The Audition Illusion

What are illusions?  Illusions are tricks our eyes and minds play on us.  They trick us into perceiving something different from what actually exists.  What we see often does not correspond with reality.   The funny thing about optical illusions is that what we perceive seems very real until we view it in another light!

Look at the black and white picture to the right.  What do you see?  Do you see a man playing a horn or do you see a woman’s face?

Hint: the man playing a horn is in profile facing right; the woman is facing you, and her right eye is the black dot in front of the horn handle.

I recently received several questions from performers about auditions:

I would like to know what is triggering my fear of performing at auditions?

Why do I feel confident performing in concert or recital, but crater in auditions?

I don’t know how to handle the fear and anxiety when I need to perform in important competitions and auditions.

Any of these questions sound familiar to you?  If so, you may be experiencing the “audition illusion.”  You may be thinking that performing in this particular situation—a competition or an audition—is somehow different than any other performance or when you play or sing so comfortably in practice or rehearsal.

Please bear with me. . .

I know you must be thinking.  Well, of course auditions are different!  Much more is riding on the outcome of this kind of performance.   People are judging me at a competition.  At auditions, I am being compared with other performers.   It really matters how this performance turns out.  Yes, all of this is true, but none of these facts have anything to do with your voice or your instrument, your amount of preparation or rehearsal.


Look at these young girls pictured sitting on a log.   Haven’t they ever heard that old saying, “It’s as easy as falling off a log?”  Why are there hands in the air?  Shouldn’t they be holding on?  Well, no.   They are sitting only a couple of feet off the ground.  They haven’t a worry in the world.

I wonder if they’d mind if we hoisted that tree limb 69 floors in the sky like the 1932 photo below of the Lunchtime atop a Skyscraper?  Do you think a couple of those girls would start hanging on?

It’s all about perspective.  The surface they’re sitting on is just as wide, their balance hasn’t changed, but 69 stories just changed the stakes.

High-stakes performances like auditions and competitions don’t change us and our abilities, but they can play tricks on us and our perception of these performances.  Because you care deeply about performing well, you may begin to doubt your ability or start worrying about what the judges are thinking or what other performers sound like.   You start shifting your focus to things you don’t worry about when you are practicing or performing comfortably.

 What can YOU do?

All performers have their particular triggers when it comes to pulling focus away from what is within your control—what will help your performance—and what is outside your control—worrying about outcomes, other people and what they’re thinking, mistakes you’ve already made, or the level of others’ performances.  One performer’s anxiety might be triggered by seeing people she knows in the audience or on the judging panel or hearing other performers.  This causes her to start worrying about what these people are thinking when there is no way to know when their thoughts cannot (unless she lets it) impact her performance.  Other performers may experience physical reactions to anxiety such as a racing heart, perspiration, shortness of breath that causes them to worry about performing well.  Then there is the performer who is their own trigger.  Their own thoughts, or self-talk, is focused on unrealistic expectations of perfection or having to ‘win or else.’

If you are a performer who experiences triggers such as these or knows you don’t perform in high-stakes situations as well as you’d like, can turn this around.  You can take control of your confidence and better mentally prepare yourself prior to performance.  One important way to do this is to develop an effective pre-performance routine that includes coping strategies for your particular triggers.  The goal of every pre-performance routine is to help you feel prepared, ready, focused, and confident prior to performance—even auditions!  Effective pre-performance routines prepare you to feel relaxed physically and mentally and to rely on and trust in your practice so your confidence stays high regardless of circumstance.

Start today!  A good place to start is to get a blank piece of paper.  Make two columns.  On one side, write Within My Control at the top.  On this side write down all the things you can think of that you control about your performance (for ex:  your thoughts, how you react, etc.).  On the other side, write Outside My Control.  On this side write down the things that often pull your focus and make you nervous even though they are outside your control (for ex:  others’ thoughts or judgments, acoustics of the hall, heart racting, etc.).  For every item you listed under Outside My Control, cite a specific personal example you can recall.  Then, come up with a strategy to deal with it when it happens again.  This will be a way you can shift your focus back to what will help you instead of hinder your performance.

Remember, taking control of your confidence and trusting your preparation doesn’t just happen.  With practice you can learn to cope with performance pressure and perform your best when it really matters.

Want to learn more about how to develop your own unique pre-performance routine?  Then, check out The Relaxed Musician Program:  Mental Preparation for Confident Performances, A 14-Day Plan   Download Day 1 workbook and audio to see how the program can work for you.  With purchase, you will receive 2 great bonuses—Your Pre-Performance Checklist and the e-book, Letting Go of the Need to be Perfect!

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