My first ever paid performance was a while ago now, not sure of the exact date, or even year but for the sake of getting on with this article lets just say it was over 20 years ago (wow, that just made me feel a little old). It was a cabaret night that one of my carpentry clients ran monthly. My job was simple, all I had to do was go around the room before the main act, performing roving magic at each table for a small audience of about ten people.
A simple task on paper:
spend 6 - 7 minutes at each table,
perform 3 amazing tricks at each table,
repeat for all 15 tables (using the same tricks).
The reality for me was completely different, about 5 days before the event I started to feel the nerves and anxiety start to kick in, I started to think ‘are my tricks good enough. What if I mess up a trick. What if I get told to go away by people’, my stomach felt like it was tied in knots, and I remember trying to think up excuses to get me out of my commitment. One of the weirdest reactions that my body had was extreme night sweats, when I say extreme I am not joking, I had to sleep on a towel, you could of used one of those squeegee things to flick the water off my body.
On the day of the event I felt on the edge, I was snappy towards everyone, I couldn’t focus on anything, all I wanted was to suddenly disappear, while that would of made for a rather impressive magic trick, that was not going to happen or help.
I have no idea how many times I used the bathroom that evening, or how many times I told myself ‘just another sip of water and I will be good to go’, the one thing I did know was ‘I had to make a start’. I looked around the room, scanning for what I thought looked like a friendly table, my mind still making excuses why I shouldn’t go to this table or that table. Eventually I locked on my target and moved in, managing to position myself at a slight opening in the table, I introduced myself, pulled a deck of cards out my pocket, fanned them out to have one chosen and then it happened....
This was something I had not anticipated happening; as a magician everyone is focused on the hands, now mine were violently shaking and the fan of cards amplified this movement, the only benefit being a slight waft of air cooling down my spectators. The more I focused on my hands shaking the more they shook, I fumbled my way through that first six minutes, then continuing the evening I fumbled my way through a further fourteen tables. The evening wasn’t a total disaster, I lasted the night without running for the hills and despite the obvious display of nerves, I still was able to impress and bamboozle most of the guests.
I must of done a good job as this became my regular gig for the next 12 months, during which time I worked on my confidence, I discovered ways to deal with pre show jitters and methods to stop my hands from shaking (which I will share below), I am still on a journey and always on the lookout for situations that cause me to feel discomfort so I can step in and continue to grow.
If you find speaking in public - whether that is one-on-one or to a group - a nerve racking experience don’t beat yourself up, I wasn’t naturally confident when it came to public speaking, it has been a process where I have overcome a lot of fear to get me to where I am now, I still find myself in situations where I feel a level of uncertainty but I know the importance of pushing through and using these times as an opportunity to become a stronger version of myself. Just keep taking steps towards rather than away, overtime you will build that confidence muscle.
I mentioned above that I suffered with the shakes, most of the people I coach and work with suffer with this same issue, so if you found yourself thinking ‘that happens to me to’ you are not alone. What I see a lot of people do is either, lock their hands together tightly, grip the lectern for dear life, or try and hide their hands.... all of these things will still make you look nervous. The shakes is caused by nervous energy wanting to get out and for some reason it seems to find the hands the easiest place to escape. A great tool that can help suppress the shakes is to manually release some of the nervous energy. What I do is find a quiet corner out of sight (sometimes I will even use the bathroom), I jump up and down, run on the spot, and shake my hands out for a couple of minutes. This works amazingly to quickly get rid of some of that nervous energy.
If you have found this article useful, or you know someone who suffers with public speaking anxiety please share this message. The fear of public speaking is a huge barrier for a lot of people and it doesn’t have to be this way.
Thanks for dropping by,
Anthony Laye - Take Action, Create Your Story