Overcome Stage Fright: Successful Performance Tips by DJ Shiftee

Fighting Nerves: Words by DJ Shiftee

There you are, gearing up for your super important performance/presentation/dentist’s appointment/criminal court date.  Despite the magnitude of the situation, you’re feeling calm, cool, and collected.  You got this.  You rule.  You da bomb.  But then you arrive, and out of the dark abyss comes a piercing opponent.  Your hands suddenly begin to shake, your heart rate rises, your breath leaves you and takes the kids, and you can only finish 1/5th of your chicken parmigiana (which is your favorite meal).  No longer are you the smooth operator you need to be.  No longer are you a soldier of love with a bullet proof soul.  Who is this dastardly foe turning you into a king of sorrow with fear and the intestinal fortitude of cherry pie?  Who is this cloaked villain making you feel like you’re not the man? The Incredible Hulk? Mr. T?  No, silly, the answer is: NERVES.

NERVES affect everyone (with the exception of The Incredible Hulk and Mr. T, which is why they are so intimidating).  However, we can either let the power of nerves turn our insides into mashed sweet potatoes or we can fight back and turn NERVES into NEVERS because playing with words is fun.  So what if that didn’t make any sense?

In partial seriousness, here are some tips that have helped me fight NERVES and deliver effective performances despite being nervous.

1. Act The Part: Even if you feel like Steve Urkel (nerdy guy), it’s important to act on the outside like you’re The Fonz (cool guy).  The audience doesn’t know how you feel inside.  They only know what they see and what they can sense.  Your performance is not only how you sound, but how you move, how you look, and how you interact with your environment.  If the visual/interactive part of your performance looks nervous and unsure, then a tangible aspect of your overall presentation is already lacking.

Sometimes you’ll even start to feel less nervous just by acting less nervous.  For when you act like a calm professional, the audience (hopefully) will give you the respect and treatment of a pro.  Based on their reaction, you’ll start to think “hey, they like me, they are giving me respect, this isn’t so bad.”  Then you’ll feel and act even more calmly, the audience will respond accordingly, and the cycle will repeat.  BOOM!  (This may or may not be an example of the psychological phenomenon known as the “Correspondence Bias,” depending on how well I remember my freshman year Psych 101 class.)

2. Move to the Music: I find that moving with the music: releases tension, takes you outside of your head, and let’s you more naturally immerse yourself in the aural components of your performance.  Back to acting the part, if you look like you are loving the music, who is the audience to disagree.  Unless of course your audience consists solely of Simon Cowell.  Then be afraid, be very, very afraid.  Even if Paula and Randy got your back.

3. Focus on the Controllable: In any given performance situation, there are numerous external variables that can drive you nuts.  Maybe the sound system is garbage, it’s raining outside, the club doesn’t have your favorite mixer, and the bar doesn’t have your favorite brand of vermouth (Noilly Prat).  On the flip side, maybe Diddy just walked in, and he said if you do a good job tonight you make the band, and he’ll get you cheesecake.  Or maybe if you kill it tonight, the club will hire you for that weekly for which you’ve been busting your rear for the past year.  But guess what?  You have no control over any of that stuff.  You can’t control if Diddy likes you or the club has a crappy setup.  All that you can do is perform as well as you possibly can.  All that matters is being in the moment of your performance and executing it to the best of your availability.  Stay focused!  No distractions!  No excuses!  I pity the fool!

4. Don’t Reach/Build Your Comfort: If you were struggling to do something at home, a nervous moment is probably not the time to try it in public.  I usually place easier, more familiar stuff in the beginning of my sets, so I can build a comfort level before I attempt anything truly taxing or improvisational.  Put on one pant leg at a time before you try the double backflip off the top rope through a ring of fire into both pant legs simultaneously.

