Managing Performance Anxiety in Business, Arts and Sport
Today I again realised that performance anxiety is prevalent in multiple areas. Therefore the need to share how to manage performance anxiety is essential. This is a post I have been wanting to write for a long time. Today I was reminded where managing performance anxiety is helpful, and some would say necessary, are in business, performing arts and sport. When about to give a public speaking address, an arts performance or compete in an important sports event the latter at the forefront of many minds as the Commonwealth games opens on the Gold Coast in Australia.
Have you ever experienced:
- Sweaty palms
- Dry mouth
- Shaking hands
- Short tempered
Isn’t it incredible how these physical symptoms take over our bodies and minds in such a dominating and sometimes unexpected force? When we approach a performance, the anxiety we experience takes us to the primitive fight or flight response. Wikipedia definition
My understanding is when we perceive a threat or stressful situation, this can set off this fight or flight response which equates to a chemical (hormonal) response that takes over our rational thoughts. This article is how I have dealt with managing performance anxiety myself and also helped hundreds of business professionals and arts students and professionals succeed in this area too.
Before I continue, feel free to share any performance anxiety symptoms you have experienced in the comments below. Sharing these together only helps us all to realise it is something we all need to learn to manage. As the following Hollywood A-listers share:
Performance Anxiety affects us all
Nicole Kidman and Carey Mulligan
Hugh Jackman: View Article Anxiety Nearly Wrecked My Career here
Specifically, today, I was reminded the need to write this article when telling a business story of overcoming performance anxiety to high school flute students, when I was addressed by one student “I don’t play in front of other people”. I commend this student for their honest expression of their concerns. She had previously shared her feelings of anxiety about performance on another occasion. I completely understand, remembering how much performance anxiety can feel like it takes over, from my own first experiences in performing dance and music from a young age. I reassured the student, reminding her she was in a safe and trusted environment.
However it is also important to highlight that playing music is a performing art form and therefore it is necessary to learn to manage performance anxiety. This should be in a trusted environment, performing first to a supportive, kind audience, experiencing success and having a mentor or teacher to guide you and offer strategies on how to overcome performance anxiety.
Strategies to adopt to manage Performance Anxiety maybe:
- Practice and
- Performance experience
Preparation is key
Nothing can replace being well prepared for a performance and the more experience and the more success you experience the more the anxiety is reduced. Or how I like to explain it, you learn to control it to enhance your performance rather than destroy it. I believe many business professionals can learn from performance artists and sports professionals by their:
- Detailed planning and preparation
- Engaging the support of a mentor and/or coach who has achieved success in the area you wish to achieve
- Rehearsing the performance mentally and physically rather than leaving to the last minute and
- Just doing it! Performing. The more experience you acquire, particularly postive successful experiences, the better
- Share how you overcame your own performance anxiety. We all experience differently as we are unique.
The book The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green with W Timothy Gallway explains the importance of visualising success of your forthcoming performance. It truly is important to train the mind for these perceived stressful performance experiences. Also to keep the results you wish to achieve top of mind. Another strategy to do this is using affirmations, writing your goals and creating a vision board to focus you on the outcomes you want.
Being in the moment and practicing regular meditation strategies can assist to you to feel calm and create a sense of control over your mind, emotions and body. Mediation can be through guided meditation practices, yoga but also other physical activities that requires your mental focus to be 100% present such as running, swimming or sailing. Being ‘in the moment’ blocks out distractions and enables you to focus on what you truly desire to achieve.
Practice doesn’t always mean perfect however strategic, purposeful practice certainly brings you close to perfect. Most importantly it prepares you the best for whatever may happen during a live performance. What makes professionals stand out from amateur performers or presenters is their commitment to their practice. For example, they may practice a challenging technique10 times successfully repeatedly rather than 2 to 3 times as an amateur.
Nothing can beat putting yourself into a performance experience regularly. With the right preparation and support building up your performance experience is priceless. This is where you learn your own unique reactions of performance anxiety and begin to test what strategies assist you to manage these feelings of anxiety. It is mindful to remember that performance anxiety is managing perceptions of stress.
Bringing it all together
The majority of the time, your physical life is not in critical danger during a performance. Therefore it is about training your mind to overcome the physical responses to performance stress. Below I share a story of how my son is currently preparing for a performance opportunity:
This evening, I sit next to my son supporting him preparing for a music audition. He has never completed a music audition before and therefore his feelings of anxiety about this unknown experience exist. Therefore we are having multiple conversatons, often short and while doing something else; talking about:
- what to expect and t
- o imagine (visualise) what it will be like,
- encouraging him to imagine how he will play.
My son is also an experienced sailor which is his form of meditation which calms him and brings him into concentrated mental focus regularly. Basically when out on the water under the power of the wind and nature’s elements when you make a mistake you end up wet in the water, therefore you learn to concentrate very quickly. This ability to focus is a skill he can directly transfer to his music playing and in a performance environment.
He is a goal orientated person and has set this audition as a goal himself and therefore he is motivated to achieve it. I have helped him plan the audition with what sort of repertoire (music) to play and prepare. Which guides his practice sessions on what he practices and how often.
Finally, he is performing regularly to neighbours, family members and anyone that is willing to listen. He has multiple opportunities to not only perform but also perform the music if plans to play for his audition. Therefore, with this thorough preparation, he has the confidence that he can perform the music. And therefore he knows with the right amount of focus can achieve his goal successfully.