How Playing Poker Can Make You a Better Performer

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Poker is not an uncommon hobby for musicians. It’s easy to play on the road, it’s a simple go-to in a band member’s home following a practice session, and it’s a fitting activity for people who tend to be pretty social (at least within their own circles!).

Beyond being a common and logical hobby for people in music though, poker can also be a recreational training tool. More specifically, the game can actually instill some habits that might just make you a better performer on stage.

The Benefits of Prep & Practice

It may sound simple, but preparation and practice are some of the most important factors to a good performance. It’s true with virtually any task that the more you’ve prepared and practiced, the more sure of yourself you’ll feel. And the more sure of yourself you feel, the less likely you’ll be to experience stage fright! Of course, playing poker does not prepare you for a stage performance. But if you play somewhat regularly, you will have a fairly tangible example of how much practice and preparation can help you in general.

Each hand of poker you play is practice, and it’s not uncommon for amateur players to recognize progress from one game to the next. The benefits of practice aren’t always so clear as this, which makes poker a reassuring demonstration. If practicing your game makes you a better player, you may be more motivated to practice performance in search of a similar benefit.

Learning to Read Others

Here’s something fascinating you may not have heard before (or at least we hadn’t heard until recently): Musicians and audiences actually sync their brain activity during performances. This was the finding of a study summarized at Minnpost.com, and it suggests that there is actually a neural connection between performers and listeners — and that it’s stronger when the listeners are enjoying the show.

If this is indeed true, it speaks to the phenomenon of artists and audiences being on the same page — which, neural connections aside, is something skilled performers can actually bring about through psychological understanding as well. Knowing how to “read” an audience enables performers to adjust their actions and try to bring the crowd along, and it’s absolutely another skill that can be developed at the poker table. The environment might not be similar, but there’s a massive psychological component to poker. Players learn how to read other people, and it’s a skill that goes a long way even when the objective isn’t just to catch a bluff. Good poker players become discerning people, and a discerning person may well have a better read on a live audience.

Not Getting Too High

No, not that kind of high (although avoiding that for performances is probably a good idea also). What we’re talking about here is the idea of not getting ahead of yourself just because something goes well. It’s something all good card players figure out at one point or another. Basking in the glory of a good game, a lucky break, or a successful bluff is a great way to lose focus on the rest of the game. Players learn to stay level-headed whether things are going well or poorly, never getting too high before the end of a game. Honing this kind of tendency should help you on stage as well.

In a Poker.org write-up on next level strategy tips, skilled players engage in self-reflection at the end of each session. Win or lose, they go home and think back to the biggest hands they played. By reflecting on what they did well or could have done better, they constantly improve their performance. So while it’s a good thing to show some excitement while you’re on stage, you don’t want to let yourself be so thrilled over nailing a song that you lose focus on the next one. It’s important to stay level — internally at least — until the end of a show, and polish your set after.

Concealing Mistakes

“If you don’t show it, they won’t know it.” This is a concept artists ought to be more open about. The bottom line is, we all mess up! Even the world’s best musicians can strike an errant chord. But the great ones are able to do so without missing a beat, so to speak. Harping on a mistake — even for half a second — clues the audience into it, and messes up rhythm, confidence, and everything else. In fact, a study from the University of Arizona found that when humans make certain types of mistakes, the size of their pupils change — clueing others into what’s going on with us. Fortunately, this particular ‘tell’ and our brains are controllable, but not completely.

The best thing you can do is to conceal a mistake and move right along. This too is the same in poker. Whenever and however possible, players learn to hide their errors, conceal bad cards they’ve bluffed with, and so on, in the effort to maintain an outward expression of confidence. Don’t give your game away by letting other people see your ‘tells’.

Poker is not the only way to learn these skills. But it is somewhat striking how much you can learn from the game that can actually make you a more effective performer. Not a bad deal given that playing poker tends to be a lot of fun also! For more life and career tips, visit Zakoom.com regularly for our latest insights.

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