How to perform better in public
November 17, 2009 2:34 PM   Subscribe

How can I better my live performance?

Just for explanation, I'm not a musician but a realtime captioner - I make live captions via a shorthand machine that I write live to television programs or for Deaf and hard-of-hearing people in meetings, etc.

The job entails being able to type on the steno machine at verbatim speeds and be able to write cleanly and accurately (choosing correct homophones and conflicts) so the computer can read the steno and translate it back into English via a dictionary I've prepared.

The usual requirement is at least 99% accuracy - and that includes punctuation, correct speaker IDs, etc.

My problem is I'm usually fine, but sometimes I make a load of mistakes. This can be because a speaker can't be heard, I hit the wrong keys, tiredness or difficult material. Once I make a mistake, I often start to go downhill and screw up more. I suppose the job could be best compared to a realtime interpreter in that you only get one go at it and it has to be right the first time.

Does anyone have any tips or tricks to improve accuracy, nerves, and ability to stay on top of a difficult situation mentally? How do performers do it, especially classical performers who have very critical ears listening to them? How do interpreters manage to keep going? How do you cope with a job where people comment more on what you get wrong than what you get right?
posted by stenoboy to Health & Fitness (3 answers total)
Have you thought of practicing with intentional distractions? I've known a couple of musicians who would run through scales and playlists with a tv or radio blaring. Not so much for muscle memory but to raise concentration.

Yea, it's tough and annoying but when the noise is gone things are much easier.
posted by snsranch at 4:14 PM on November 17, 2009

I think I can relate to this somewhat. I'm a musician, and though improvising in public is part of what I do, there I times where I have to improvise in situations where I didn't expect that I would have to, either because I made a mistake or someone else in the band did.

Things that help me:

1. Practicing things at a very slow speed initially, and then repeating at progressively higher speeds. I don't know if you have any way you can practice, or if you can practice at a rate slower than the rate you usually have to do your job at, but even when you're practicing for a task where you don't know beforehand what you're going to be doing, practicing at a slow speed ingrains in your mind what it feels like to do something accurately, and then speeding up accustoms your mind to doing that thing correctly at faster speeds. This is true even when you're already competent at the thing you do, which it sounds like you are.

2. Alternating slow practice with sessions where I dive in at a speed at which I'm not capable of maintaining 100% accuracy. This is the way that I accustom myself to righting my path after making a mistake. It's more of a mental exercise than a technical one, because you end up experimenting with different states of mind, trying to find the one that will enable the best recovery. Doing slow practice before this will ensure that you know what accuracy feels like and can return to it more easily. The mental strategy that I've developed as a result of this practice: after making a mistake, I do nothing for a beat, and I use that brief period of inactivity to clear my mind and pretend as if I'm just starting from the beginning. This sort of practice is tedious and trying as all hell, but if you do it a lot I think you'll get better at picking up after a mistake.

3. After fast practice, I do at least one more session of the first practice type. This is important, because otherwise the fast practice will accustom you to making mistakes. I don't really have any cites for this, but I can say firmly for myself that doing something right on the last attempt before I stop practicing is absolutely necessary for my mind to retain the correct method and not the mistaken one.

I hope this helps, because I don't actually know if you're in the position to practice this stuff, but if you do, I stand by the above. Good luck!
posted by invitapriore at 5:19 PM on November 17, 2009

If some of the issue is performance anxiety, you may want to research Beta Blockers (with a doctor, of course!) - they are often used by professional musicians to counter stage fright while still staying sharp enough to perform.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:56 PM on November 17, 2009

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