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Boss Mindset: Performance Anxiety

Jitters. Nerves. Anxiety. Voiceovers. It may seem like these things don’t go together but even the Bosses have found that they sure do. Today’s episode addresses performance anxiety, what causes it and how to best handle it. We’ve ALL been there. And any voice actor who tells you otherwise is full of BS. If you’ve never recorded outside your home studio…this is a must listen episode!


Quick Concepts from Today’s Episode:

  1. Anne received an email from a listener who found himself in full panic-mode at an offsite studio.

  2. He’s not alone.  All voiceover actors have experienced nervousness at a studio other than their own.

  3. It can be very stressful when we can see a room full of people talk about our performance but we can’t hear what they are saying.

  4. Many voiceover talent have stage fright. We don’t like having an audience.

  5. There’s nothing worse than feeling like we’ve blown an opportunity or a job because of a bodily reaction we can’t control.

  6. If you’ve never worked in a studio other than your own – you need to book time at a studio – even if you have no real reason to.

  7. Plus this gives you a change to network and marketing your skills to the studio itself.

  8. Always ask for the ‘talent rate’ to avoid over-paying or paying full price for the studio time.

  9. Cool, calm and collected is essential to a voiceover session.

  10. Breathing exercises and mindful breathing can desensitize you to a stressful situation.

  11. A session engineer can be very intimidating, especially if they treat you like ‘the talent’.

  12. The gaps and silence between takes in a session can create stress.  We don’t always know what is happening or being said.  It’s hard not to come to negative conclusions.

  13. Even the difference between being placed at a sit-down vs standing mic can create stress.

  14. Creating uncomfortable ‘mock’ sessions can make you better prepared for what you may encounter in other studios.

  15. Verbalize the need for breaks or that you need a moment prior to a session start.

Referenced in this Episode

Direct links to things we brought up ++

Check out Web MD’s advice on reducing performance anxiety
Train your brain to remain calm with the Haven App!
Recorded on ipDTL


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Anne: Hey everyone, welcome to the VO BOSS podcast. I’m your host Anne Ganguzza, along with my VO BOSS coffee-drinking bestie-bostie, Gabby Nistico. [laughs] Hey Gabby.

Gabby: My blood type is coffee. Yes. Hi.

Anne: It’s all about the coffee, isn’t it? Wow. Speaking of, I need more coffee. [laughs]

Gabby: I know you do because you’re in the packing and moving and doing.

Anne: Yes, all that good stuff. So we have a very interesting listener topic today, Gabby. I got an email from a student of mine, Rick, who wanted us to talk a little bit about performance anxiety. He had an experience where he went to an in-person workshop hosted by a local agent, and in the beginning of the workshop, there was introductions, and he was like the only one there that had some previous VO experience, so you know, that was making him feel good. But then all of a sudden when he got to the reading part, he got really anxious. And I’ll quote him as saying “my heart started beating crazy. I felt dizzy and was shaking, but mostly I was like, what the hell is happening to me? They asked me to go first because I had the most experience. I took deep breaths, but I couldn’t shake the shakes. I couldn’t get past the text all the way,” because he ran out of breath. He got so nervous that he just kept running out of air before he was finished, and at the end of it, he said “I felt like an idiot. Then I realized that I hadn’t been in a professional studio in more than seven years.” He’s done all of his recording at home, workshops and X-sessions where he’s, you know, right in front of other people but from home. So there’s nothing different about being in his home environment, but when he got out in front of his agent at a studio with other people – so I think it’s something very well worth talking about because I’ve had that happen to myself as well in a studio a couple years ago. And sometimes even now it’ll happen to me if I’m not mentally prepared.

Gabby: I feel for him, and I totally understand how this can blindside people. There’s a studio here in Charlotte that I lovingly call the fishbowl, because once you’re in it, you are, you’re on display. You’re a fish in a bowl, and everybody is on the other side of the glass just staring at you. And I always hate that because I feel like I’m a circus monkey, like “dance, monkey, dance.” They’re waiting for you to do something magnificent. [laughs]

Anne: And a lot of times you see their mouths moving but you don’t hear what they’re saying.

Gabby: No. I get that. For me it was always a little bit different because I had a radio and broadcast background so I was used to being live and being on air and having people around, but I can totally see how this could be major anxiety for someone who’s never done it before.

Anne: A long time ago when I used to host the VO Peeps live streaming events, and it was a live interview, I very well remember [laughs] getting nervous, and it does affect your performance, absolutely.

