Successful Singing Secrets

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successfulspeakingOn Tuesday I participated in a teleseminar on Chris Davidson’s book Successful Speaking Secrets Quick Reference, which was published at the end of last year. Chris became a full-time public speaker and speaking coach about 8 years ago, when he could no longer bear the dire quality of most of the presentations he had been witnessing in industry. He has made it his life’s mission to inveigle business leaders of the world into becoming interesting to listen to.

I had a direct interest in the subject as a presenter (and one with opinions, indeed). But I also found myself applying his ideas to the roles of the musical performer and the conductor as we went through. After all, being interesting to listen to is a useful quality for a musician to have, too. My impressions are a little miscellaneous as yet – this post is about rummaging through the plethora of things that caught my attention, but I think there are also a couple of Big Ideas that may emerge as posts in their own right when I’ve had time to live with them for a while.

  • A central theme for Chris is defining the purpose of a presentation, which he articulates in terms of specifying what you want your listeners to do in response. He contrasts the speaker’s role as a persuader with, say, a rock concert, where you come home emotionally excited, but without any sense of having a call to action. His critique of motivational speakers who get people feeling great but don’t get them to do anything in response resonated with my recent thoughts on the challenges of coaching: any idiot can be inspirational, it’s making lasting change that counts.

    But I also wondered if the performing musician’s task was as empty and fleeting as the comparison between presentations and concerts suggested – it may indeed be useful to think what kind of call to action a performance may have. What do I want my listeners to do as a result of this performance? Weep? Buy the CD? Go out and join a choir?

  • Early on, he made a passing comment that it’s useful to think of the voice and the ear as a single system. The context was of understanding the physiology of communication, as a means to ensure you can always be heard from the back of the room. But I think it works nicely as a model for the psychology of communication too to think of the ear not merely as passive recipient of the voice’s sounds, but as their motivator and regulator. It is the ear’s desire that calls forth the voice.
  • When asked by the interviewer whether he preferred speaking or writing, Chris suggested that the two have to go hand in hand. Not only because presentations need to be written before they can be performed, but because the act of writing makes you a better speaker. Well, obviously I’m not going to argue, as someone with a track record of using writing as a way to develop ideas.

    I also wondered how this works for musicians. It used to be the case that musicians maintained professional activity in both performance and composition as a matter of course – Bach was better known as an organist than a composer in his time, and Beethoven’s fame as a pianist preceded his recognition as the premier composer of his generation. But somewhere along the line the roles got at least partly separated. Writing music is still integral to the training of performers, and most composers maintain some performance activity too, but there is a sense that the roles’ definitions are unhelpfully unintegrated these days.

  • We use the metaphor of ‘buying’ to articulate the idea of engaging with a speaker’s message. And, notwithstanding the factual veneer we overlay on our purchasing decisions via publications like Which? and What Car?, buying is an emotional decision. For the speaker, this means that, whilst the audience might find facts useful to rationalise their decision to buy in to your message, you will only persuade them to do so by addressing their emotions.

    The musician is generally comfortable with this fundamentally emotional level of communication, though the standard models to describe the process tend to see the listener as being passively worked on by the music rather than as active participants with it. Thinking of the performance as a pitch to persuade the audience to make emotional investments produces a more interactive concept – and also harks back to C18th notions of music as rhetoric.

  • Still on the subject of connecting emotionally with the audience, Chris framed the speakers goal as to get the listeners to think, ‘Wow, this person really understands me!’ Now it could be that researching your audience is more vital for a speaker, since the presenter is making all the decisions about content as well as manner of presentation. Performing musicians have a lot of their decisions about content decided by composers, and tend to have their task defined more in terms of doing the composer justice than meeting the specific audience’s needs. But thinking about the audience can make a significant difference to macro decisions such as programming and the framing of the performance. And I have a hunch that performers who have thought carefully about who they are performing for (note ‘for’, not ‘to’) will actually take a different approach to how they listen to themselves as they perform than those who concern themselves only with fidelity to the composer.

That’s enough for now. You can get more useful ideas from Chris at the Professional Speaker’s Journal where there’s a free weekly email bulletin and opportunities to buy the book.

Is it just me or is everything we do now being couched in terms of SELLLING! It's something that doesn't sit right with me for some reason. Does everything have to have a 'call to action'? What about pleasure and enjoyment and experience just for the sake of it?

Not sure I totally agree with that "presentations need to be written before they can be performed" (interesting choice of word - 'perform'!). Often that's precisely why a presentation doesn't work - it sounds too much like something being read out and written for the page rather than something designed to be spoken or 'performed'. Writing/ composing often becomes too linked with the visual whereas music/ speaking is in the aural/ oral realm. I believe we've become too hung up on the visual in our society.

From the front of the choir

Hi Chris,

Fair point, though I don't know that it's a particularly recent thing, even - I remember being shocked when I first read 'How to win friends and influence people' at the way it measured success in commercial terms! But on re-reading I've found it still has a lot of wisdom to offer, so I find I 'm comfortable learning from people working in a primarily business environment - of course it helps that I knew Chris in singing contexts before I knew his work as a public speaker, which gives me a basic substrate of trust :-)

By the way, you may notice that we've acted on your previous suggestion of email notifications for follow-up comments. Thanks for the suggestion!


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