Set the Stage Without Fear

– Alexia Larcher

I have a long history with the stage. I met her when I was 5 or 6, over dance lessons. I remember being small and swinging a beach ball to the tune of “California Girls” in a kid’s bathing suit with other kids in front of a crowd of adults. Later it was tap dance, “jazz dance”, and ballet. Puberty hit me pretty badly (read: acne galore) and my troupe had graduated to putting only beautiful girls in the show, so I moved on too, to music; first, I played the flute, then the clarinet, then the tenor saxophone with a side of alto saxophone. I even wrote plays for my friends and I to perform until the age of 10. If I ever had stage fright, I was too young to remember it now.

But I do remember when I started playing solos because it made me incredibly nervous at first. The entire point of playing solos for a band is to showcase your skills. Traditionally, you have to stand up or step forward for solos, away from the rest of the band. It draws the crowd’s eyes to you. You are not only required to play at a high level, you are required to verbally demonstrate that you can pull it off better than other band member at that point of the song. And saxophones squeak when you push them too hard out of nervousness, if you close your mouth too tightly around the mouthpiece. (It kind of sounds like this.)

Luckily, I had an excellent teacher. “You play too quietly,” he would say, “go all out! I know you can do it.” I would reply “But what if I squeak?” “Then squeak, but keep playing. If you blast your one squeak and keep playing, nobody will particularly notice. But if you worry and stop playing right after you squeak, the audience will notice your every hesitation for the rest of the show.” He was confident that we would prepare, enough that one squeak would not ruin the rest of the solo or the song. And guess what? He was right. Most audiences forgive small mistakes. Most audiences know what it’s like to feel alone in front of others; they feel grateful for not being in that position when they watch you.

A lot of introverts struggle with the stage because we are used to observing others. We are not so used to being observed. When the crowd’s eyes move over us, we suddenly revert to introspection. How do I look? Am I acceptable? Will they judge me badly? Will I trip over myself? Will they laugh at me? The fight or flight mechanism kicks in. We quickly mumble our way to silence. It’s one thing we do well.

But the stage is its own universe. We can set up the sound, the lighting, the decor. We set a time for people to show up and they come (or they don’t). We can write a script for the stage and it’s considered appropriate. We choose the music we will perform and practice for months, all for one show that will last a few hours.

On the stage, we become a part of the stage itself. Have you ever stood in front of an energized crowd, sitting on the edge of their seats, smiling, listening, and waiting for what you will do next? You step out from between immense opaque curtains and the spotlight blinds you for a second or two. You pull your partition or notes closer and move to your seat or podium. You smile because you’re prepared and you will give them a good show. You are now part of it all.

A few more tips on public speaking for introverts

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