Gabby: Oh yeah. Oh no doubt. That’s how I was in the early days of my coaching. Like it’s so funny because so many of the voice actors that we work with and that coach and do different events, they will, when I say I have stage fright, they look at me like I’m nuts. I’m like, “no, no, no, there’s a good reason why I’m a voice actress.” I don’t like stage performances. I don’t like people. In the early days of conferences like VOICE and some of the early VO Atlantas, I would, like, before going on, I would be in the bathroom like probably throwing up because I was so, so just anxious and intimidated by the whole thing.

Anne: Well you know, another one of Rick’s concerns that he notes in his email, he says “if I were to get cast in a commercial from my local agent, most likely they would book me into a studio to record. If I had gone into the studio for the first time after being so comfortable from home, would I have had the same experience that I just experienced in my workout class? Would I have blown it on a job I was getting paid for, and what would that do to my reputation in this market?” He’s got a lot of valid concerns and valid questions. So what can we do, Gabby, to help us handle the situation? 

Gabby: First off I think there’s definitely something that needs to be said for if you’re pretty still new, or if you’ve just had like a massive hiatus from voiceover, and you have not been in a studio in a really long time that’s different from your own, you need to book some dang studio time, like even if it’s for nothing. Even if you have no legitimate reason to book it, book it anyway. If you take one of your own jobs and choose to record it in that environment, it’ll obviously make you a lot more comfortable and a lot more prepared in the event that you need to be booked at another studio.

Anne: Yes, and of course you want to also make sure that, it would be nice if you can get an engineer to work with you because that’s gonna simulate the experience.

Gabby: It’s mandatory. Like you have to re-create the whole environment and all of what that means to be in session.

Anne: Exactly. This doesn’t just happen to Rick, guys. This happens to even some of my students who fly to California to come record their demo, and it’s the first time that they’ve ever been in a studio. And I always have to be very prepared [laughs] to go in there and calm people down, because whether it’s a good excited or bad excited, it will change performance.

Gabby: Excited is just bad. Like I hate to say it, excited is really, really bad because either way, you’re high-strung in that moment, and then you’re just – 

Anne: You can’t breathe, you can’t think. 

Gabby: – not in control of all your faculties, yeah. It’s no bueno. We joke about it here in my office a lot. I go, it’s the [beep] it factor. You’re at your best when you’re able to just go [beep] it and just be completely cool, completely mellow about the whole thing and really in a sense not care. Then brilliance comes out of you. That’s hard to achieve though.

Anne: You may not be able to say that if you happen to be in a studio in front of the client.

Gabby: Well, no, I’m not suggesting that… That’s not what I’m saying, but in your own mind, I think that that’s an important note, but certainly if you’re somewhere you’re unfamiliar with, and you’re not comfortable, that’s a problem.

Anne: Breathing is important. That’s something that I always try to teach my students. Even sometimes if I’m stressed out from the day, if I come into my own studio if I’m high strung and stressed out, I do breathing exercises in the booth that really help, and they always, always start with breathing in for three seconds through my nose, not through my mouth, and then exhaling, you know, for the double extended time to exhale, and that seems to really calm me down. I do that more than once. So I’ll do that in a studio as well. Gosh, the last time I was in a studio, there were like eight people on the other side of the glass. There’s always that “stand by,” and then there’ll be like five minutes where you won’t hear a thing. And so you’ve got a lot of time to think, and sometimes that’s a dangerous thing. I guess – yeah. My advice is to always just really try to be in the copy, so much so that it distracts you from everything else.

Gabby: But I do think we should talk about what you just said, because that to me is the thing that I think is the most shocking for people who’ve never been in a directed session before.

Anne: [laughs] Yeah.

Gabby: In our mind we have this beautiful vision of, right, we’re gonna this delightful conversation with the client and their representatives and everybody’s gonna be really friendly, and we’re gonna go back and forth, and then they’re gonna ask us what we think, and there’s gonna be sort of pleasantries.

Anne: Yes. Doesn’t work that way usually.

Gabby: No. There are many, many times where we show up to do this job that we’re so trained for and ready for that, and that we’ve put all of this time and effort and money and investment into only to be treated like “the talent.”

Anne: The talent, yes.

Gabby: We’re not a real person. They don’t care how we feel. They don’t care what our thoughts are. They don’t want pleasantries. Everything is very almost command based, and so what can be intimidating I think for people is the engineer, because the engineer, who’s the person typically controlling the session or ultimately – 

Anne: The talkback button.

Gabby: Yeah, they’re responsible for the flow of the session.

Anne: Yes, absolutely.

