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The Magic Cafe Forum Index » » New to magic? » » The 'dreaded' shaky performer syndrome! Help!! (0 Likes) Printer Friendly Version

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New user
Monroe, La
68 Posts

Profile of Gambit242
One helpful technique for getting rid of the shakes, butterflies, etc. is to tense up every muscle in your body and hold it for a few seconds... This will usually help you relax a little..

This is technique that speech teachers tell their students to use when they are a little nervous before a speech...

Good luck with the performance.
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New user
S Wales UK
16 Posts

Profile of Sagethegrumpyowl
Glad to know I'm not alone, I've been doing Card Magic for 5 years now and practically never because of the shakes, so seeing I'm not alone make it seem better...
Is all that we see or seem but a dream within a dream?
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Inner circle
Beverley, UK
1130 Posts

Profile of wulfiesmith
hi there...
you will never get rid of nerves...if you do...tell me the secret.
One of the basic problems lies with:
a) nerves...thinking the spectator can see what you do, and knows what you are doing. THEY DO NOT!
b) performers RUSH their performance. SLOOOOOOW down. They will NOT see what you are doing.
Do things SMOOOOOTHLY...slowly, if necessary, but smoothly.
When you do things smoothly, it looks natural. And its criminal what you get away with.

Let me know how you get on - regards, Wulfie
Brad Burt
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Inner circle
2675 Posts

Profile of Brad Burt

Try attacking the problem like someone with a phobia. Work to 'desensitize' yourself to the fear that produces the shakes. What you want to do is this: Make a list of 10 performing situations. The first would be one that you have NO problem with. It might be performing a trick for your mom, wife or girlfriend, etc. or it might be doing a trick for the bathroom mirror. Now, work up the line of stress adding situations that get a little more 'scary' as you go until you get to what you consider the worst possible.

Now, start to work on those situations. Work up the line letting yourself 'get used to' each situation in turn until you are not bothered by it. Eventually you will get to the worst case and be fine with it. This behavioral approach is quite powerful, but takes time, thought and courage. Best,

Brad Burt
Brad Burt
Ricky B
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Regular user
Northern California
172 Posts

Profile of Ricky B
In addition to all the good advice above, I say, don't worry about getting caught or making a mistake. Look at your performing as a chance to make an honest (i.e., unintentional) mistake. Why? After all isn't that what you're worried about?

The answer is that it will be good for you to make a mistake. You will see that IT'S NO BIG DEAL. The earth will keep spinning, the sun will still rise in the East, and your friends will still like you. After you've fluffed a trick or two and see that it's no big deal, you should get less nervous.

Mike Walton
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984 Posts

Profile of Mike Walton
Yes, the shakes. They indeed come even after several months of performing the same card tricks.

Here are my suggestions:

1. I sometimes get the shakes when I have to do a sleight like a top change, or a triple lift (even a double lift sometimes.) They get worse if I don't do a trick perfectly. As was mentioned above, practice. But more importantly practice perfectly. If you're doing a double lift, that doesn't look as good but is easy to do, then switch it to something that looks better and requires more practice and then just practice until you can nail it 10 out of 10, 50 out of 50 times. Then the shakes will start to go.

2. (Good tip here) Disperse self-working magic tricks throughout your card routine. I, contrary to some postings, like to either start with a effect that requires a set-up deck, like Galaxy by Paul Harris, OR a trick that has a difficult sleight. You can get away with a lot on that first trick, as they're not quite astonished yet and they don't know what to expect. Once you turn their world upside down, then they'll start watching your hands a little more. At that point, do a self-working trick. The members here have posted excellent names of self-working card tricks that are amazing. It will offer a little break from the "sleight pressure." Just do a search for self working.

3. It's simple, but true. You need to breath. I noticed that I was holding my breath and in turn tensing up. If you maintain a pattern of conscious breathing when you start, you won't all of a sudden gasp for air when you realize it's time to breath. When you breath naturally, you relax naturally. Be like a runner, start breathing before you start performing as part of your mental rehearsal.

Other than that, this art of magic truly is a timely art that takes years. It will all come with practice and time.

