It's difficult to get up in front of people. I think we all experience some level of anxiety when faced with speaking, performing or even large social gatherings. I struggled with stage fright for many years when I first started playing music in public as well as when I had to get up in front of a class in my day job as an educator. You need to be an entertaining performer to be successful at both.
The audience wants you to succeed, they want to be engaged and entertained. The challenge is to establish and cultivate a relationship with your audience. You can't just jump up there and play your best material right from the start. The relationship between the performer and the audience is akin to going on a date. You have to feel out the audience and guage how they are responding to your material and adjust accordingly. You also want to take them on a bit of a journey, mixing things in terms of the sound, energy and movement. The hardest part of this is letting of go of your self consciousness and being fully in the moment.
Some artists have established relationships with their audiences and can forego a lot of the above. I saw James Taylor perform a few years ago and he received a standing ovation when he walked out on stage. He had clearly built a warm relationship with his audience and one he continued to cultivate by spending the entire intermission signing autographs and talking to fans at the front of the stage.
Those of us without a James Taylorish reputation and relationship with our audience have to work harder. Often you find yourself in a space where people came not for the entertainment but to have a drink or meal and visit with friends. In that case you can't expect them to be quiet and listen but you can still work your entire arsenal of songs, words and actions to engage and entertain them.
I'm still learning how to be a better entertainer. I've been giving more thought to how to structure the show and rearrange songs to find moments that create more effective audience engagement. I don't want to just get up there, bang out a bunch of songs and expect the audience to react. I want to build a relationship with my audience. It starts with being more creative, mindful and authentic.