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There are quite a few posts here on the board about having shaky hands. I thought about replying with my thoughts to them but there are quite a few so I figured I'd just start another one with my advice and thoughts on the issue. I figured this would be easier then posting it in all the other conversations about it.

As some of you know I've been doing some writing about some of my thoughts in magic. IF you do an advanced search for my name in the "new to magic" section you'll find the ones I've already posted. So example I posted one titled "Don't be a clone" and this was an excerpt from the writing I've been doing.

Well I wrote another one about having the shakes. Like the others I've posted this is a rough graph and if I ever put these writings together and publish them I'll have them edited and corrected. But I hope this is clear enough and someone finds it helpful.


The Shakes
Overcoming Nervousness

Iím waiting in a hallway of a town hall for them to be finished with their presentation of the corporate dinner party. As soon as they are done handing out the awards and giving their speeches theyíll be introducing me to do a short parlor act. Iíve been rehearsing for this show for a few months now. Iíve ran through the entire acts so many times I know it like the back of my hand. Just earlier today I went through the entire act a few times for some of my friends and family members. Each time I did the act I was flawless. Not one thing went wrong so I knew I was ready for this show.

Because of this I canít understand why I feel so strange. My hands, forehead and even my shirt are soaked in sweat. I take a peak around the corner and see the hall full of about 100 people listening intently to the speaker on the stage. I notice the table that was full of trophies and plaques a few minutes ago is almost empty. Iíll be introduced any minute now. I hide my head back behind the wall Iím leaning against and I suddenly feel a hot flash. I feel like I might even get sick. I see a drinking fountain a few yards away from me and walk over to take a drink. Just then someone pokes their head around the corner and waves me over. This is it. Itís time for me to go up their in front of all these strangers. I grab a ball from my pocket and try to palm it in my right hand because this is where it needs to be for my opening trick. This isnít an easy task because my hands are so sweaty. I wipe my palms on the pants and try again. I can hold it now but itís not a very secure palm. I just hope I donít drop it on the way to the stage.

I make it to the stage and the music begins to play. My first routine is a multiplying balls routine. I do a little manipulation to the one single ball then steal the shell. Iím ready to make the ball multiply for the first time. I just barely pull it off without the ball dropping. As I do the next move where I load another ball into the shell I drop the first ball I produced. Luckily it wasnít the one with in the shell. During the course of the multiplying balls routine I drop two balls on the floor but luckily the shell wasnít exposed.

I drop all of the eight balls into my hat except the last one. I turn this one into a white silk then produce a candle from it. I reach under my lapel and pull the match out of the gimmick. It lights as itís suppose to but when I reach up to light the candle my hands are shaking so bad it takes me a few seconds to get it lit. I produce a second candle and when I try to light it off the first one my hands are shaking again. I try with all my might but for some reason my muscles just wonít allow me to touch the tips of the candles together. I give up on it and move on to vanishing the candles. After they are gone I turn the silk into a cane. Produce a hat and take a little bow as the music does down. My audience gives a round of applause but I donít feel Iíve really earned it. With the manipulation portion of my act finished I go onto the rest of my show.

The rest of the show is a series of routines that involve audience members to come up and assist me. By the time I got my first volunteer to come up and join me I started to feel a little better. My hands didnít seem to be shaking as much and I started to feel a little more confident. When this act was over and my volunteer was heading back to his seat while the audience gave us there applaud. I felt completely at ease. The rest of the show went on just as I had hoped it would for the last few months. It ended with a very generous applaud and I received many compliments after the show. They even booked me again for the fallowing year.

Sound familiar to you? Maybe youíve had a similar experience to the above true story that happened to me years ago. Yours might not have been as drastic as that but most performers get the shakes from time to time. I still get them but Iíve been performing long enough to have a little more confidence in myself now.

Thatís the key to overcoming nervousness. Notice I say ďovercomeĒ and not ďget rid ofĒ it. Even the most advanced performers can get a little nervous. If you donít believe that then ask your favorite magician if theyíve ever been nervous during or before a show. Most of them will smile at their own embarrassment as they tell the story of their horrifying memory. They smile because looking back we realize how funny some of the things where and how far weíve come since then. The point is just about everyone goes through this at some point and most of us deal with it a number of times. We now have the confidence in ourselves because weíve been up in front of an audience and succeeded. We know we can do it because weíve already proven to ourselves that we can. Itís not about proving it to others. Itís about proving it to your self. But how can someone get that kind of confidence? The simple answer to that question is you have to keep trying until you find what works for you.

