Over the summer, my father happened to meet Livingston Taylor at a conference, and he was so impressed by his presence that he urged me to look him up. What I discovered is that Livingston Taylor — brother of James Taylor — is a singer-songwriter and a professor. He teaches a class on Stage Performance at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
I watched some of his videos on stage performance, and I also read his book, Stage Performance. Just last week, Elizabeth and I did our second live show for the Happier podcast, in Seattle. It was great, and thinking about Taylor’s tips was a big help.
I love practical advice.
11 Tips for Improving Your Stage Performance
- Focus on the audience. See them, hear them, look out at them. As part of this…
- Acknowledge where you are. What venue, what city?
- Remember that your performance is just one aspect of the audience’s experience, which is also colored by the people they’re with, what else they’ll do with their day, etc.
- Manage stage fright by thinking about others’ experience, instead of your own discomfort.
- Stay flexible. Be responsive to the audience and whatever happens. (This is very, very tough for me.)
- Stillness is essential to establishing control; be willing to be still.
- If you’re tense, your audience will be tense. If you’re still and at ease, your audience will feel that way, too.
- Because it’s important to be at ease, use material that you’re comfortable with, so that you can be present in the performance, instead of struggling with your performance. (This one surprised me — so often we’re told to challenge ourselves at every turn, but Taylor points out that meeting a challenge makes it hard to be aware of the audience.)
- Watch out for white noise — air conditioners, ventilation systems, anythings that affects sound.
- Direct your attention to the people at the most distant parts of the room, then gradually work your way forward — you don’t want to lose people in the back because you’re preoccupied with the ones closest to you.
- Accept applause. Don’t use “thank you” as a signal that your performance is over. Rather, at the end, be still, take a slight bow to signal the end, then if they applaud, thank them. Along the same lines, at the beginning, be still, give a slight bow, accept applause.
In my experience, one of the hardest thing to master? Accepting applause. It’s a great problem to have, but it’s a challenge to do it gracefully.
At some point, just about all of us have to get up in front of a group and perform — whether it’s a toast at a wedding, an announcement at a parents’ meeting, a presentation before colleagues, a pitch for clients, or a speech at a conference. Fear of public speaking or performance is a big happiness stumbling block.
What other tips do you use to help yourself feel more comfortable performing, and to do a better job?