Here’s another question I get a lot: How do I stop getting nervous when I perform? So let’s talk about keeping your nerves in check.
Let’s talk about why you get nervous. Is it a new trick you’re performing? Is it a new venue? Are you performing for a new client that’s offering you your biggest gig yet? Is it your largest audience? What do all these situations have in common? They’re all things that are outside your comfort zone. And that’s what makes you nervous. And, in those situations I just mentioned there’s not much you can do. Let your hands shake!
I have had all the same experiences in my magic and music careers. Today though, it’s not a problem. I can’t remember the last time I got nervous. It’s not an issue any more because of this one thing: experience. I’m in my comfort zone when I’m in front of new people performing new effects. I’m always pitching to bigger and bigger clients. But that’s my day-to-day life now. I’m used to it. So I have no reason to be nervous.
So how does this help you? In the short term it doesn’t. However, know that if you just keep performing for as many people as you can, your nerves will become less and less of a problem. Know that you’re on your way to never having an issue again.
When I was 13 years old I played the piano at a talent show in my hometown. My left foot was bouncing up and down and my hands were shaking so bad I could barely play the song. By the time I was 15, I had no problem playing in front of small crowds, but performing on live television made me nervous. By the time I was 17, I was fine with TV shows, but I was touring with a band that played in front of crowds of thousands of people. But I did these shows night after night after night and soon they became the norm. At 21, I performed on the Late Night with Conan O’Brien show and I was completely fine.
All of the same situations happened with my magic. My first talent show, my hands shook. My first TV shows, same thing. My first magic competition, I shifted my weight back and forth as I performed. After a few years of performing magic, all the stress went away. If you do not perform and get out of your comfort zone, your nerves will always be an issue.
So what’s the answer? Perform more often. Find a Starbucks and perform magic for complete strangers. Only perform 1-2 tricks for a few people at a time. If you screw up, who cares? You’ll never see these people again. If they see you’re a nervous wreck, who cares? These people are your “practice dummies.” (Just don’t tell them that to their face.) You’ll see that over time, you’ll become more comfortable. And, you’ve made their day. They went for coffee and got a free magic show.
Now there’s a nice side effect to performing more often. Not only will you get the experience needed to end nervousness, but also you’ll become a polished performer. You’ll be more confident. You begin to learn more about practical magic, building a set, handling hecklers, learn your angles, how to handle mistakes, etc., etc. Before you know it, you’ll be completely comfortable performing for strangers. Next, start performing for larger groups of people. Continue to push your boundaries. (You’ll also get a lot of gigs when you start performing more!)
So you’re reading this thinking, “Yeah but I want my shaky hands to stop right now.” I do have two solutions. Drink heavily. (jkjk) First, try to use your working surface to anchor your hands when you can. If you’re holding a coin or playing card over the table, people can see your hands shake. If you hold an object while your hand is pressed into your close-up mat, the shaking is less visible. If you’re not holding anything, rest your hands flat on the table or behind your back. This is just a small fix, but it helps hide the issue. Second, take some slow deep breaths before the performance. Again, it’s a small fix, but you’ll see it will calm you down. (I’ve used this method for years on the golf course. It’ll help steady your hands for that game winning 6-footer on the 18th green. Remember though, the real solution is to go out there and perform and everything will take care of itself.