Performance Nerves or Imposter Syndrome? (guest post by Emma Lee)


Everyone gets stage fright, the heightened anxiety and rush of adrenaline, before a performance or reading. Experienced performers see this as a good sign: it makes them more alert and attuned to their surroundings and enhances performance. But if nerves are giving you nausea, making you feel dizzy or leaving you too anxious to read, something else is going on. If it’s not a previous bad experience, chances are it’s Imposter Syndrome.

Imposter Syndrome is where someone, no matter how qualified or experienced, feels like a fraud and senses that when standing on stage to read or perform poems, the audience will somehow catch them out and discover they’re not as good as they’d hope to be.

There are five types of Imposter Syndrome

  1. Perfectionist – always sense they could do better even when others rate them brilliant.
  2. Superhuman – workaholics who push themselves to stay longer and work harder, frightened that if they stop and take a breather, someone will overtake them.
  3. Genius – need to get it perfect first time and feel shame if a first try (inevitably) fails.
  4. Individual – those who refuse assistance and believe they should be able to perform without guidance.
  5. Experts – fear being exposed as incompetent or lacking in knowledge.

Conquer it

  • You deserve stage space as much as anyone else and even seasoned performers had a first gig
  • Choose some published poems to read so you know that an editor has endorsed your work even if you’re reading for the first time
  • Rehearse so you know you can read/perform your poems smoothly in the time slot given
  • Think about and plan what you’re going to say to introduce your poems, but not so rigidly you freeze if you leave out a word or forget a bullet point
  • Sound equipment glitches, poor lighting, strange echoes in the venue or the fire alarm going off are not your problem
  • Focus on what you can control: your breathing, your pace, your choice of poems, engaging the audience
  • Silence is good; it’s the fidgeting, heckling, rustling, foot tapping that signal you’ve lost the audience
  • Remember audiences don’t respond immediately; often poems take a moment or two to sink in


Emma Lee’s most recent collection is “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, UK 2015), she co-edited “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge,” (Five Leaves, UK, 2015), reviews for The High Window Journal, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews and blogs at



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