If you reread my storey above youíll notice that the moment I started to do what I felt more comfortable doing I stopped feeling nervous. In my case it was the manipulation portion of the show that gave me trouble. I now know better then to open with a manipulation act because it isnít my strong point. I donít have the confidence in myself when doing that kind of act. If I really wanted to I could go out and try to build my confidence in that area but I come to realize that itís not my style. In a way I have done that because I have performed manipulation acts since then without getting too nervous. But Iíve found what works for me so I no longer do manipulation acts. It just doesnít fit me anymore. Someone else might feel more comfortable doing that manipulation act then an interactive act. It all depends on the individual.

Iím the best (Your name) performer in the world!
The above statement is what my mind says about myself when I feel the nervousness build up inside of me. It doesnít state that I think Iím better then anyone else. Iím not even comparing myself to anyone else. I just need to feel that no one in the world can do what I do better then I can. No one can do the ďRon JaxonĒ show but me. And Iím *** good at it!

This is the kind of mindset that will help you overcome that nervousness. Thinking about this isnít really enough. You have to really believe itís true. Some people have a hard time thinking of themselves this way because they feel theyíre putting others down in the process. They feel itís wrong to think that highly of them selves. But thereís nothing wrong with having this kind of self-confidence. In fact itís actually quite healthy. If you can honestly feel this about yourself then you can literally accomplish anything.

Think of a performer you admire. Someone well known in the magic worlds that youíve seen perform a number of times (live or on TV). As you watch them perform do you get the feeling that they have every bit of confidence in themselves? Can you even picture them nervous? Chances are it would be hard to imagine that because they never show nervousness. All they show is what they do best. Which is, of course, their act. They know they can do their act and they also know that no one can do their act better then they can. Some audience members might like someone elseís act better then theirs but that someone else could never do their act better then they can. Know without a doubt that you have the ability to give your spectators the experience youíve planned for them.

This all sounds too easy doesnít it? In truth itís not easy at all. Itíll take some people, such as myself, years to reach this kind of self-confidence and I still struggle with it from time to time. Iíve performed on stage for a few hundred people and had no trouble at all. Yet I recently performed for a group of about 50 fourth grade kids and got the shakes. Itís a constant struggle for some of us but it can be overcome. Donít let one experience hold you back. Use them to improve.

If youíre really having a hard time with this then here are a few other suggestions.

∑ Do what you know you can do.
Always start your show with something youíve done many times before. Something you know you can do well and have succeeded with before.

∑ Keep it simple
Donít start your show with things that require a lot of skill to pull off. I know that might seem like a short cut but if you try to open a show with something thatís very hard to pull off then itíll add to the nervousness. My story above in a perfect example. As an inexperienced performer at the time I should have never opened a show with something so involved as the multiplying ball. If I had started the show with something that was a little easier for me then I might have been able to find my rhythm and timing and more importantly my confidence during that opening sequence and overcame my nervousness. You need to give yourself time to do that.

∑ Move on from mistakes
The fear of making a mistake is what usually brings on the nervousness. Even when we arenít nervous a mistake can bring the nervousness on in full force. The best thing to do when a mistake occurs is to move on to something you know you are confident enough not to make another mistake on. Quite often audience members will forget about the mistake and maybe even think it was a planned one.

∑ An extreme solution
This is a possible thing to try for those who have a very serious problem with nervousness. Why not build on your nervousness? Believe it or not this can actually help you overcome your nervousness. Just flat out tell your audience that you are nervous. Maybe even do an act based on it. I even know one guy who made a little gimmick that makes it look like he peeíd his pants. The simple fact that you tell them youíre nervous will make them wonder if itís just part of the act. By the time they stop wondering you might not even be nervous anymore. Why not, we magicians are known for being ďhonest liarsĒ. Smile

Ron Jaxon

After regaining my ability to hear after 20 years of deafness. I learned that there is magic all around you. The simplest sounds that amazed me you probably ignore. Look and listen around you right now. You'll find something you didn't notice before.
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Thanks for the post. Your advice will probably help me out.

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Just imagine yourself in your underwear, kid.
Or maybe you're supposed to imagine them in their underwear. Can't remember.
But the first way works for me! Smile
'The central secret of conjuring is a manipulation of interest.' - Henry Hay
Brad Burt
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When you spend 32 years behind a magic counter selling to countless 'newbies' this is a question that you get over and over and over. Folks get nervous, fight or flight kicks in and the adrenal rush causes you to shake.

