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Conquering Life’s Stage Fright, An Introduction for Performers

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  • July 30, 2015
  • Mark Schulman
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Imagine you have worked on your skillset for many hours throughout your life and you have developed what you perceive to be an accurate awareness of your abilities. Imagine having spent most waking hours thinking about or listening to music since the age of about five years old. Imagine that your obsession with a particular instrument has transformed your passion into a tenacity that inspires you to stop at nothing to get your family to support this passion in the form of finally buying you your first instrument at the ripe old age of nine.

 

Imagine many joyful and challenging hours developing your craft to the point where you can actually play in a band with other young musicians. Imagining playing professional gigs as a teenager, all through high school and into college as you refine your skill set, keeping your eye solidly on the goal of being a professional, famous world-class musician. You are myopic; it is all you can imagine as you make the commitment to transform what your conventional parents refer to as a ‘hobby’ into a career…

 

Then after years of playing countless clubs in cover bands, original bands and original bands playing covers to make money…you get the opportunity of a lifetime…to audition for a world-class all-star band, complete with late 80’s huge hair and a collection of gold records that would finance a small country.

 

And…when the rubber meets the road and you are in that defining moment of jamming with this band, you are so overtaken with deleterious stage fright that your heart is beating at a crazy tempo, your mouth is dry, your palms are too sweaty to control your instrument and can’t control your internal meter. You rush more than a kid running to the tree on Christmas morning. You feel like you have been pushed out of a plane without a parachute. And ten minutes later you are told that you can leave, knowing well that this had been your defining moment…and you blew it!

 

Admittedly, that was a bit autobiographical! This represented me in the early stages of my life and career and my abysmal failure at an audition for Bad English (members from Journey and The Babys). This experience inspired me over the course of many years to analyze, study, research, network and discover until I uncovered the habits and rituals that have brought me to where I am today…having played for over a billion people in my life with artists like Pink, Foreigner, Cher, Billy Idol, Velvet Revolver, Stevie Nicks, Sheryl Crow, Beyonce’, Tina Turner and others.

 

So this brings me to you. I would imagine that if you were attracted to the title of this article that you too have experienced some stage fright at some point in your life. In honor of my upcoming book release September 12, I’m going to do is to give you an excerpt from my book, Conquering Life’s Stage Fright: Three Steps to Top Performance to give you some immediate and powerful information to bring you closer to transforming those tenuous moments into confidence.

 

For continued learning and more information about top performance, feel free to stay in touch with me through my twitter: @markyplanet and sign up for my newsletter. If you require some personal communication or coaching, please email me at info@markschulman.com. To you…

 

 

Excerpt from Conquering Life’s Stage Fright: Three Steps to Top Performance

We’re all performers—like William Shakespeare wrote in As You Like It: “All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players.” What I want to share with you is my experience, so that you’ll have the inspiration, guts and tools to step up and through your defining moments when you’re afraid or too intimidated to perform at your best, whether that be leading a meeting at work, presenting a sales pitch, giving a toast at your best friend’s wedding, interviewing for a job, asking someone out on a date, resolving a family issue, closing a big deal, adding a campfire harmony to a classic rock song or giving a keynote to 5,000 people.

 

Merriam-Webster defines anxiety as an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by a) physiological signs (sweating, tension and increased pulse), b) doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat and c) self-doubt about your capacity to cope with it.

 

For most of us, “performance anxiety” is synonymous with “action anxiety”—fear of doing something. This can impede our financial, social and even spiritual potential and goals. In fact, performance anxiety differs from other fears in that it affects not only cognition (thought) and physiology (body) but also behavior (action). For most people and in most circumstances, peak performance doesn’t start with being calm. It comes from a balance between physical provocation or excitement and the brain’s interpretation of this excitement.

 

According to Dr. Andrew Steptoe of University College London, “Performance improves with increasing arousal up to an intermediate level, but deteriorates as arousal rises beyond the optimum.”

 

Now, most people need a certain amount of nervousness or tension to perform at their best—as you will find evidenced in this book. So, let’s say that “performance anxiety” is deleterious anxiety—the tipping point when physical manifestations become extreme and/or thought processes impede or distort. These physical effects may include heart palpitations and rapid heart rate, muscle weakness and tension, fatigue, nausea, chest pain, shortness of breath, headache, stomach ache or tension headaches.

