rock and roll presentation skills

A side effect of being a presenter and facilitator is that I cannot attend any training, speech, or event without mentally taking note of what they are doing well and what I could do to improve my own skills.20130205_234003

The other night I saw a concert with two local opening bands and a European headlining act on a world tour. A middle of the week show, in club with maybe 100 people, this was clearly not going to make the band rich – it was likely more of a chance to make some gas money to get to the weekend at a much bigger venue.

The local bands were good. For local bands. But there was a big contrast between the presentation skills of those who had day jobs and were musicians on the side and those who were full-time musicians. Lots to learn for anyone who gets up in front of others:

1. Engage the crowd. Connect with as many people as possible on as individual of level as possible. The headlining singer continually referred to the crowd as “friends”, pointed out people in the audience, brought signs people were holding up onto the stage to show them off, gave the audience a choice of what song they’d play next, repeatedly told the crowd how crazy/enthusiastic/loud they were being, and thanked the audience for coming out on a weeknight. Sound obvious? The local bands did none of this. What are the obvious things to connect with my audiences and classes that I’m not doing enough or at all?

2. Recognize ALL presentations matter. Whether in a stadium or a small bar, all shows matter. The headlining band had played 200 shows around the world in the past 10 months – that’s a show two nights out of every three. Yet, they showed no signs of boredom, exhaustion, or the sense that it was just one more gig. They played as though it were the most important show on the tour. Full out, completely committed, pouring sweat, not an ounce of energy held back. The local bands showed up and played as though it were just another show. Compared to the headliners, they were restrained, half-hearted, and holding back. As a presenter and facilitator it would be easy to fall into the trap of thinking I’ll just wing it, it doesn’t matter, it’s just a little presentation.

3. Make it about the audience, not the presenter. The local bands kept mentioning the CDs they had for sale in the back, that you could download them on iTunes, blah, blah, blah. Any words between songs were few and really focused on the band. Everything the headliners said – every single word– was focused on audience and how fun and great they were. It was clear the band was thrilled and grateful that everyone had showed up to see them. It would have been easy – almost expected – for the headliners to show up with rock and roll egos completely unchecked and complain, gripe, and moan about the small venue, small crowd, lack of attention they get, etc. This is a subtle, but really powerful difference. Our words reveal our focus – is the concern for the audience and participants or for ourselves? As a presenter I have the choice to punish the few that are fully engaged OR be thankful and build their commitment even further – guess which one leads to success and which one leads to rapid obscurity.

4. Keep it simple. Interestingly, both local bands had bass players with five or six string instruments, using sophisticated techniques to play complex lines. The headlining bass player used a traditional four string bass with a pick and often played just one note repeatedly or used comparatively simple bass lines. As a presenter it’s tempting to show off with technology, complicated materials, fancy language, credentials, etc. But that’s all about the presenter. Complex is the lazy route. Simple is difficult, it takes more time to do, and it feels unprofessional when you’re a novice. What amateur presenters miss is that simple often requires expert level judgment, effort, and refinement. Simple keeps it about the message connecting with the audience.

5. Have fun. It’s easy to get jaded and burnt out and feel like you’re not getting the respect you deserve. It’s hard to show up, connect with the audience, be grateful for any opportunity to get your message out there, and have a blast while doing it. Presenting is the greatest job in the world IF you enjoy it. If you’re not having fun, it’s a private hell. 200+ shows into the current tour and the headliners were smiling, playing, and connecting like there’s nothing else they’d rather be doing.

It’s funny how the things that set us apart are often not all that big on the surface. Could the local bands have done all this? Yes. Did they? Not really. They were more than skilled enough, but in the end were no more memorable than the background music the club played over the stereo between the bands.

A nice reminder I need to continually step up my intention, focus, and connection. I need to make sure I’m creating a great user experience and not getting between my message and my audience.

What thinks you?


  1. Great post! Reminded me of a gig I had in the early stages of my new career. 12 people, basement in a legion in a small town. It did not come close to the glamorous life of the professional speaker I had envisioned. And yet, every one of those 12 people were there because they wanted to be. That is the only engagement I’ve ever had where a participant invited me to join her family for dinner that evening. That’s an opportunity I would not have had if I’d chosen to focus on the dingy hall and the small audience.


    1. Nice! We don’t get to rock the stadiums until we can rock the small shows. The great bands (and speakers) make small shows feel as energized and powerful as stadiums and stadiums feel as intimate as small shows.


  2. All direct-hit points for presenting. I especially go with point two about playing it with passion. The audience is there for you, if you are there for them.


Leave a Reply to Laurie Barkman Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s