First, note that the 'shaking' is totally natural. Understand? It is just chemicals in your blood, that's all. It doesn't say anything about YOU except that you are normal.

Second, stand with you feet about six inches beyond should width on both sides. Now, bend over as if you are trying to touch the floor with your head, but just RELAX. Dangle your arms and hands towards the floor, but don't touch the floor. Relax. Breathe slowly and evenly. Legs slightly bent. This is a basic Bioenergetics exercise for releaving stress and anxiety. Now, after about 1-2 mintues come up slowly. Feel better?

Third, get over the natural anxiety that performing magic produces in everyone at the start by doing a REALLY good, but basically bombproof trick. Before you have to worry about getting caught get some experience just doing some good magic that you basically CAN'T get caught at. Get those toes wet, etc. I heartily suggest a trick that I just re-released by Nick Brown called Wonderland Dollar. A favorite of Doc Eason by the way! You can check it out there.

This is, right now, the only trick I carry with me all the time. It kills. That's it. Do the above and you'll find yourself doing magic with the best of them in no time. Shakes will go away and you'll be tackling the 'real work' of beginning to upper level sleights, etc. Best,
Brad Burt
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Brad Burt:

Thanks for the post. I've performed for years but only recently got the shakes! What's up with that? I will take your advice to heart.

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I appreciate these threads. I've been hampered in the past by "the shakes" as well especially when demonstrating a new trick. It helps to know it's not just me.

It's weird because I don't get stage fright like others. I have no problem getting up and performing. I've played in bands and played solo. I've acted in plays. I've given talks, presentations, and other things in front of large groups of people. But doing a magic trick, that's when the shakes occur.

My best guess as to why is because unlike almost any of the other things, a good, convincing magic effect often leaves little room for error. So I go into hyper-sensitive mode and that's where the shakes unconsciously arrive.
Brad Burt
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Vis-a-vis 'The Shakes' magic is almost unique in the performing arts. Consider that if you blow a bad note on a horn, or you miss a line in a play, etc. ... Generally that is not going to cause any great harm to either the music piece or the play. Things go on and in many cases it is expected. Stuff goes wrong in may performing arts, but the 'illusion' as such is not harmed. I'm assuming the performance otherwise is at a high level.

But, 'magic', ah, there's a totally situation. Screw up a magic trick and by definition the 'illusion' is gone. The whole point of the performance is gone. Magic by the nature of the beast fosters a greater degree of paranoia and thus a greater probability that one will go into the flight or fight response and start pumping that ole adrenilin and thus start shaking. The shaking is a response to the chemical in you body causing your muscles to twitch. Some folks can handle a greater amount than others, etc.

The point of this is that it is referential. You 'think' that screwing up a magic trick is MORE important than it really is and thus starts a vicious circle. The thought of screwing up makes you nervous which causes you to screw up which makes you more nervous which causes you to screw you and on and on it goes.

For the years I taught classes in the magic schools I ran I found that the following worked nearly 100% of the time to alleviate this problem: You have to see magic for what it IS not what you think it is. Magic is the coolest performing craft in the world. But, if you get busted NOTHING in the world will change. It's not like inventing a new anti-viral and saving millions of lives. It's not like coming up with some way to feed millions. It's fun, but it's not significant. I love magic, but I LOVE my family.

Ask yourself what will happen if you mess up a trick. You might be embarrassed, but you have to reason to be. It happens, so what? Will anyone die or not die? Nope.

The point of this is not to give you an EXCUSE to fail, but a REASON TO RELAX SO THAT YOU DO NOT FAIL. See the point? My best shows were always those that I was relaxed and just didn't care if I messed up. Result? I didn't mess up. My muscles were loose and relaxed and they did what I had trained them for thousands of hours to do without stuttering or shaking. I rode that sublime and almost transcendent experience called performers high for all it was worth and ended up with the best performances. Note that I didn't WANT to screw up, I just didn't care. If I had I would have found some way out of it up to and including making a joke at my own expense and moving on like a pro is supposed to do. Only an amateur acknowledges that they made a mistake. In me experience 99.5% of the time you can recover in such manner that the audience never knows that you DID make a mistake. It's the fear of making a mistake that is the thing you want to avoid.

