May/June 2003 Living Now
Public Speaking and Performance:
The Terror of Being Judged
by Carole Priest
And thats really what its all about, isnt it? Even
now, chances are your stomach knots when you recall your long-ago piano
What if I make a Mistake? Or worse, totally Blank Out? What if I dont
Play Perfectlywhich translates into the real issueWhat if
I (the real I) am ImPerfect and No One Will Love Me?
Many of us carry into other aspects of our lives that awful childhood
fear of being imperfectinsufficientless-than. Later in our
lives we often truncate attempts to do what we long to do because of
the painful experience of what we may have considered failure.
How often, when youre asked to give a little talk, or to perform
an instrumental or vocal solo do you think, "Oh goody goody, thats
going to be so much fun cause I have something especially worthwhile
and beautiful to share with you and youre going to really enjoy
More likely, you might feel certain that last months presenter
was far more interesting than you could ever be and undoubtedly knew
more about her subject than
was prettier than
could speak/play/sing better than
you. And youd go about with butterflies in your
gut, or try to figure a way to wriggle out of the whole thing.
So what can we do about that now? How can we alter our perspective
on the meaning of performance? In our contemporary vernacular the word
performance is a loaded one, frequently carrying with it an implied
threat to survival.
As a professional pianist and singer in the cutthroat New York world
of classical musicians, I simply had to find a way through that debilitating
fear of The Critics. I found stop-gap measures that worked partially
and at certain times, but were never truly dependable. Many times I
just had to tough it out, butterflies, knocking knees, dry mouth and
It wasnt until some years later that I understood fully the crux
of the performance problem: the terror of being judged--with all the
baggage that that can contain.
It was during a piano performance I gave in San Jose, California, of
the Hindemith, "Ludus Tonalis", a lengthy and difficult work
at which I had what could be called a Peak Experience. It forever altered
my feeling of performing.
As I was playing the opening bars of "Ludus", I felt myself
separate from my physical bodythat body which was earnestly exerting
the enormous physical and intellectual effort involved in performing.
And in its place was a glowing globe of light from which the heart of
the music spun out, filling the concert hall and becoming a part of
each one of my listeners. The standing ovation which followed was a
testament that my audience intuitively and deeply understood and appreciated
even this strange, untunefull 20th-century piece.
What had happened?
Perhaps it was that my ego had left the scene, leaving only the joy
of sharing. All of the thinking, the striving for a perfect performance
evaporated. What remained was the freedom to enjoy, the freedom to give
fully. The fear of being harshly judged had given way to pure joy.
It isnt mandatory to have a Peak Experience in order to understand
and internalize the concept of letting go of your fear of being judged!
Solid preparations, however, are necessary. Here are some things
you can do:
- Learn and practice deep breathing and panting exercises.
- Stretch, so your body feels fluid and stable.
- Practice standing with your feet about 15" apart, with one
foot slightly forward and slightly turned out hands hanging easily
at your sides.
- Practice almost-yawning to get that open-throat feeling for a
pleasant and supported sound.
If youre giving a talk make sure that your audience can understand
- Practice articulating the consonants clearly. Make your vowels the
actual vowel sound of the word. Avoid the American propensity to make
all vowels an "uh" sound.
- Keep the volume up on the ends of sentences.
- Separate your words clearly.
- Use silence effectively. Occasionally give your listeners processing
- Find the important word in each phrase, each sentence, each paragraph.
Build your speech to a climaxto the most important point of
- Wrap it all up, connecting the points to a convincing conclusion.
When youre actually giving your speech, Keep Breathing! Focus
on the Delight of Sharing Something of Real Value! Allow for Imperfection!
Leave Your Ego at Home and Enjoy the Joy!
Carole Priest, C.H.T, is a musician and energy therapist. You may
contact her at 503-466-1085 for information on workshops, seminars and
private lessons or therapy.