I’m a bag of nerves!
Angharad asks: ‘I’m taking part in a poetry slam in a couple of weeks where delivery is key. I’m a bag of nerves. What would be your nugget of helpful advice?’
There’s a fantastic technique that I describe in my book that’s called ‘mental rehearsal’.
What I would like you to do is to make a commitment to putting aside time every day to rehearse your poetry in real time. By ‘rehearse’ I really mean ‘perform’.
Set a timer for yourself if necessary (I know that sometimes at poetry slams you need to speak within a certain timeframe).
What I don’t want you to do is practise in front of a mirror and what I don’t want you to do is practise in front of anybody else.
Find a room on your own, set a timer if necessary, and perform as if you’re doing it for real.
Don’t worry if you make any mistakes during your rehearsals. Give it everything you’ve got and perform right the way through without stopping. If something goes wrong keep going. That’s really important.
Once you’ve rehearsed in this way for the first time you’ll become aware of ways you can make your performance better. As you do these rehearsals time and time again you’ll start to get a feeling for how you are going to perform it on the day.
Pay attention to your body
When you rehearse, pay attention to what is happening in your body. Focus your attention on how the words feel in your mouth, how your body moves when you perform, and how your movements support what you’re saying.
Repeat and repeat and keep rehearsing in this way over and over (I suggest three times a day in the days leading up to your performance day).
Your brain learns through repetition
The reason I want you to keep rehearsing is because every time you do this mental rehearsal your brain is learning and will commit aspects of your rehearsal to your unconscious mind. You will notice that every time you rehearse it gets easier and feels smoother as your brain learns the component parts your performance. Don’t make a mental effort to memorise your performance. Every time you rehearse your brain will learn automatically.
By rehearsing many times your brain will require less ‘processing power’ (i.e. you won’t need to think as hard as you did at first) to perform. This is great news because it means you will be less focused on ‘thinking’ about what you’re saying and more focussed on being ‘present’ with your audience. Great performances require great presence. The more you rehearse in this way, the great ‘stage presence’ you will have.
Your performance will improve every time you rehearse. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where performing starts to feel quite natural and you will start to really enjoy your performance. As the day of your performance draws nearer, you’ll begin to feel excited about performing for real because you will know that you will put on a great performance.
Don’t worry about learning your presentation (or poetry in this case) word for word. That’s not what matters to your audience. What your audience is looking for is an authentic performance. Give that a go and let me know how you get on.