Why? Because it does not help. What possible advantage is there to being fearful in a performance situation? None. Relax and have yourself a great time and thereby make sure that your spectators have a great time also! Take care,
Brad Burt
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Just wondering if Wonderland Dollar by Nick Brown can be tailored to be used in British note form.
Thanks GG
Brad Burt
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Yes, Wonderland Dollar can be used with almost any currency unless it is too square. But, it can be a struggle to work out the folds just right. I'm working on helping a client in the U.K. figure it out now. Best,
Brad Burt
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Profile of JenofNM
Thank you for the post. That was a lot of information and very helpful. The shakes is a real problem for me as I use animals in my act. Wish I had nervs like Dorothy Dietrich or Maria Gara when they preform. I watch males preform and no there is no way for me to emulate that nor can I use much from Jade as well my style is way to well not like her. Looking for some advice from the male or female side of ideas to use the "magic suaveness" in a female way that does not just lean towards sexual prose. Lance Burton has his Good ol' Boy theme down. I don't think that would help me. Sure sexy is good somtimes but not for a bunch of kids in a hospital. I don't want to fall back on silly girl or sexy girl acts as those are limiting looking for new hooks and to help me get over fear as I somtimes use animals, and let us just say they have felt the shakes and responded in turn. Any gals or guys with ideas for stage persona hooks that work for them? I am open to ideas and could use help. Kinda new to the whole forum world also so help posting welcomed to. How do I start a topic? Ok kinda feeling odd here so I will stop now.
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Dear JenofNM

Quote from you:
"Wish I had nerves like Dorothy Dietrich or Maria Gara when they preform."

You ask about character. I have found for me the best is not do anything but be myself. I do not try to be "sexy", or perform like any one else, male or female. I just go out and do my thing. I talk to my audience like they were friends or family. The way I kid and joke with friends and family is the way I do in in front of an audience.

Do as many shows as you can. Do them for all levels, kids, seniors, families, adults, etc. There is nothing to be afraid of. Remember your fear is only a strong desire to do well. This is a good thing. Turn that nervous energy to your advantaqe, and use that energy to show your audience your love and excitement for them and your art.


Dorothy Dietrich
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Just thought I'd add on some thoughts to this topic. I definitely suffer from the shakes when performingm which is a b*tch when trying to work a deck of cards!

As a professional martial arts and self defence instructor, I teach students about adrenaline, its causes and effects and how to deal with it. The vast majority of effective self defence techniques rely on gross motor action (large body movements) rather than fine motor action (finger movements, complex movements) as these are very difficult to pull off under the influence of adrenaline. One of the reasons for this has to do with the mechanism of adrenaline as a survival system; it is a natural rocket fuel, making you faster, stronger and raising your pain threshold. Another function of the adrenal response is to draw blood away from the extremities - fingers, lower legs, head etc. - resulting in hand shakes, leg shakes, the "white face" appearance, difficulty thinking or remembering etc.

Public performance is interpreted by your body as a "life or death" situation, and the adrenaline kicks in. So, hanging with your head and arms below your heart makes perfect sense, as it encourages the blood back into these areas. This is an option pre-performance - not so much in a self defence scenario! Interestingly, the adrenal response does not seem to be too sophisticated; reducing symptoms can often fool the body into calming down.

In the martial arts we teach students to use an "action trigger" - a word, phrase or action which you have programmed through repetition (practise, practise, practise anyone?) to trigger a specific action. A self defence version of this is using the phrase "BACK OFF!" to trigger a strike towards the attacker's face, in order to bypass the social conditioning telling you not to hit. A magic equivalent is practising patter along with everything else, and having phrases and actions in the patter cover for and prepare you for the actions you need to carry out. For instance, speaking the name of a spectator in a close up card act could act as a sensible trigger for a top change, as this will naturally encourage eye contact between you and them, and encourage the rest of the audience to look at your chosen spectator. In this example, the use of an "action trigger" is serving the dual purpose of triggering a sleight (through repetitive programming/practise) and misdirecting it. The triggering mechanism in the body does not rely on a decision making process and so it is less affected by the adrenal response.

Fine motor action will be compromised, and so the well-known advice of "do something easy/self working first" is well given - it gives you a chance to relax, to convince your body to turn off the adrenaline and regain your fine motor co-ordination.

I could go on and on, but I just thought a different perspective may be interesting.