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105 Posts

Profile of vootrage
Thanks for the advice!! I just talked to a professional magcian in my area who told me "It is becuase your body knows that you are lying to the other person. I you want to want to loose the shakes, you yourself must believe that the effect is real. Then your mind can be at ease cause your not trying to fool someone, your trying to something real."

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Kalamazoo, MI
26 Posts

Profile of BearMage
In addition to the other sagely advice, avoid stimulants like coffee and cola, or any other caffeine laden drink or snack. Caffeine's great, I love the stuff, but not until after a show. Any stimulant will amplify the effects of nervousness and can turn unease into a full blown case of the jitters.


Bear Smile
"We have not the reverent feeling for the rainbow that the savage has,
because we know how it was made. We have lost as much as we gained by
prying into that matter."
Mark Twain
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San Jose, CA
108 Posts

Profile of matinex

I think your magician's advice is a bit hokey. It's just nervousness, possibly fear that you'll get caught. If believing that what you're doing is real will help you get through the jitters, then that's fine. But how can you believe the effect is real when you know exactly what you're doing to fool the audience? When you can see the card you're palming, feel the switch you're making, hear the lies you're telling?
John Clarkson
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Santa Barbara, CA
749 Posts

Profile of John Clarkson
Barry Price once told me that the first time he saw me pick up a deck of cards, he thought I had palsy! Even today, sometimes, I get the shakes. Here are a few things I have learned:

Diet has something to do with it. High sugar diets set me off. Also, an empty stomach isn't helpful.

Confidence is probably the biggest factor. I seem to shake mostly with effects that I probably should not be performing until I've rehearsed more.

The need to be approved of also sets it off. If I view my audience as somehow judging me (instead of just having a good time with me) I start to shake. This is a good thing. It tells me I need to adjust my attitude and presentation.

I still get the shakes sometimes, for reasons I do not understand. I've eaten well, and I can do the effect in my sleep. Something I have learned about this is NOT TO FIGHT THEM. They will go away if I acknowledge them and go on. So, if I get the occasional shaky hand, I'll actually say, "Well, folks, it looks like we're going to shake, rattle, and roll through this one. If what I am holding seems blurry, just let me know."

John D. Clarkson, S.O.B. (Sacred Omphaloskeptic Brotherhood)

"There is nothing more important to a magician than keeping secrets. Probably because so many of them are Gay."
—Peggy, from King of the Hill (Sleight of Hank)
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Inner circle
MayfieldNew York
1347 Posts

Profile of djvirtualreality
I get the same problem sometimes.....I just try to be calm and not rush things so I don't look like I'm doing anything tricky. I try to be as calm as possible and not let the auidience know that I am nervous or scared. I just think about the magic and the specs reactions and it works most of the time.
Life is an illusion, death is reality.
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Monroe, La
68 Posts

Profile of Gambit242
On 2003-09-09 19:23, John Clarkson wrote:
Barry Price once told me that the first time he saw me pick up a deck of cards, he thought I had palsy!

Lol! Great story.. It's nice to know that this is a common problem for many performers and that almost every magician has overcome this.

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Profile of JEFFC
Skip to the last paragraph if you don't want the long story.
That feels better, I was going to use it for a new post title if I didn't find a post already related to my search in New to Magic. None matched exactly, but this is as good a place as any to vent.
I've taught high school for over 8 years and have interspersed (mostly gimmicked) magic during lessons here and there. I practiced and practiced Skinner's Ult. 3 Card Monte, showed my wife and a couple friends.

Then I thought I was ready for a larger, more demanding group (my students). I couldn't believe I was nervous as I started it, I never got nervous with the non sleight tricks I've done (no need for flaming about how easy Skinner's Monte is, this is the beginners area). I messed up and some of the kids saw something they shouldn't have. I could feel my face turn red, my stomach knotted up.

These are kids that I've taught and worked with in some way for almost 3 years. I am very comfortable with them, but they're a tough magic audience. I don't know if that's why I was nervous or what.

