One of the most common questions I get as a performer is how I’m able to manage to get up in front of a room full of people and talk, sing, and play guitar for an hour without dying of anxiety. It’s been a long-held belief that people fear public speaking more than even death or being a reality show has-been.
One thing to know is that some groups are easier to perform for than others. Here’s the breakdown from hardest to easiest.
Small groups of people you know
Small groups of people you don’t know
Large groups of people you know
Large groups of people you don’t know
Yep, an arena full of thousands of strangers is far easier to perform for than a small group of people you know well. There’s a couple of reasons for that.
With a huge audience of strangers you don’t have any preconceived notions of who they are. Whereas with a small group that you know, there’s a lifetime of stories, quirks, and history that play into the performance and you end up thinking about those. The other benefit of large audiences is the group-think, hive mentality the have. If you’ve got most of them on your side, the rest will follow along. Even if they’re ambivalent to what your saying, they’ll at least be polite for the most part. It’s only when you anger a large audience that it can be tricky. I’ve only been booed off stage once in my career by a large audience. A story for another blog. 🙂
With a small group, you have to look everyone in the eye and that’s a more challenging performance type. Not bad, per se. But more challenging. Strangely, there is a degree of anonymity when performing for a large crowd. Not everyone is watching you all the time. You don’t want to let that feeling get to far though, or you’ll miss connecting with the audience.
One time I was at a music conference and a newer artist named Jim, having seen me perform a song that included much insane looking screaming and jumping around, asked me how he could let loose like that in front of an audience. He didn’t need to go that far for his type of music (as you’ll see), but he felt very tense up there.
I gave Jim my best tip: Crossing the Fuck It Line. There is a point that some people (like adrenaline junkies and drunks) cross when they finally just jump off the edge of whatever they’re standing on. And whatever happens is going to happen. I told my friend, “You have to, as you’re getting ready to take the stage, say ‘Fuck it’ and cross that line into doing what you’re going to do, no matter the consequences.”
Live speaking and performance is an acting job. It’s a character. In my case, the character is very close to who I actually am, but it’s an enhanced, bigger version. As my drummer Joe told me once, “If you were like that all the time, you’d be hella annoying.”
Crossing the Fuck It Line is putting on your character face and letting yourself know that it’s ok to do anything that needs to be done and deal with the fallout later. I don’t advise looking at life this way in other circumstances like home loan decisions or your first jaunt into pedophilia. But it’s the magic words for getting outside yourself a little and doing the show, whatever your show may be.
I explained all this to Jim and he seemed excited about the idea. I even had him say it a couple times. And then I asked, “So where do you gig?” He said, “I play Christian folk music at Saddleback Church.”