ENTER STAGE, WRITE: PERFORMANCE PRACTICE FOR WRITERS

Author photo-2Whether it’s open mike night or an interview, your first reading or your fiftieth, speaking in front of an audience of any size can be daunting, if not downright anxiety-inducing. But with a little knowledge and more than a little preparation, you can be well on your way to staring down stage fright and giving a poised performance.

  • Repeat After Me. You know the saying, “practice makes perfect?” Well, it’s not wrong. Practice also creates confidence and muscle memory. Even if you’re allowed to read directly from the page, you still need to practice your material before the big day. Try out inflections, notice when to breathe and where you can glance up and make audience eye contact. Walk and talk—moving around or sitting in different chairs will stimulate your mind just enough to hold on to details. If the piece is short, an old trick is copying it by hand and carrying it around in your pocket. Pull it out and practice whenever you have a spare minute. The better you know your material, the less you’ll fear “spacing out” onstage. Your body and subconscious mind will remember—even if you don’t.
  • Let’s Get Physical. Ready for a crash course in anatomy? It all starts with your diaphragm. The diaphragm is a strong, triangular muscle tucked below your rib cage, connected to your lungs. Visualize pushing it down, and your lungs automatically fill deeply with air. The air escapes through your throat, passing between your vocal cords, which vibrate to create a tone. That tone of escaping air is shaped into words by your tongue, lips, and teeth. Pretty simple, right? Now let’s talk volume control. Sound is amplified by resonance. Your body is full of natural resonant chambers! Chest cavity, nasal cavity, mouth—they’re everywhere. Let the tone echo inside you even as you release it. With (again) a little practice, you can have a steady, supported sound—and all those deep breaths will make you feel extra calm, too.
  • Own Your Space. Arrive early at the venue to scope it out. The more familiar you are with your surroundings, the easier it is to perform. Now, imagine a ten-foot golden sphere enveloping you. This is your space. Anything that comes into the sphere is yours to use—chair, stage, microphone—and you don’t need anyone’s permission to touch them. Move easily in your sphere and really own The confidence to take up space in the world is the first step toward that ineffable quality called “stage presence.”

It may seem impossible now, but performing can be one of the most exhilarating experiences you’ll ever have. Even if you never learn to love it, there’s no reason to fear it. Your audience is not scary. They have chosen to be where you are, and at least half of them are actively willing you to succeed. So smile, relax your mind, take a deep breath, and go out there and shine. We’re rooting for you.

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Leah Merrill is an author, performer, and Kansas City native. For classes, coaching sessions, or public speaking opportunities, please contact her at lamerrill92@gmail.com.

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