This is a story of two Colins.
The first, I’ll call Colin Rhys. The second, I’ll call Colin Jones.
Colin Rhys, a self-described “big introvert”, is a special-needs teacher. He prefers to work alone or one-on-one. He suffers terrible anxiety when his work requires him to present to a group of colleagues. His heart races; indeed, he says he is “terrified of the group”.
Softly spoken, Colin barely makes himself heard by those at the back of a group. If they could hear him, in all likelihood they would become frustrated.
It’s not that Colin Rhys is ill-prepared. Quite the reverse – he prepares too much detail. “I’m all around the houses,” Colin says “never getting to the point.” This is how Colin’s anxiety manifests itself.
Colin Jones, on the other hand, is the consummate performer. I first met this Colin at rehearsals for Prima’s stage musical, My Fair Lady. Colin’s Colonel Pickering was a commanding force on stage, confidently delivering his lines with the firm assurance and timing of a seasoned professional.
And its not surprising once you hear Colin Jones’ story. With a family background in entertainment, Colin has been singing in public since the age of 14, starting in workers’ clubs in his native Wales.
He performs in a range of styles, at weddings and other functions, and on the concert stage. At home with a microphone in his hand – no nervousness, no anxiety. When Colin says he will sing “at the drop of a hat”, and loves it, you know he speaks from the heart.
By now you may have worked out that Colin Rhys and Colin Jones are one and the same – Colin Rhys-Jones, the introverted teacher suffering dreadful anxiety when speaking to a group; the confident singer, at ease on the stage, a microphone in his hand and a smile on his lips.
Having regarded solo public singing as the last frontier of performance anxiety, which I did not confront until in my fifties, I found it fascinating that Colin fears public speaking, even to a small group, but loves public singing. “What is the secret to your fear-free singing?” I asked.
Before I tell you his answer, I must tell you that Colin is probably the most modest, self-effacing person I know.
So his reply came as a surprise: “Singing is not a risk. I know I’m good,” Colin said. And “Good” Colin certainly is when it comes to singing. In fact, much more than good.
But the key seems to be not only being good, but also believing it. Colin’s statement that there is no risk with his singing comes from 30 plus years of experience. What’s more, Colin has his own particular style; he is not trying to be someone else – just Colin Rhys-Jones, the boy from Wales, doing what he loves. It is clear that he is very at ease in his singing skin.
What are the lessons from Colin’s story? I would suggest the following.
First, don’t assume that a person who appears confident in one context does not suffer from anxiety in another. We can be confident speakers and performers in one context and deeply anxious in another.
Secondly, self-belief matters, if grounded in a solid foundation of authenticity – built on confidence in your material and practised delivery.
But, of course, this doesn’t satisfactorily explain why Colin sings with no anxiety but fears public speaking. He is a dedicated teacher who confesses to over-preparing for presentations – he knows his material.
Nor is it a simple case of a shy introvert who manages to control anxiety sufficiently to sing. Sure, there’s an adrenalin rush before a performance, but nothing approaching performance anxiety – Colin loves to entertain with his singing.
Nor is Colin a social phobic covering with public performances. Many Friday afternoons you will find him at his local tavern, engaged in conversation with a group of mates, drawing in newcomers, plainly at ease and relaxing at the end of another demanding week (if the week ever ends for our hardworking teachers).
The truth is many people are relaxed and assured in some performance contexts but anxious in others. In my own experience, I can speak with assurance to an audience of 100 plus professionals, but still clam up in a group of half a dozen or so if the dynamics are right to trigger this reaction.
If you would like to comment on this story, or tell me your story, I would love to hear from you in the comments section, or on 0421 612 756, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And don’t forget to check out Colin’s singing at www.thesinger.org. You won’t be sorry.