By Audrey Quinn
So you’ve decided to read your writing, out loud, on a stage in front of a bunch of strangers, and you’re feeling that old anxiety gremlin gnawing in the back of your mind. Oh God, what if I stutter? What do I wear? What if I REALLY SUCK?!
You’ve probably heard that performance anxiety (ahem, the type that refers to feeling anxious about performing your art in front of an audience, not the ‘Guilty Feet saxophone playing in the background of a candlelit room’ type) is incredibly common.
Stage fright is normal and understandable
Unfortunately, many people with stage fright have had bad experiences with it in the past, which may have affected their performances, and amplified their fear about performing again in the future. This makes sense – anxiety makes it harder to read at an open mic and can lead to stuttering, misreading your work, or “freezing up.” And if you’ve had any of those things happen to you, you also know the embarrassment and disappointment in yourself that comes along with them, and probably aren’t too eager to feel that way again.
How do you deal with performance anxiety?
So, what can you do to minimize the symptoms of stage fright?
Acknowledgement and validation
First, acknowledge your feelings of anxiety, and validate them. This is one of those things where it’s good to “be your own friend,” and practice some self-compassion.
You could say something like “Hey, I signed up to read at this open mic, but I’m really worried about it. I’m scared that I might embarrass myself in front of all the people in the audience, or that my writing actually isn’t very good and people will laugh at me.” That’s the acknowledgement part.
Now, you can validate those feelings and say something like “Oh, that totally makes sense that I feel this way. In fact, lots of people do, and it’s really hard but I don’t need to be embarrassed about it. The only thing I can do is try my best to prepare beforehand, and just give this performance my all.”
Pick your best work
After acknowledging and validating your feelings of performance anxiety, there are some tangible steps you can take to prepare for your reading beforehand.
Pick something you wrote that you feel is among your best. Pick one of your pieces you feel most confident about. Pick something you remember writing, something that made you feel on top of the world when you finished it.
This is the best possible piece you can share with your audience at the open mic, and more than that, it’s something you’re proud of. When you feel that anxiety coming on, remember that feeling of being on top of the world you got when you finished it, and how good you felt after writing it.
The next step is to practice reading your selected piece before the open mic. I personally suggest starting to practice at least a week in advance, if not more than that.
You can practice by yourself, or enlist the help of a family member or friend to listen to you and act as your practice audience. Something I have even done to prepare for important presentations was to present my work to my pet fish! They are an excellent audience…except when they roll their eyes while I’m still talking, as my Panda Garra, Bert, likes to do.
The point is to get comfortable reading your work aloud to an audience, whether you start off by yourself, with a friend or family member, or a beloved pet. Things to focus on during practice are your tone of voice, volume dynamics, emphasis of certain words or phrases, and body language.
One final step you can do to prepare before reading your work in front of an audience is to ask for some final feedback, both on your writing and on your practiced performance.
If any of your friends are familiar with writing in your genre of work, or performing in front of an audience, reach out to them! They’ll likely be more than happy to give you some pointers and suggest any revisions they think could enhance the quality of your work. You could also look into attending a writing workshop before your open mic performance.
These are a great way for writers to get together and help each other revise and edit their work, and many different workshops exist for different genres of writing (poetry, prose, fiction, non-fiction, etc.).
Accept how you feel
Now that you’ve gone through each of these steps, all that’s left is to perform your art at the open mic!
If you still feel anxious, remember that it’s completely normal and OK. Don’t try to crush those feelings down.
Acknowledge them, validate them, and then give yourself a well-deserved compliment: “I am so brave for coming out of my shell like this,” “Good on me for sharing my art with a bunch of strangers, even though I’m scared as hell and my heart feels like one of those stress bottles with glitter and water inside that’s been shaken up by a supremely bored six-year-old.”
You’re going to do great, as long as you give it your best!
I hope you enjoy your open mic, and please know that I am applauding for you, wherever and whenever your performance takes place.
Upcoming classes you might enjoy
Tuesdays 9:15-11:45 am | Get the butt in chair time you need to get your writing done.
Tuesdays 7-9pm | Grow your writing craft and community at a weekly, writer-led critique circle facilitated by Daryll Lynne Evans.
2nd Thursdays, 7-9 pm | Share your words at our monthly open mic emceed by spoken word poet Jorah LaFleur
Dec 7 | Take time to reflect on your writing and make goals for next year.
Dec 10 | See StoryHelix stories come to life at a Minority Voices Theatre production of community stories
Starts Jan 9 | Break down writing strategies into bite-sized elemental pieces in this 4 week class with Leah Velez.