COMBATTING ON-CAMERA PERFORMANCE NERVESJan 01, 2023
Even the most polished on-camera performers get nervous sometimes. Performing on camera can be fun, but it also pumps adrenaline through our bodies and nervousness is often part of the process. In some of my earlier performances, I was so nervous, my lips quivered.
You are not alone, if you enjoy performing, but have trouble harnessing your jitters. My goal in sharing the suggestions below, is to get you to the point where you can own the performance, rather than simply getting through it and not panicking in the process.
Before we begin, I give you my first television news live shot below. Notice the hair, my twenty-two-year-old high-pitched nervous voice, and the incredible mustache on the sheriff I am interviewing. I call this the “world’s smallest bank robbery,” and I remember it as the day I almost threw up before I went on air. I didn’t, but I had a lot to learn about grounding my nerves before performances.
Over the next decade of performing thousands of live reports, I understandably got more comfortable. In the process, I also learned habits that helped to alleviate performance fears.
Coffee is one of my favorite things. If you drink coffee, I don’t suggest dumping it, but I do suggest keeping your intake low before a performance. Consider a small cup as your max and save any more caffeine consumption for after the performance.
While I don’t like to eat too much before a performance, it is unwise for us to eat nothing. I find that protein, healthy fat, like avocado, and a small amount of carbs, if any, set me up for a successful day on camera.
The protein and fat get my brain working. By keeping the bread and carbs low, I don’t feel full in my clothes and I don’t run the risk of dozing off in the performance. I find that the more carbs and bread I eat during the day, the lazier I am and the bulkier I feel. So, don’t run the risk of dizziness from lack of food, but don’t overdo it either.
The more prepared I am, the less nervous I feel in a performance. Period. I remember doing an acting job for a show called Trauma on NBC, on the corner of a busy intersection in San Francisco. The streets were blocked off in all directions for the shoot and business owners and residents were peering off of 7th floor balconies watching the production. I had to get through some lines before the director initiated a high-speed car chase that would whip around the corner I was standing on.
Shot from the street corner scene from Trauma on NBC.
Once we started rolling and I ran my lines, it hit me that the longer I took to get my lines right, the longer that intersection would have to be shut down, inconveniencing the real people living and working around me. That pressure shot through my body and I panicked hard. Then, I took a deep breath, remembered that I knew my lines in my sleep, and would absolutely nail it. And I did. As scared as I was about letting all of the people around me down, I just kept saying the lines over and over for the different camera angles and we shot the scene in less than a half-hour. If I had not been prepared, that nervousness could have crushed me.
Preparation doesn’t guarantee a nerve-less experience. It will however give you a massive edge in combatting any trepidation still inside of you.
This one seems obvious, but it’s important to mention: Be early. If you are racing to get to a Zoom meeting or a shoot, you will add so much tension to your body. Along with feeling scared you won’t make it in time, you will likely also start beating yourself up about your punctuality issues. I once read that perpetual tardiness is a form of self-hatred.
I thought that assessment was pretty harsh at first, but then it made sense. When I walk into an important event, meeting with people, performance, late—I feel like a jerk and I get really down on myself. In that situation, I am not bringing the positivity I need to thrive.
So, I make it a point to get to online meetings, auditions, and shoots early. I also log on to Zoom meetings I am leading, early too. If I have to sit there and wait, so be it. It is better than flying in sweaty from trying to get there and feeling bad about myself for being late. Those are emotions I don’t want to bring into my on-camera performance.
The more I can bring myself into the room, and out of my brain, the better. In the minutes before the performance, my mind often wants me to think about how I might mess up. The present moment, where I can relax into my body and remind myself of my preparation and calm, is a place where I can get grounded before a shoot.
Try this exercise: You are getting ready for a performance and you are inside of negative, future thoughts of how you might bomb. Now, say to yourself what is in the room. For instance, “I am looking at my red shoes. They are cute. There is a cord that leads to the camera by my foot.” You catch my drift.
By noticing these things in the room, you can better bring yourself out of your negative thoughts, and into the present moment where you in fact, have not messed up. You are here, prepared, and ready to kick ass.
Another grounding exercise that helps is to imagine a person or people who love and support you, sitting in the room, smiling at you and cheering you on. This visualization of that support can go a long way.
Be Kind to Yourself
I take deep breaths before my performances and become my own parent, in the moment. I praise myself for preparing and remind myself, to be myself. If I am more nervous than usual, I acknowledge the nerves with loving kindness and continue putting one foot in front of the other.
Through research, I’ve learned that a panic response usually only peaks for a few moments before it simmers down. If I am inside of a performance and still shaky, I remember this phenomenon and have seen it to be true. Once I take those first steps into the performance, and start to flow into it, I shake the nerves off and start to enjoy myself. All of the above actions help with this process, tremendously.
You can do it!