written all over their faces. And other people take it all in stride, especially if they’ve already performed a lot of live music.
For those who are overwhelmed, the worry is that they will be overly critical of themselves the next time they hit the stage, and that this will work against them rather than being of help. I’ll be the first to confess that this could happen, so here are some ways around it:
I recently heard a fabulous guitar player and entertainer talk about how he analyzed himself on video tape and then first began working on his “hand wringing” compulsion, a habit he practised during the patter between songs. Next on his list, he said, would be to work on how he regularly pushed his glasses up on his nose, sometimes even in the middle of a song. These kinds of small mannerisms become exaggerated by the proximity of the camera, so if you’re expecting to be on YouTube, all these little things become rather big things.
- Give yourself some time to absorb what you’ve heard. Decide what applies to you and what doesn’t. Decide what you agree with and what you don’t. (There are some things about performing style that are very subjective, like the way you deliver a song line or a story between songs. Other things, like slouching or mumbling incoherently or boring people with poor pacing, are simply not acceptable.)
- Make a list of the things you want to improve, and develop a plan over time and over a number of upcoming gigs. You can’t change everything at once, so make your peace with that now. For each rehearsal period and the resulting concert, focus only on one or two elements of change until you’re comfortable with them. Then work on another.
- Visualize yourself as you will look and act once you have integrated these improvements into your performing.
- Accept that everyone is overwhelmed by new situations and new information and the only way to get past it is to allow time and repetition of new patterns to do their work on your brain.
- Finally, performing is a process, even for those who’ve done it for years. Professional performers are in a perpetual state of self-assessment, taking each audience as a new challenge and trying to pull off a show that feels as fresh the thirtieth time as it did the first time. If you look at this stage of development — the “overwhelmed” stage — as a short-term consequence of getting to where you really want to be, giving better shows will be the natural outcome.