I love performing and while I still occasionally get nervous before a performance, presentation, or speech, it is nothing like what I used to experience going to auditions for singing jobs early in my career. At the time, auditioning felt as though I was giving someone else complete control of my destiny. I was an anxious mess and I always felt judged and uncomfortable in my skin. What baffled me was that if it were not an audition, I could stand in front of an audience of thirty-five thousand people at the United Center singing the national anthem for the Bulls with Michael Jordan looking at me and have no problem at all. (Yes, I actually did that)
I was determined to figure out why this was. What was getting in my way? One of the glaring realities I uncovered was that I was auditioning for opportunities as a classical singer. The truth? I never loved it. In all my years of study, no one asked me the question, “what kind of music do you love?” Now, I would never want to change my journey because I had the honor of working with world class coaches that helped me achieve a level of performance and technical skill I never would have otherwise. They helped me become the artist and coach I am today. But the truth is I was not connecting to what I was performing. My coach clearly loved opera. I clearly didn’t. It just took me a while to figure it out. One day, in the middle of a coaching session, I told her that I had been writing my own music and it was not opera. This was a moment of profound courage for me because I was terrified that she would say good for you and move on to work on whatever aria I was preparing at the time, but she didn’t. She said, “play one of your songs for me.” I will never forget the look on her face. Then she said, sing it at the next master class which was in front of several of my peers. I did. I was shaking the whole time and I felt more vulnerable in that moment than I ever had in my whole life. I thought all these accomplished singers would just laugh or say that’s nice let’s sing real music now, but when I turned from the piano after finishing my song the whole room was in tears.
In that moment, in that class, the course of my life changed. I realized the true power I had inside of me to touch people’s hearts. My coach told me that even though I could technically sing anything, it did not matter if I didn’t feel connected to it. The stage fright that debilitated me in those auditions had everything to do with authenticity and nothing to do with how good I was. No amount of practice or preparation would help me with that. If I did not feel like I had a purpose, I had nothing to hold on to but my fear. I never looked back.
“I had nothing to hold onto but my fear”
Performance anxiety is clearly not just an issue in the music world. Public speaking in professional settings, whether it is a large presentation, speaking confidently in a meeting, at a social gathering or a job interview can cause anxiety, self-doubt, and sleepless nights. Performing takes courage and any time you get up in front of people, you are being brave.
What I love about being a coach is that I can help people find that connection. For 30 years I have been teaching people how to perform and how to uncover their true voice. To inhabit it and fully accept it. Helping my clients prepare for things that are important to them and learning to overcome those same fears to communicate more authentically is truly my passion. I believe you have the power to connect with your audience in ways you never thought possible. And I still love bringing people to tears...in a good way.
What do you connect with?