"You don't go up to strangers with a stick and come at their head...introduce yourself first, then come at them with a stick." - David Williamson
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A couple of books that might be useful... I've used these to help get over nerves with giving presentations and talks but I think some of you might find them useful for performing magic:

Feel the fear and do it anyway - Susan Jeffers


Fear, the friend of exceptional people - Geoff Thompson

Hope some of you find them as useful as I have Smile

Learn as if you would live forever... as if you would die tomorrow.
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I don't know if this will be practical for you or not, but I used to have trouble performing or just speaking at public events. I took a public speaking course, and they video'd us doing a speech. I was nervous as usual, my voice felt like it was cracking, and I had the shakes all over, and this was just in front of my 10 fellow classmates and the instructor.

But when I watched the video, it was obvious that no one else could tell I was nervous. I couldn't even see the external signs of shaking and nervousness that I *knew* must be there.

Knowing that my nervousness wasn't showing made a huge impact on my ability to actually relax, and I've never had a problem since. So if there is a way for you to video one of your performances, maybe it will help you the same way.

Eric Dittelman
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As a musician, I used to a experience a lot of stage fright when performing. As Brad Burt stated above, it all stems from the "fight or flight" instict we all have. When we're nervous or scared or unprepared, our bodies naturally react to that fear and the shaking is telling us to "get the hell out of here" and RUN!. To over come the flight part of "fight or flight" my teacher told me to shake out the parts of me that were shaking the most, or run in place, or do jumping jacks just so you can appease your body's natural instinct of wanting to move. Once you do this, the shakes are literally out of your system.

The other best way to avoid the "shakes" as many of you above stated is to "fight". Fighting means accepting your situation and putting in your best effort. If you have confidence in yourself, you'll be able to overcome any nerves. Confidence can come from hours of practicing to make sure your prepared, but it also comes from experience of performing live over and over again. The more you perform the easier it will become.

Lastly, if you still can't find any confidence in yourself, trick yourself into thinking your confident. Ask yourself "How would I act or how would I want this performance to go if I was confident in myself and wasn't nervous?" By acting out the "if" rather than the "must" you can fool yourself and your natural body instincts.

Hope this helps!

-Eric D.
Lee Darrow
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If you watch the Star Trek Blooper reel, especially the parts with Riker & Picard, you will see them BOTH do a "shake out" before the clapper falls and the scene starts. This helps them "stay loose" for the scene.

Basic acting technique.

in fact - try TAKING an acting class or six. This is a GREAT way to get over the shakes because you will be performing almost every day, getting critiqued on your work and improving, steadily.

Just a thought...

Lee Darrow, C.H.
<BR>"Because NICE Matters!"
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VERY VERY insightful thread!

To me, some stange but at least explicable things happen:

1) I don't care much if I will make any mistake BUT mainly if someone will catch something that resembles the secret of the effect...
Solution(s) to this: I think it serves very well to incorporate more than one secrets in your effect so the mind of the spectator will come to a dead-end or get confused enough to come up with a logical solution...

2) I many times worry (given my 32 years of age), that some people will consider my work on magic something silly and senseless (why do you do magic if it doesn't't bring you money... etc etc)...
Solution(s) to this: possibly doing apparently impromptu magic...

3) The craziest of all is that when I practise and rehearse strongly an effect, then I really "invest" in it so when I perform it, I may shake and my heart may be ready to escape from my body... On the other hand, if I just perform with almost no rehersal, then my body is pretty ok (my performance however isn't the best)...
Solution(s) to this: I decided to rehearse some effects strongly enough and then leave them aside for 1-2 weeks before preforming them... I try this now so I don't know how will it play...

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Andy the cardician
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Aware, that is indeed strange . . . . a reversal shake

Cards never lie
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I don't know how you guys do it all day! I can take a case to trial with only a little bit of nerves, but doing "B'Wave" for a stranger, and I'm fighting off a panic attack! As Jeff McBride told me "just keep doing small effects for different people, and it gets easier and easier." I do believe that this aspect of magic is not discussed among magicians very much and I have enjoyed reading the comments in this topic!

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I just came across this thread and there is lots of great advice in here.

I too have had the shakes for no apparent reason to me Smile I felt fine, didn't feel nervous, etc... but the next thing I know my hands are shaking a little and at the end of the routine I notice my heart is thumping away.

I am definitely going to think about the tips posted in here next time I go to perform for someone.
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