Gabby: Guys, engineers are, they’re odd duckies. Ok? They mean well…

Anne: Sometimes they’re not people, people people. Like people – wait, that didn’t make sense. They’re not – 

Gabby: They’re not. I know exactly what you meant. They’re not people people. They’re, they live in a little dark room with lights and buttons all day, and they never see people, and they don’t talk to people. So engineers tend to be very curt and very direct, and it’s intimidating.

Anne: Yeah.

Gabby: I mean like, even just the fact that they go “rolling, take one.” 

Anne: Exactly.

Gabby: You’re like, “oh, that’s me, ok, I’m on,” and then you perform a take, and then you know, there’s, there’s this silence or there’s a little bit of back and forth, and then somebody barks a new direction at you and then it’s “ok, rolling, take two.” So there’s that, and then you’re right, and I think the one that becomes the single most nerve-wracking part of the whole deal is when they go, “stand by.” 

Anne: Absolutely, and then it’s dead silence.

Gabby: Oh but it’s not dead silence. Here’s the deal, you have headphones on, and this is what you hear. [breathing]

Anne: Your own breathing.

Gabby: You can hear your own heart beat. [laughs]

Anne: Yep. Absolutely.

Gabby: Yeah. It’s fun, it’s fun. People talk about like sensory deprivation, like it’s a great thing. Sensory deprivation makes me incredibly anxious. [laguhs] I went and did one of those one time, you know, the sensory deprivation tanks, you can like – it’s like saltwater, and you go and float and yeah.

Anne: Yes.

Gabby: I… had a full-blown panic attack –

Anne: [laughs]

Gabby: – in the first five minutes in this tank because you’re – 

Anne: In the tank.

Gabby: It’s horrible. And I had to like open the door. Like I was like, oh my God. It took me until probably halfway into the hour to actually get comfortable with it. It sucks for control freaks and type A’s, oh my God. The fact that you’re so acutely aware in that moment that you have zero control over what’s happening.

Anne: You’ve probably given some of the best advice, is to really book yourself a studio to work with an engineer in an environment that’s going to be very similar to this, and try to book yourself a couple of different studios, because every experience is gonna be slightly different. And I think if you do it a few times, it’s gonna definitely get you acclimated to – there’s somewhat of a similar procedure for most studios. You do a couple of mic checks, you get the copy, then maybe have them change the copy or direct you differently. That’s always good thing.

Gabby: It’s the unknowns that always create the strangest situations that we don’t prepare for. Like I’m not a sitdown performer. I never sit when I read.

Anne: Me either.

Gabby: And then if I end up being booked somewhere, and I show up, and I’m like, oh, if it’s a sit-down room and a sit-down mic, that immediately throws me. So yeah. I’ve had to learn, you know, over the years, you have to be prepared for that. You have to make yourself uncomfortable on purpose.

Anne: Oh yeah, absolutely.

Gabby: So that you can still perform through the discomfort.

Anne: I would say maybe your first experience out would be with maybe somebody you might have an acquaintance with or know, but absolutely make another one with a complete strange studio experience [laughs] that you’ve never visited before, somebody you’ve never worked with before so you can get their take and their direction. I think if you explain, “I’m getting myself out into different studios,” you could also make it as a marketing thing. [laughs] You know, where you market yourself to the studio too, because if you’re gonna pay for your time in the studio, you can absolutely leave a card at the studio.

Gabby: Studios are very big on once they see somebody in action, and they actually get a chance to work with you, and they’re more apt to consider you and think about you.

Anne: Absolutely.

Gabby: Pro tip on this, guys, when you’re booking the studio, ask them for their talent rate.

Anne: Yes.

Gabby: Because most studios have one. There’s a different rate of pay for the client versus a talent who is booking a room.

Anne: Oh yes, absolutely. 

Gabby: It can be as much as half off. What were the other things that Rick was saying about this that were really disconcerting to him? Because he sent us a really lenghty email. [laughs]

Anne: First of all, he was upset that this happened to him in a public situation. And so he said he had marked his phrasing and breathing, and he was taking breaths in the right places, but because he was so nervous, he ran out of air before he was finished. And that has happened to me quite a bit after I had my surgery, I would run out of breath quickly even though I knew where I needed to breathe. And also if I’m stressed out at the end of the day and I’m trying to finish something quickly, that will also happen to me. I’ll get short of breath. So even though you know when to breathe, you lose your breath, and that’s never usually a good thing to have happen in a performance.

