It can be nerve-wracking to perform in front of people. But your audience doesn't notice or care how nervous you are, so why worry about it?
Little kids (and a few too many adults) love to play out that classic baseball fantasy:
It's Game 7 of the World Series.
You're up to bat.
Bottom of the ninth.
Down by three.
Everything is on the line.
In that child's fantasy, they always hit the grand slam. They are the hero. People love being heroes.
Have you ever thought about how nervous you would be if you were actually in that situation? Or, even when watching a non-crucial baseball play, do you ever think about how nervous the batter is?
Probably not. You're probably focused more on what that batter is doing, not what they are feeling.
If you haven't thought about that before, think about it now. Hell, even consider how nerve-wracking it was just to go up to the plate for a stupid little league game?
While most of us will never bat in a World Series, almost all of us will have to perform in front of a group of people at some point. It could be a public speaking event, a meeting with your company's leadership team, or playing music at a local bar. And most of us will be nervous in these scenarios.
Regardless of the type of performance, I offer you two concepts. These concepts aren't meant to calm nerves (although I think they do). They are here to build confidence in your ability to perform. Take these ideas with you when you find yourself nervous before some sort of performance.
Let's begin with a piece of advice I learned from a public speaking coach. It's one of the best things I have learned, and it'll stay with me forever. And no, picturing people in their underwear isn't the trick. My speaking coach said:
You always feel more nervous than you appear.
In other words, the perception you have inside your head about how you appear to those watching you is dramatically exaggerated. You think you look nervous because you know how you feel. No one else knows how you feel. They don't have access to your brain. They only know what they see.
Most members in your audience don't pick up the tiny details you notice (your shaky voice, your sweaty hands, how hot your face feels). And if they notice, they likely don't care nearly as much as you do.
When you feel nervous in front of people, never forget that they will always see you as less nervous than you see yourself. If you keep that in the back of your mind, you can build confidence in your ability to perform, which makes you appear even less nervous to your audience!
And this leads me to my second point, which is that your audience doesn't care about you.
It's depressing, isn't it?
Actually, it's not. It's a huge opportunity. Again, when you are the performer, you tend to project how you feel into what you believe the audience thinks of you.
It's a little conceited when you think about it. We expect our audiences to pick up everything we know about ourselves. And we expect them to care as much about it as we do.
But the people who make up your audience have a goal. They want to learn, they want their team to win, they want to be entertained. Whatever their goal may be, they are thinking about themselves. They aren't there for you, they are there to obtain what you provide them.
That doesn't make what you're doing in the moment any less important. Instead, look at it as an opportunity. These people watching you don't care nearly as much about you as you do about yourself, right? So, instead of looking at that negatively, think of the opportunity it creates for you. You can try new things, and more importantly, you can fail, all without major consequence. It's a great way to learn and to get better at whatever activity you are performing.
Think of all the times you've been in the audience and never saw the performer(s) as being nervous. Know that when you are the performer, your audience doesn't pick up on the nuances you notice. Know they don't care about you nearly as much as you do. Turn that knowledge into confidence. Roll over mistakes like they didn't happen. Perform like the confident performer you are.
You can do it. You really can.