 


 

Know Your Three Cs

In 2011, I came up with “Conquering Life’s Stage Fright” as a topic for some of my speaking gigs. I’m passionate about the subject and love discussing it with others. Over the course of my life, I’ve performed for nearly a billion people. The resulting experiences and stories—combined with my methods of harnessing and moving through fear—have helped a lot of people. But I wanted to reach more.

 

My wife, Lisa, suggested I bring in other voices—ask top performers in all areas of life and business to share their stories of overcoming performance anxiety. That inspired me to interview more than 50 amazing people who have contributed potent stories and endorsements for my concepts.

 

Those interviews comprised my latest quest for insights and paralleled my 2011-2012 tour with Foreigner and my 2012 tour with P!NK. That journey introduced me to many talented, successful and confident people, and their inspiration, insight, stories and philosophies truly amplified my understanding of the Three Cs.

 

People were not only receptive to the interviews—they were excited about the concept. Interviewees included executives such as Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh (the passionate keynote) and Mark Papia, chief revenue officer of Connexity (the successful salesman); athletes such as Robbie Gould of the Chicago Bears (the lonely kicker) and Garrett McNamara (the experiential surfer); celebrities such as actor Jeremy Piven (the strategic performer) and Guy Fieri (the chef who cares); and, of course, musical artists such as Stewart Copeland of the Police (the beta-blocking drummer) and my buddy Dave Koz (the respectful saxophonist). Others don’t fit any such categories—such as astronaut Alan Bean who walked on the moon and author/leadership coach Dr. Ronda Beaman who relies on “acting” confident.

 

There’s a consistent, similar path that applies to how these top-class performers, presenters and communicators surpass anxiety and actualize their goals, and that path leads us sequentially through the Three Cs:

Clarity. Identify your goal and determine the skills you need to get there.

Capability. Become proficient in those skills.

Confidence. Success in your new skills naturally leads you to confidence.

 

Clarity is the first anxiety buster. I knew before I auditioned for Bad English that I lacked skill in some way—in that case, my ability to control internal sense of time. I wasn’t prepared to be in a world-class band. My anxiety was appropriate; I was out of my league.

 

But it wasn’t until I knew what I was missing that I could create the mindset to move forward. I’ll show you how to establish clarity relative to your level of knowledge and performance early on, which will enable you to cut through distractions and ambiguity and define your true goal. The moment you clarify that true goal, and where you stand relative to it, you’ll know what you need to do. There’s no mystery, and that diffuses the anxiety.

 

Capability represents preparation, education, the proper feeding of the mind and the appropriate execution of skills. You’re busting through barriers and solving problems to achieve the goal that you clarified. I lacked some real fundamentals in the area of meter. The way to develop those fundamentals was to get busy working with a metronome (the very symbol of my failure).

 

If you’re capable, you’re accomplished, talented, proficient, skilled and able to do a particular thing well. When you’re prepared, you’re at your highest level of performance or presentation. This is paramount to fundamentally reducing fear; you have no question about the capability you have worked hard and smart to create. Always ask yourself if you can really do what you claim. If you’re just puffing, then it’s time to rewind and continue developing your capability.

 

Confidence is the state of being certain. It’s the simple and powerful result of clarifying your goal and becoming capable. I’m now completely confident in my ability to control my internal sense of meter.

 

For example: While writing this, I’ve just started rehearsing with P!NK for her world tour. We’re playing some of the songs I’ve played hundreds of times on the last two tours. But on Day 1, I got a refreshing hint of nervousness when we broke into “Just Like a Pill” and “So What.” But I was energized and confident, because I knew I was prepared.

 

I have clarity, capability and, therefore, total confidence in my goal—performing these songs. I’m clear about what I have to do to play the new songs, and as I play them more and more, I’ll develop capability and eventually be totally confident with them.

Keep in mind the power of the three Cs once you’ve gained confidence. They’re more than just the process toward setting goals; they can also be applied to small steps long after you’ve gained confidence. If an upcoming presentation or performance is bringing you anxiety that you think could impede peak performance—even after you think you’ve worked the three Cs and even successfully presented—then it’s time to take a step back and clarify what you may be missing.

  • Is there a new piece of information that you need to incorporate?
  • Have circumstances changed or is there some new component or person you need to address?
  • Have you learned something that you still need to flesh out in your performance or presentation?

The three Cs are potent and applicable to all stages of learning and development…

 

 

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