Practicing for Performances
Most students do not listen to themselves sufficiently during practice; they often practice as if on auto-pilot. This does not mean that you can put yourself on auto-pilot for a performance in the hopes that you can perform like you did during practice. You can't just run with a piece of music and expect the audience to follow you; if you did, you will lose them because they will sense that the music is not communicating. The correct way is to listen to your own music (always) and to let your music lead you -- that is the only way it is going to attract the audience's attention. During a performance, your music will always lead you, whether you let it or not; this is why students who make mistakes become so depressed and the depression makes it harder to play well. On the other hand, if you get a good start, the audience will be drawn in, and the music will feed on itself and the performance becomes much easier. For the music to lead you, you must not just listen to the music coming out of the piano; you must first play it mentally and to anticipate what you want to produce.
Lowering your expectations generally means playing a little slower than your practice speeds and paying more attention to every note. As we saw earlier, playing slowly is not necessarily easier, and this illustrates the importance of slower practice. Remember that the audience hasn't heard this piece hundreds of times like you have and so are not as familiar with every detail; chances are, it will sound much faster to them than to you. And you will need to spoon feed every note to them or they won't hear it. During practice you will probably even hear notes that you missed, as if you had played it correctly, because you know that it is supposed to be there. Clearly, the science of performing is complex and experienced performers can give you plenty of useful advice.