How to Control Your Nerves and Perform More Magic
April 17th, 2017 by Jonah Babins
fear, nerves, performance, tactics
I’ve totally felt nervous before going on stage, but I’ve never written about it.
I always thought that if I love magic and want to be a magician, being nervous shouldn’t hold me back.
But, in one of the questionnaires that we sent our audience they were asked to write down what they struggle with most as a performer. 15 / 60 people that had answered said some combination of the words nerves/anxiety.
This post is for them, and for you if it’s something that you struggle with!
NOTE: I’m no expert (what’s a stage fright expert?) and I still often get nervous before I go up on stage, it’s just way better than it was 5 years ago.
These are some tips that have helped me in the last few years.
Do the same thing every time
This is not the same advice as ‘perform often’. If you repeatedly perform the same material, you’ll be able to bet on a good chunk of your material working and working well. If you have a comedy bit, a trick, a few jokes or something which you know that you can rely on DO IT.
It allows you to have fun adding other bits, and you can be less stressed out, knowing you have a foundation to depend on.
It also gives you a small taste of the confidence earned by performers who have decades of experience. Just like when you started close up magic and you had a few go-to tricks to do, let the stage be no different.
The best way to perform the same thing many times is…
Hours and hours of work. (surprise!)
How do you get hours and hours of work doing magic?
Undercharge and over deliver
Or more precisely be overworked and underpaid performing magic.
If you’re in the zone of being nervous to perform, this is the advice for you.
Remember, the point of performing a lot is so that you can be an amazing magician performing in the locations of your choosing.
Here’s my thinking: If you could somehow perform for real audiences for full time hours (mon-fri, 9-5), no matter what you earn… you’d be a top performer after 1 year. It’s 2,080 performing hours. An unheard of number of performing hours for a magician.
This is why buskers are so good.
One of the most powerful experiences for me as a magician is when I started hiring myself out to overnight camps to do shows and workshops teaching magic for multiple days.
Some would say that charging a few hundred dollars for a few FULL days of magic was grossly undercharging.
What they don’t know is that committing to that five years ago has made a profound impact on my success!
Now after touring camps for 5 years, I’m confident that I can entertain 1-120 teens with just a folding table and a pack of cards.
I know that sounds like not a great accomplishment in the grand scheme of the universe. But it does wonders for my confidence in that performance setting, since I’m sure it’s going to go well.
It also makes marketing a breeze, since you can explain exactly what you do and why it’s reliable, (and it’s what allows me to charge four times that in my 2017 Summer).
Preparation is key
Having a go-to script is one of the most powerful tools that you can have when for when you’re nervous.
What it allows you to do is jump into autopilot mode and start doing things naturally by running through the motions. Once you’re doing that, you’ll be into the swing of things.
The worst thing you can be is nervous and unprepared. It makes the performance feel hopeless.
Decide right now that you’re never going to have that feeling. That at least the first few minutes of your show is going to be totally scripted so that you can plow through the nerves at the beginning.
A perfectly rehearsed show means you’re prepared with your scripts, and choreography. You can jump off of your script at any time to engage at the right moments and jump right back. The beauty of magic is that the audience doesn’t know where real ends and bullshit begins. You get to blur those lines by having a script.
Introductions, priming, and pre-performance routines
If you’ve ever heard of Tony Robbins, ever play a sport, worked out, or done any sort of theatre you know what priming is. You might know it by another name like warming up, pre-game rituals, or some other pre performance practice.
Priming is basically getting your brain and body in the right mindset for what you’re about to do.
Without diving into the science head first I’ll explain to you what I’m proposing.
We are very different people when we’re in “performance mode” or when we’re just acting normal. We want to do everything in our power to make sure that we’re ready to perform when we go on stage.
Since I recorded an audio intro for my stage performances, it allows me to be much less nervous. It’s out of my control. Someone else has to press start on the music, and then I know my role: exactly what moment of the music I need to walk out and start my line.
It also gets me in the zone. I can close my eyes, and it can feel like every other successful performance, and I can use that to match the energy. So no matter how I’m feeling that day I come out with the right energy every time.