5. Practice Like Crazy: When you’re nervous, your mind can become distracted or even turn off completely.  When this happens, the body takes over.  What is the key to a trustworthy body?  Vegetables, sound dental hygiene, Dubspot, and PRACTICE.  Practice is probably the number one weapon for fighting nerves.  It’s like Purell for 99% of germs.  It’s like Doogie Howser for any medical predicament.  It’s like me in a room full of cold cuts.  So, practice.  Practice until you know your songs so well that it hurts.  Practice until practicing is painful and tedious, and then practice some more.  Practice so much that your practice habits gain such notoriety that you are invited to appear on the court room television drama The Practice.  Practice until you and your equipment have spent so much time together that you are technically married under common law in the state of New Jersey.  Because really, if you’re practiced and prepared, there’s nothing to worry about.  You’ve taken care of the main thing you can control.  You.  Oh and by the way, on a totally unrelated note, PRACTICE!!!!!!!

6. Personal Technique: Before I perform at big competitions and other similarly nerve-racking situations (e.g. swiping my Metro card at the turnstile with a big line behind me), I like to take a moment alone right before I go on stage (or even while already on stage).  In this moment of forced peace and serenity, I close my eyes, and I say to myself “Relax.  Have fun.”

There you have it.  A list of suggestions to help you perform like B) even when you feel like :s and :( with a little bit of :&. I’m sure in no time, you’ll be on stage looking like :D, making your rivals turn into >:O with jealousy, and causing your adoring fans to look at you like ;;) and try to give you admiring :* and ({}).



DJ Shiftee is a 2x DMC World Champion and Dubspot Instructor currently heating up dancefloors around the globe with fresh beats and sounds! Check out his latest mix ‘Dancing Specialist‘,  follow him on Twitter, & find him on Facebook.

  • Chris P
  • 11/16/2010

Great article/advice

I like to have a beer or two before I go on, cools my nerves a bit and helps me perform.

  • Overcome Stage Fright: Successful Performance Tips | Shiftee's Palace
  • 11/16/2010

[...] wrote a post for the Dubspot blog about fighting nerves on stage.  Read it HERE and avoid looking like this when you [...]

  • 11/16/2010

beautifully written shiftee. Should be performing soon so this is a real help. keep it coming.

hope all things are well.

  • Noah
  • 11/16/2010

Great advice. The one thing I might add is, PRACTICE!!! That’s the number one flub up I see with people nervous before a show.

  • Ian Campbell
  • 11/16/2010

Excellent advice and very funny as usual. I think I’d better re-read and apply # 5 every day!

  • Gregg Hollmann
  • 11/16/2010

Awesome article Shiftee – thanks for dropping all of those song references in your first paragraph! You rocked your topic like a hurricane.

  • Matt Shadetek
  • 11/16/2010

Glad you enjoyed it! Shiftee is working on some new stuff…make sure you check back soon!

  • Matt Shadetek
  • 11/16/2010

It’s all about number 5! Practice daily and you’ll show up looking and sounding like a pro (even if you’re terrified on the inside)!

  • exaltron
  • 11/16/2010

Great article and tips man! I used to shit bricks when I had to play in front of people (and this was before I started singing!), but getting yourself in front of an audience whenever possible makes a huge difference. If you’re too cool to play your friend’s party, sing karaoke, etc., then you shouldn’t be nervous, in other words, don’t wait until you’re at a gig that *really matters to you* to have your first experience with stage fright.
Other stuff that helps- in addition to the “affirmation” that shiftee mentions, warm up in whatever way you need too, make sure you’re nice and loose and maybe even run your hands under warm water (jazz guitarist trick)- all this can help with dexterity under stress. Also, google breathing exercises. A lot of stage fright has to do with flight-or-fight response, which is in turn related to breathing. You will be amazed at how a few deep breaths into belly will reset your breathing and decrease your heart rate.
Definitely practice A LOT and definitely have fun even more.

  • Matt Shadetek
  • 11/16/2010

@exaltron thanks, great tips. I need to try that warm water thing.

  • Pierre Chamberlain
  • 11/16/2010

Great article man! I’ve stopped DJaying for some time now, but with enough PRACTICE on my Kontrol S4 and the rest of your suggestions, I may just have what it takes to get back on stage.

Thanks Shiftee!