Gabby: It’s not. And the only thing I can say to that, aside from what you’ve already recommended and really using breathing exercises to sort of calm yourself down and re-center, this is a conversation you can have with the engineer. You can say “listen, if I need to take an extra gap or an extra pause to really breathe, that’s ok, right?” They’ll usually say yes because that’s not something they can’t eliminate. They can’t fix the fact that you might sound like you’re running out of air at the end of a sentence, so they would rather have a gap to dispose of than a botched take.

Anne: Or also there’s nothing wrong with if you need five minutes to gather yourself and compose yourself, if you can do that at that point, you know, to do some breathing, just, you know, excuse yourself, maybe if you have to go to the restroom, and then just do some breathing exercises.

Gabby: That’s my go-to. That’s always my go-to. 

Anne: Yeah. They would so much rather that you ask for it than suffer through performance and have to do take after take after take, because that’s more work for everyone. 

Gabby: Oh yeah, no. If things get even a little weird and I’m not feeling – I’ll just go, “guys, could I have a quick bathroom break?” It’s so funny because first of all, no one ever says no.

Anne: Yeah. [laughs]

Gabby: I mean – 

Anne: That would just be mean.

Gabby: That would just a horrible.

Anne: Could you imagine? 

Gabby: It’s a little bit funny because sometimes they have a moment of like, “oh my God, did we work her too hard? Did we?” You know, the client almost starts to feel a little bit bad, or like if you go, “guys, I just really, can we stop real quick? I need some water,” same thing. They’re like, “oh my God, did anybody offer her a drink?” [laughs] 

Anne: That just brings up a really good point, Gabby, there’s something to be said for performing with confidence or even the acting of confidence, because a lot of times you’ll find that, you know, engineers are probably used to having people on the other side of the glass, but a lot of times clients, sometimes they don’t deal with voice talent all the time, and they’re bringing in, you know, Joe from marketing, who probably may have never sat in on a voice session before, and so they don’t know. The more confident, the more I think they’re gonna try to cater to you so they get the best performance from you.

Gabby: There’s something funny to be said for after a while, guys, you end up in the opposite situation which is that you get the clients who don’t ever book voice actors, are totally new to this, you’re the pro in this situation, and they’re spoon-feeding you information in a way that is absolutely excruciating. And you’re just like, “can we move it along? You know, I got it, yep, ready, yep, let’s do another take.” And they’re just dragging ass. [laughs]

Anne: “And maybe, you know, if you’re talking about to a friend.” “How about if you’re talking to – let’s say that you’re in, you’re in the car dealership, and you know, your mother comes in and is talking about the car, and then your sister comes in, and then you’ll be talking to” – I’ve had it go on and on and on.

Gabby: Oh yeah. Oh yeah. “And then when you get to the end of the sentence, really, really make sure you smile.” [laughs]

Anne: “Sure, sure I could do that.” [laughs] I just, “yes, of course, absolutely.” I’m gonna say at this point, saying less is better than saying more as the talent. Unless you need a break – 

Gabby: Don’t volunteer. [laughs]

Anne: Exactly. Don’t volunteer.

Gabby: Don’t volunteer more ideas or information. It only backfires.

Anne: Unless they seem to be having trouble communicating, you know, what they want for an additional take, and then you can maybe say, “you know, how about I try it like this?” You don’t want to play too much with that, where you’re being too helpful or starting to direct them because remember you’re hired by them. So you need to listen to them rather than, don’t turn it into some job where you’re telling them what to do. 

Gabby: We never know what’s happening in the other person’s world. Different personalities – we never knew. We never knew who had a bad day, or who’s got, you know, an issue at home.

Anne: And maybe they’re talking about lunch. You don’t know.

Gabby: Anything. There’s so many factors.

Anne: They could be talking about anything there, when they don’t have the talkback on, and you’re not hearing them, you’ve no idea what’s going on.

Gabby: I have one client who, he seems so mean. He intimidated the hell out of me at our first couple of sessions because he was just sarcastic and kind of weird, and I was like, “oh boy.” And then I just get the hang of it, and I was like “oh, this is just him. This is just who he is.” Once I got used to it, it was no big deal. I stopped creating a narrative that wasn’t there.

Anne: Don’t create a narrative that isn’t there.

Gabby: But it’s so hard when it’s “stand by.” [laughs]

Anne: It is. It’s very hard to not freak out.

Gabby: Your brain has nothing to do but run away with itself. [laughs]

Anne: If you start thinking on the surface about, “oh, how many people are watching, how many people are listening, how many people are there, how many takes did they just ask you for,” that can just build up a panic attack in your brain. Really just try to focus on your breathing and focus on the content. I think if you can just try to focus on the copy, to try to distract yourself from thinking negative thoughts, I think that’s gonna help a whole lot.

