5 things Michael Bay can teach us about stagefright and performance
A recap: A famous movie director, Michael Bay (Transformers, Pearl Harbour and other “big” movies) had been hired by Samsung to speak briefly at CES, a gigantic technology trade show in Las Vegas, last week. He got on stage, started to talk, the auto cue failed, he flailed and walked off the stage. Watch by clicking here, if you can bear it.
First, a disclaimer. No one can know his journey – what brought him to that stage, what had gone on in the hours/days/weeks beforehand, how he feels about public speaking and so on. We’re going to take lessons from “messing up a performance” for the most part rather than focussing on the specifics.
Nearly everyone who watches the video above will have a shiver and feel immense empathy for the man. Some news outlets referred to it as a “panicked exit”, others as “stage fright”. Bottom line, that presentation really did not go the way he would have wished. So here’s 5 lessons we think can be learned from Michael Bay’s CES experience.
- It happens to everyone. Michael Bay is respected, far more successful monetarily than most of us will ever be, and intelligent. But stage fright is one of the most common fears of all and it doesn’t discriminate on any basis. If it’s an issue for you, there are tonnes of resources out there to help. We particularly like Noa Kageyama’s Bulletproof Musician newsletter.
- Fight or flight is instinctive and persuasive: What we can see on that video is a classic built-in-by-evolution reaction. The mind sees “danger” – in this case, the support disappears, and basic brain functions leap in to take control. Danger means “must leave”, and that’s exactly what happens. But it is controllable by being aware of it, and having a few options in your back pocket. “Ok, so if this all goes wrong for whatever reason, I can… (take a sip of water, tell the audience what’s going wrong, move somewhere different on the stage to collect my thoughts, etc)”.
- Practice makes perfect: Ok, this is an assumption, but let’s make it all the same. Michael Bay is a busy guy, and it’s quite possible he didn’t really know much about what he was presenting. Maybe he saw the script only shortly before the presentation, and didn’t have the time to review it. Thankfully, that’s not the way things work for most of us. If we’re giving a presentation or performance, we have time to practice. So do it! Learn your piece(s), learn your speech. Walk around, say it out loud, practice playing at different speeds, dynamics and so on. Make it yours. There’s also a second kind of practice, and that’s practicing performing. Part of dealing with stage fright is the simple fact of performing or speaking as much as you can. It will get better the more you do it. Guaranteed.
- Learn to improvise: There’s also a lot to be said, particularly when it comes to speaking, to thinking about improvising. If someone took your cards/slides away from you, what would you say? Just talk about your topic, see what comes out…often times you’ll say something that’s better than what you’d scripted! Do this at home while you’re practicing, and if anything goes wrong on the day, you’ll be much more able to pick up your thread. Musically, the more you play, the more you’re able to make things up in the right style. We heard a story a few weeks ago about a violinist playing some Bach solo violin partitas in a London hall. Some of the audience were following along with scores (a musician’s nightmare, actually). After the concert, one of the score users went up to the musician and congratulated him on the wonderful performance. He was later overheard remarking to his friend that he wondered what version of the Partitas had been being used because there was a whole section which hadn’t been in his score, but was wonderful. As it turned out, the soloist had lost the thread of the piece and just “made stuff up” until he got back on track, and managing to fool the experts in the process. Go ahead, practice improvising, and you’ll feel much more secure in your performances.
- Life goes on: Those of us who have seen lots of performances have certainly seen a few where things have not gone as planned. Sometimes you’ll see a performer exit and return, sometimes they’ll keep their wits and crack a joke, sometimes they’ll simply start again. It’s always just fine. We all know things go wrong, and although the experience is seriously uncomfortable in the moment, it makes absolutely no difference in the long run. We still respect the performer, in fact, it’s possible we even like him or her a little more because we can see s/he is human. Hey, in Michael Bay’s case, there’s now a whole host of people who know his name now who never would have otherwise!
How do you feel about performing? What makes it better for you? Share your tips and tricks below!