Professionals Don't Get Nervous... Do They?

‘Everyone gets butterflies but it’s the professional that gets them to fly in formation’ – Author unknown

Last week I had the pleasure of singing in a fabulous show that raised money for Leukaemia Care. A cast of around 40 performed four shows over three days to wonderfully enthusiastic and supportive audiences and I was honoured to have shared the stage with a group of incredibly talented singers and dancers.

However, I haven’t sung on stage for a few years and I found my old insecurities rising to the surface to the point that it was going to impact on my performance and my enjoyment of the experience. These insecurities began when I was around eight years old; someone said something to me about my voice which I took to heart and it impacted on my dream of performing as a singer to the point that I didn’t sing solo in public until I was in my twenties. Despite the fact that I had years and years of singing lessons, it was harder for me to get over my fear of singing than it was to learn how to sing! Eventually I pushed past my terror, got comfortable being uncomfortable and went on to sing professionally for several years which I feel is one of my greatest achievements given how big my mental barrier was.

Over the years through my training as a performer and other personal development work I have learned how to manage my nerves; however, that doesn’t mean I don’t get nervous and I don’t know many professional performers and speakers who have no nerves before a gig. The trick is to be well prepared and learn to control and use your nerves to enhance your performance.

Last week when I noticed the negative thoughts I was having and the physical symptoms such as shallow breathing, tense muscles, constricted throat and an overwhelming feeling of dread, I realised that it would only get worse if I continued to focus on it. And I had a job to do. So here is how I managed to calm myself and get my butterflies to fly in formation in order to give a great performance:

  1. Quiet Meditation I took some time to sit quietly and concentrated on relaxing my body, especially around my throat and neck. On each out breath I said the word ‘release’ in my mind which helped to ease any tension I was feeling.
  2. Visualisation As I was sitting quietly I visualised my body relaxing and releasing; then I started visualising myself on stage giving a great performance. I took the time to imagine every detail from the costume I was wearing, to my fellow performers, to the stage lighting, to the audience enjoying themselves and applauding afterwards.
  3. Affirmations Whenever a negative thought came into my head I would replace it with a positive affirmation such as ‘I feel calm and confident’ and ‘My voice flows easily and effortlessly’.
  4. Warm Up To ensure my body and voice were able to give the best possible performance I did a full body and voice warm up which included arm swings and various stretches as well as singing exercises and tongue twisters (If you’d like a copy of my vocal exercises, you can download it at
  5. Choice I could have continued to dwell on how nervous I was feeling which would feed the feeling and make it more difficult to perform or I could choose a more helpful attitude. About an hour before my performance I went into the bathroom, looked in the mirror and gave myself a good talking to. I made the choice to relax and enjoy myself and put on a great show for the people who paid good money to see it.
  6. Smile Smiling has been scientifically proven to make you feel better; it reduces stress-inducing hormones and releases mood-enhancing hormones like endorphins. So I looked in the mirror and gave myself a big smile, and I continued to smile in the dressing room, in the wings and on stage. And guess what? The audience smiled back – they loved it!

Often when people see me perform or speak on stage they are surprised that I get nervous. But that is because when I am on stage I focus only on giving the audience what they paid good money for and I never allow my nerves to impact on my performance.

I’m not sure what total amount the show has raised for Leukaemia Care but it is expected to be in the vicinity of £10,000. I’m so pleased I didn’t let my nerves impact on my ability to be involved in such a worthwhile project, and as a result I also benefited from the chance to work with a group of fantastically talented individuals who made the entire experience an absolute joy.

Are you allowing yourself to miss out on opportunities due to nervousness or anxiety? Do you long to express yourself and share your message but find that fear is holding you back? I know the feeling of being crippled by your nerves, I know that there are numerous ways to overcome your nerves and I know the amazing feeling that emanates from conquering your nerves. So if you know that you are not reaching your potential due to fear and nerves, I urge you to seek help to manage it so that you can get out into the world and share your message and your talents like so many (nervous) professionals before you.

If you enjoyed this article, click here to access Mel Sherwood’s ‘Top 5 Tips for Public Speaking Success’

Mel Sherwood is a pitch and presentation specialist who prepares ambitious entrepreneurs and business professionals to take centre stage, embrace the spotlight and present with more confidence, credibility and conviction.

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