If you have to repeat a mantra to yourself. DO IT.
DO WHATEVER IT TAKES TO GET IN THE ZONE
Know your audience, and know your venue
Know your Audience
I always try no matter how my show turns out to never blame my audience. I’ve always felt that the best of the best performers could perform the same routine for an angry audience, sad audience, sober audience, or drunk audience and get the exact same positive reaction.
I also believe there are performances that are good enough to entertain anybody at any age at anytime. The example I like to think of is David Williamson.
I’d put any audience member in front of him. Adult, child, drunk, sober, magician, layperson, doesn’t matter. I would bet all my money that he will entertain them.
Now don’t get me wrong. I still absolutely think the goal is to be a great entertainer ready for anything. But my approach has changed.
Before I try to be entertaining for every audience it’s best to be prepared for any audience.
After having performed for rooms of young children compared to ballrooms filled with drunk adults, I can guarantee you that there is a difference between them.
The better that you can gear your magic towards exactly who is in the audience, the more they will feel it!
Try to know what type of people you’re expecting and whatever other information you know about them. It will help you gear your words and material towards them.
Know Your Venue
Do you know what’s painful. Watching a magician stand on the stage and do a card trick while nobody in the audience can see the cards. If you’ve been in magic, attended a convention or watched teens perform on stage you know exactly what I’m talking about.
It’s so important to know exactly what performance setting you’re going to be in. Are you on stage? Is it close up? Do you need a mic? Do you have a mic? Do they have any weird features of the room? Is there also a mariachi band playing in the back while you perform?
We would all like to think that all venues that we all perform at have the highest end tech, lights, and sounds systems. But the truth is sometimes you show up and find out they have an old guitar amp and a shitty cable.
You don’t look as nervous as you think you look
When I watch back videos of my performances I’m always impressed with how not nervous I look up there. The comparison between the video of me talking and the feelings and thoughts going through my head when I was up there could not be more different.
I often remind myself of this when I’m going up onstage. The way I think people see me and the way people are actually seeing me are so different. All I should be worried about is successfully performing. None of the people in this audience are thinking about my nerves, they’re all excited to see what ever this magic thing is.
Do Something Crazy
When we go on stage and our character is almost exactly ourselves when the audience doesn’t like it we feel like the audience doesn’t like us. If however you go on stage as a full fledged character wearing a dragon suit, what you’re saying in the suit is the character that lives (or dies) onstage.
One of the most interesting ways to channel your stage fright into stage excitement is to do things that are particularly out-of-the-box.
That way you know if people don’t like it, you need more work on this character or on the idea. It doesn’t mean that they don’t like you.
Same thing goes for doing a ridiculous magic trick. I always find that it’s easier for me to do a ridiculous trick than it is for me to do a serious one. If people don’t like it all it means is I need a different wacky idea and doesn’t reflect all about their thoughts about me.
(Ridiculous doesn’t mean you don’t like it, it just means it’s outside of your comfort zone. Please make sure you like what you perform)
Don’t let nerves stop you
It actually makes no difference if you’re nervous or not. It only matters if you don’t perform because of those nerves.
If you like magic, then just plow through the nerves and perform. Channel it into excitement or energy for your performance! Just keep going, and the nerves are going to get less and less important in the grand scheme of things!
If you want to be hired to perform, or if you want to be hired more often to perform, it’s something you need to put past you. Once you have a list of gigs lined up of people that want to hire you and see what you’re up to, while the nerves don’t go away, you’re reminded how valuable what you do is.
If you want help getting your first few gigs, or help penetrating a new market we’re putting on a free 5-day email course called “Fantastic Gigs and Where to Find Them”
You can read about what we’re doing and sign up by clicking the link https://discourseinmagic.com/fantasticgigs it all start May 1st 2017, and it’s totally free
Alternatively you can just sign-up below
Hope this article helped!
I would love nothing more than for you to leave a comment if you agree, disagree, or have your own tips and tricks