The question: How do you prepare for an audience? I mean I practiced a lot, but when I got ready to try it in front of these kids I wasn't prepared to be nervous.
Brian Morgan
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Regular user
185 Posts

Profile of Brian Morgan
HAVE FUN! I'm a college football player so I just look at performimg magic as a time to entertain. No pressure. Pressure is 70,000 people counting on you to be perfect. Magic for me is a hobby and you should enjoy performing.
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Butte, MT
71 Posts

Profile of jaxonlee
The "Panicky Performer's Palsy" happens! It is one of those quaintly engineered bits of our bodies that most of us wished we could be rid of. However, there are no instant cures.

Sachs, in his classic work on sleight of hand, gave us great advice for dealing with icy fingers: Wear gloves! Not during your performance of course but directly before. Keep the digits denumbed the easy way. In fact, depending on your stage clothes, you can add the gloves in to your routine. Let them...melt away like they didn't know any other way to be taken off your hands!

As far as the shakes go, avoid caffeine and high sugar foods. The best steadier of nerves tends to be sheer confidence. Thus: Practice, Practice, Practice! You can also try a classic technique: open with a laugh or two. Laughter, whether you are the laugher or the laughee, has been proven to calm people down.

Deep breathing, counting backwards slowly from ten to one, thinking of calming images, and positive self talk will also work wonders. You can also try visualisation exercises. The days before a performance, find a quiet darkish spot, get comfortable, then slowly work through your entire routine in excrutiating detail. Visualising everything done perfectly a number of times will dramatically improve your confidence and reduce your shakes.

If all else fails: Imagine your audience naked pulling rabbits out of their...hats!
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Regular user
121 Posts

Profile of Ember
I found it only went away once I had been performing regularly for some time.

Luckily enough you can fake being confident while still suffering, try the relaxation techniques in the other posts.
DJ Trix
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Inner circle
1041 Posts

Profile of DJ Trix
WOW, what a cool topic. what I am about to say will blow everyones minds. Probably the most famous magician the world ever knew, most of the time I ask about a magician when talking with a lay person his name is mentioned. This man had terrible shakes. HOUDINI. When I heard that it amazed me. I was talking to Denny H. and he told me he was on stage doing the multiplying candles back in the day and his hands were shaking sooo much he put them down and went on to something else! WOW!!

Also, and this also made me feel better, my idot Lance Burton Had the shakes very bad. We all had it! I promise, if someone says they have never experienced it I promise they are bluffing you. We are all so very insignificant to so many things that a mere magicial preformance should be like talking to people....

If that sounded nasty I am only trying to help

Scott Ocheltree
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Veteran user
364 Posts

Profile of Scott Ocheltree
I would like to thank everyone who has posted in this thread. While I know that tremors can effect musicians and other performers, as a magician I have found it very frustrating.

I have a mild tremor in my left (dominant) hand which is present most of the time to some degree. performing can exaggerate it greatly. I have studied and performed magic for over 25 years as a hobby, and have always had this problem.

I do find that it is less of a problem or none at all when I am performing the material I am most comfortable with, the pieces I know backwards and forwards. In a way I think the quote about actually believing the magic you are performing is real is quite true.

Other things I have read above and would recommend from my own experience are breathing, and consciously slowing down my performance. Stop and look up at your spectators, this will bring their eyes up to yours and off your hands, giving you a beat to center yourself. Remember the art lies in your relationship with the spectator, not the feat of legerdemain you are executing.

But most of all, practice, practice, practice.
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Special user
533 Posts

Profile of Ollie1235
Houdini, shakes?
that helps a lot
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Special user
Bucks County, PA
790 Posts

Profile of blindbo
Aside from any physical or medical condition, shakes are from fear of failure.

Will I remember how to do this trick? Did I do the trick correctly? Will they like it? What if they don't? What if I make a mistake? What if they think I'm a hack? What if...?

Although easier to say than in practice, the solution to this is forget about it (or in italian, fagedabbadit). Practice your routines and go for it. Don't allow your ego to ruin it for you. People sometimes make mistakes. If you do, laugh it off!

A friend once said to me, "Rob, it's only card tricks!"

I think about that before any performing and it has cured my shakes. Of course, I will fall apart like crumb cake should I ever perform for any of you!
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