Gabby: That, and I’ll also say, if it’s at all possible, if you do find yourself in the fishbowl, in the type of studio that I’m talking about, where you’re like, you know, the zoo animal on display, see if it’s possible to turn your back on the window, because I’m telling you now, the comings and goings of other people, what you can see, but not hear will drive you mad. And it really can play tricks on you.

Anne: That’s a great piece of advice, Gabby.

Gabby: Yeah, if you can turn your back on it and not even see them, just do everything exactly like you do from your home studio, where you’re just hearing it, oh, so much easier. 

Anne: Or even just a 45 degree angle, right, so it doesn’t look like you’re deliberately putting your back to them.

Gabby: Right. I had a studio owner one time walk in. [laughs] I was mid-take, he walked into the control room. I’ve no – still to this day, I don’t know what he said, I don’t know what they were talking about. I just know he slapped his knee and started cracking up laughing.

Anne: [laughs]

Gabby: And I was like, “oh my God, he’s making fun of me.”

Anne: In the middle of your take? 

Gabby: In the middle of my take. So my entire, of course, reaction was then that I was being made fun of.

Anne: Wow. 

[both laugh] 

Anne: I did have one engineer in one session who kept trying to direct the client to what he wanted me to do, which was really crazy. 

Gabby: Yeah, I’ve seen that before. Oh wow.

Anne: The session took twice as long as it should have because the engineer kept second-guessing my take. “Ok, let’s do a second one, let’s do a third one for safety,” so two or three takes of every line was really starting to get to me performance-wise. I was getting tired, I was really getting annoyed and I was like trying not to show my annoyance in my performance. That was tough.

Gabby: If they’ve exhausted me of takes, and I have nothing left to give, I just start going very flat with the line, and I just repeat the same read on purpose, two or three times in a row, because inevitably they’ll move on. They’ll move on because they’re like “we’re not getting anything different now, so let’s just go to the next section.” You think? Good idea.

Anne: I have no takes left to give. 

Gabby: No takes.

Anne: I have no takes left to give. 

[both laugh] 

Anne: There’s a good one.

Gabby: I’ll also say this too about working in other studios because I can see how this could be intimidating to people. The equipment is not yours. There’s always the weird, like “oh my God, I’m in front of a U87. It’s a $3600 microphone.” You’re not gonna hurt the equipment. You’re probably the 700th person to be at that microphone. It’s ok.

Anne: And we know that we should never touch. You don’t want to be rearranging the mic.

Gabby: No, no, no, no, no, you let the engineer do that.

Anne: In another person’s studio, that’s a no-no.

Gabby: But at the same token, I don’t know about you, Anne, but I do this when I go into a new studio just to get comfortable. Thi was by the way hilarious in your booth. I’ll do like a circular, like a 360 with my arms so I can get a sense of my space. 

Anne: You can’t do that here.

Gabby: So I can get the spatial – no, your booth, my arms came up, and my elbows hit wall, and I was like, “what the hell is this?” [laughs]

Anne: It’s a little booth, but it sounds amazing.

Gabby: It does sound amazing, but holy crap is it teeny-weeny. But no, typically in a recording studio, you’re gonna have a much more open space than you’re used to.

Anne: Oh absolutely.

Gabby: So it’s nice. Like stretch out a little bit.

Anne: Enjoy it.

Gabby: Yeah, get your arms over your head, bend, do a little booth yoga. Take control of that space that you have.

Anne: Booth yoga absolutely helps. I’ve been known to do that in between takes. Prior to beginning, I’ll stretch. Well, what a great topic, and I’d like to thank Rick for – 

Gabby: Yeah.

Anne: Yeah, bringing this to our attention and allowing us to talk about it in our podcast, because boy, this has been fun.

Gabby: Yeah. And for like, putting it out there and being honest, I think that’s super awesome of him, and guys, if you have a similar experience or story, share it with us. Your moment, whatever that thing was that caused you a lot of stress or anxiety, it can totally help somebody else in this industry.

Anne: You know what, Gabby, that’s deserving, deserving of a BOSS mug for sure.

Gabby: Aww. It is.

Anne: He did, he came forward and he shared, and he’s able to help us, help our listeners. All right, guys, have a great week, and we’ll see you next week.

Gabby: Bye!

Anne: Bye!

Announcer: Join us next week for another edition of VO BOSS with your hosts Anne Ganguzza and Gabby Nistico. All rights reserved, Anne Ganguzza Voice Talent in association with Three Moon Media. Redistribution with permission. Coast–to–coast connectivity via ipDTL