5 Ways to Avoid a Performance Disaster

Performer looking anguished

Vocal Coach Janine Le Clair shows you how to set up for success and avoid a disaster on stage.

Life doesn’t stop, even when we are having a larger than life experience on stage – things can and do go wrong.

Here is just one example of not-so-ideal situation on stage, when Adele felt that she needed to start again during the 2017 GRAMMYS. She stays true to herself whilst dealing with a technical mishap and powered on in the second take, in a remarkably controlled and executed performance:

I want to give you my top tips for avoiding stage mistakes, and for handling them when they are unavoidable. They come from twenty years on stages around the world in solo, acoustic, full band, tracked, televised, outdoor, indoor, and in radio stations, stadiums, casinos, banquet halls, pubs, clubs…I think you get the idea.

1. Practice with a live audience

Simulate the nerve-racking environment by organizing a few live audience rehearsals. Perform your song, your set, or your entire show to a random audience such as your neighbors; or your parents’ friends; or your close friends and their families; or even your co-workers.

Seating in a school gym, slowly filling up with an audience

Try to practice in front of a small audience first!

Chose your audience by asking yourself this question: Who will make me the most nervous? By creating this trying situation in advance, you will be learning how your body reacts to pressure.  By the time you hit the stage, you will be much more self-aware. This is a great tool.

If you’ve repeated this simulation exercise a few times it will become second nature to recognize if you’re suffering from a touch of nerves.  This knowledge will calm you down and allow you to take back control of your body and voice.

You’ll say to yourself, “I got this. I know my voice feels shaky right now, but when it felt like this before, I still hit the note. So, I’ll be able to hit it now!”

2. Rehearse your timing

I recommend practising with your accompaniment at a very low volume to see if you can still sing and/or play in rhythm and tempo. Consider video taping yourself and be honest about what you see and hear when you play it back.  If you’re struggling to stay in time, work with a metronome or drum loop.

If you have practised in this way, and end up having any technical difficulties during the performance itself, you’ll still deliver a great performance because you will trust yourself more.

3. Hand-write lyrics for memorization

If you are iffy on the words and know deep down that they won’t roll off your tongue readily, write the words down. And I mean, properly write them out old-school on a piece of paper with your fingers physically gripping a pen or pencil.

Trust me. This technique will solidify those words into your brain. Write out each verse until you get it correctly. The same goes for the chorus and bridge. And then, go back and write out the entire lyric to the song.

You’re way less likely to forget words in moments of distraction or technical difficulties if you use this trick.

Don’t stop, get it, get it (even after messing up).

Remember, that no matter what happens on stage, you need to keep going. You’d be surprised how your audience will go with things as long as you believe it.  I once sang the wrong word in the middle of the national anthem. Though mortified of my mess up, past experience had taught me I’d better not flinch, and in fact I acted as if that was exactly how it was supposed to go.

My conviction must have worked. Afterwards an audience member complimented me on my rendition being one of the best they’d ever heard.

4. Train to keep your energy up

Keep your energy up. You may think this is obvious advice and with a roll of your eyes, be thinking; of course I’d keep my energy up. Yet, you’d be surprised and I caution you against underestimating the power that comes from preparing this skill in advance.

Rehearsing with enthusiasm can go a long way. Training yourself to perform with energy also goes a long way. And practising to maintain a good attitude most definitely goes a long way.

If you watched Mariah Carey’s performance New Year’s Eve 2017, you noticed that it was riddled with technical challenges. (Heck, I’m not throwing shade; Mariah is my idol!)

No one knows exactly what went wrong up there except for her and the crew. And yet, to my surprise, she chose to focus her energy on what was going wrong, instead of using her vast experience—and the platform of a world stage—to create a positive spin.

Regardless of the sound complications, she could have displayed enthusiasm and excitement through both her voice and body language.

5. You can’t plan for everything

Sure, you can do your best to: rehearse and make sure your crew and your band members are well informed; have a solid sound check; ensure your set lists are perfectly organized; your batteries newly replaced; and your voice wonderfully warmed up. Of course, you should do all these things as this is your best chance for success on stage.

But, in the event that something goes wrong, just do your utmost to stay in the moment, don’t draw attention to the mistake, and remember to smile, because… you got this!


  • Yavor Kresic

    Really good points Janine. I’ve used them all and they are effective! I find that Open Stages are really good rehearsal’s for gigs. The sound is sometimes iffy [can’t hear through the monitors], you don’t have time to get warmed up, crowd is apathetic at times so you really have to work at coming across etc…