Sunday, November 13, 2011

Why it’s easier to sing to 1,000 strangers than friends and family

Put me in front of a huge crowd of strangers and I’ll perform loud and proud.


Photo by Anirudh Koul

But in a room full of friends and family I get embarrassed and stumble. Why is this?

what do you care what they think?

It’s all about judgment.

When we get up to perform we expect people to judge us. No matter how confident we are, we still want people to like us and to think we’re talented.

When you perform in front of strangers it doesn’t really matter what they think (unless they all start booing or walking out!) as we’re not personally connected with them and aren’t likely to meet them in person. Although it would be nice if they clap at the end.

But when you perform to people you know well, you want to impress them, you want to make them feel proud. And you get to spend time with them afterwards. Up close and personal. Maybe they won’t want to be your friend any more.

a paradox

Friends and family will support us, encourage us, and forgive any imperfections in our performance. They want us to succeed. Whereas strangers have no vested interest and just want to be entertained.

Yet we find it harder to perform in front of those very people who are on our side.

Despite that, we always invite them to come to our concerts because we want their ‘support’ and it’s good to see a friendly face or two in the crowd.

(re)inventing ourselves

People who know us have an intimate knowledge of who we are, what we’re capable of, how we normally behave – in short, what they can expect from us. Whereas strangers have no preconceived notion. We can be whoever we want to be. They don’t care just as long as we perform well.

If we are ‘over the top’ or ‘operatic’ or ‘loud and sassy’ in front of our friends and family they will know whether this is out of the ordinary or not. Whereas strangers will just see someone performing and judge us on what they hear and see in front of them.

People who know us might be embarrassed (for us and themselves). It also might make them feel uncomfortable because they don’t want us to step outside the role that they’re familiar with (or have imposed on us). It might be a threat to them.

performing is not natural

You may not care what 1,000 strangers think of your performance, but if you walked down the street and everyone started to stare at you and point, you might worry.

Performing in public is not a natural act. There is an unwritten contract between audience and performer(s). They expect to be entertained, and you expect them to listen respectfully, not talk to each other (or on their phones) and to remain in their seats.

It is unlikely (in England at least) that audience members will jump up on stage and tell you what they really think or thump you because they don’t like what you’re doing. It is an artificial situation which puts a kind of barrier between you and the audience. It feels somewhat safe and anonymous. And you usually can’t even see them under the stage lights.

making a connection: another paradox

Good performers connect with their audiences. As an audience member you feel that the person on stage has really looked at you and noticed you. Sometimes it feels as if you are the only one there and they are singing just for you. It is an intimate moment in a big room.

You already have that strong connection with family and friends, so your performance should go down really well. Yet it is precisely that intimacy that scares you the most.

The roles are reversed and you feel that they are looking right into your soul and can see all your doubts and fears and notice all your mistakes and straining for notes.

But when an anonymous audience look back at you, it’s not the same kind of connection. It’s more of a one-way process and you are in charge.

get over it!

When you first perform in front of your nearest and dearest it is seriously scary and can often put you off. But trust me: it gets easier.

When you find that they’re not overly critical, still love you, and keep coming to your concerts, you will start to relax. The fear will be replaced by the comfort of knowing that they’re there to support you in the midst of a large crowd of strangers.

Over time you will feel more relaxed and free to be whoever you want to be on stage, whoever is in the audience. And the good bits of this may even spill over into your everyday life.

has it happened to you?

Have you performed in front of friends and family? How was it for you? If it was difficult, do you know why? Do you have any handy hints that will help others? Do leave a comment and let us know what you think.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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