I knew it would happen again. The fear. The tunnel vision. The blackout.
Only a few seconds left. I don’t want to be here.
“Next is Matthias, who will play the first movement of Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 11 for us.”
I can’t think straight. The tunnel vision is here now. What if it happens again? It will happen again, for sure. But I have to go.
I walk over to the piano. It feels like I’m dreaming. My piano teacher smiles at me. He is great. Patient, caring, and relaxed. “It will all work well, Matthias. You’ll see. Good luck!” His voice is calming.
I cast a glance at the audience. I search for my family. There they are. My grandmother is smiling blissfully at me.
I start playing. My hands are shaking and are reminding me of what is going to happen. For the first bars, it works quite well. I can hear my own play but it sounds muted. Everything is disconnected. Am I still in control? Then, the first wrong note. Did they notice? Another one. This is the passage I just managed to play through a few days ago. It will happen again. And because I play everything by memory, I won’t have the notes as my lifeline. There it is. Now. The blackout.
Everything is gone. No notes. Only emptiness. My heart is in my mouth. Okay, calm down. Try to remember. Just start the last passage again. Come on. But I can’t. It’s gone. I’m paralyzed. What. I…
I can’t recall how many piano recitals I had during the ten years I played the piano. But in my memory, I had a blackout in almost every one of them. I was terrified of playing in front of an audience.
In hindsight, I simply wasn’t prepared well enough. If I had practiced more before a concert, I surely would have been able to play through the fear. At least that is what I have learned in the meantime: Preparation is everything. But tell that to a fourteen-year-old who would rather play football with his friends or change the boot screen of Windows 95 in logo.sys. In my head, I was the guy who just could not perform well in front of an audience. How could a little more preparation change that?
This week, I successfully finished my first fully remote workshop for Adobe on designing and prototyping with Adobe XD. Over the last few years, I have now run dozens of workshops, gave a few occasional talks in front of up to 100 people, was part of live webinars with hundreds of people watching, and taught hundreds of students in my Interface Prototyping seminar. With every lecture, workshop, and talk, I became a little bit more confident. I am still nervous every single time, though, and I’m sure this won’t ever go away. But I know now that I am not alone in this and that if I’m prepared and know my material, it is going to go well.
But more importantly, I know today that no matter how well-prepared I am, it might still happen that something goes wrong. Yet, I will always make it out of the arena alive. So I take a deep breath and focus again. There are also a few “hacks” and helpful advice I received which helped me a lot:
- People in the audience are generally on your side. If you struggle, they will empathize with you. Especially if you smile and are genuine and honest. 🤗
- Nervousness is also a good sign: It shows that you are taking the challenge seriously and that you and your body recognize how special the situation is. If you acknowledge this and transform it into focus, nervousness can actually be helpful to identify the moments you need to focus.
- So if you are nervous, also be brutally honest with yourself: Are you prepared enough or is there anything else that you could do to be better prepared still? Often, this helps to reduce anxiety further.
- What happens in your body when you are nervous and anxious is actually similar to moments when you feel excitement. So try to embrace your anxiety and transform this energy into excitement. This is a special moment, so you have every reason to be excited!
- Nobody knows your agenda and what you want to say. So don’t worry if you forget something or say something that you know could be explained better.
- Our bodies and postures influence our emotions and our thinking. Changing your body position changes your body chemistry and how you feel. If you do a power posture right before an event, for example, you will feel more confident. If you force yourself to smile, you will feel more relaxed and happy. Try it, it works.
- There is no alternative to being vulnerable out there. So show up.
- The moments you leave your comfort zone and are most afraid often are the moments you learn and grow the most. Embrace the fear and learn to live with it.
This is the 37th post of my 100 days of writing series. You can find a list of all posts here.