You’d think that if you can sing in front of people saying a few words wouldn’t be a big deal. Actually, it is a huge deal for many singers and if you get scared about speaking more than singing, you are not alone. It doesn’t have to stay scary and in fact if you work on it, it’ll even be fun.
I’ll get into specifics in a minute, but the bottom line is this:
You know how you take the time to prepare, plan and practice your music so that you feel confident singing? Well, that’s the exact same thing you’re going to need to do to feel confident talking. It’s the combo platter of coming up with what you want to say, fine tuning it, practicing it, and then making it feel real and spontaneous in the moment. Totally possible!
So first thing is this. Take a look at your set list and take a moment to jot down a few sentences about each song. For example, why/when did you write it/choose it? what is about? what does it help you with? what could it help someone else with?
Don’t worry about making sense, or writing exactly what you’ll say. Just let yourself write without editing and without perfecting. This is time to get everything out, not the time to fine tune.
Then, once you have all your ideas out there in rough form, read them out loud and highlight what sounds true and important and has the potential to touch people.
Then fine tune that and practice saying it. Notice how it feels coming out of you, keep making adjustments until you’re satisfied. Ask yourself if what you’re saying will enhance or inspire or uplift or inform. If the answer is yes, it’s probably great.
Some artists prefer to let the music speak for them. That’s a totally fine choice. But be honest with yourself. Are you choosing to not say a word because of your artistry or because you’re afraid or embarrassed? You don’t want to stay stuck in fear or let fear make your decisions for you, right? Sometimes it’s a great choice to just sing and shut up, but nearly all the time, some talking helps the performer and the audience bond.
You don’t have to say much, and you are also free to really say as much as you want to. It’s your stage. It’s your audience. Trust yourself.
Be mindful not to describe the song and what it’s about with so much detail that there is no point in listening to it anymore. Keep some mystery and let the audience go on their own listening journey and discover the song. Less is most often more. And avoid telling the audience the lyrics before you sing them, it kind of spoils the anticipation, you know? (If you’re singing in a language no one understands, you might want to translate though)
Not every song needs to (or really should) have a whole introduction. Sometimes it’s nice to just play the song and that’s it. Then you can say, ‘that was ‘my (title of song) by my favorite artist (artist’s name)’. And leave it at that. Trust that if you chose that song, it speaks for itself.
Use humor. Singing a few serious heartbreak songs in a row? Lighten the mood with a joke. It helps release tension and helps you and your audience regroup. Plus, who doesn’t like to laugh?
That said, it’s perfectly ok to sing serious songs and have a serious mood without breaking it. Don’t be afraid to be heavy or intense. Your audience will be ok with it if you are being honest and real. Depth is good. Take them on a journey for a few songs and then shift the mood.
Consider dedicating the song to someone who is or isn’t in the audience and tell people who this person is in your life and why you’re dedicating a song to him/her. Getting personal helps people feel closer to you, and helps you feel closer to them. Win-win.
Say only what is necessary. Don’t let the stage become a therapy session. Again, less is more. We don’t need or want to know the details. And it’s probably not a great idea to share personal details from the stage. You may regret exposing so much later. Always take into consideration if the person you’re speaking about would feel comfortable with what you’re saying. When in doubt, don’t. Someone else’s privacy and feelings are more important than your desire to say something publicly in your show.
Did someone help you write the song or arrange the music? Give them credit and be generous with the gratitude.
Are you singing a cover? Make sure you acknowledge that.
What about taking to the audience when when you’re not about to introduce a song? What should you say?
Same thing applies. Just think it through ahead of time. Definitely introduce the band during the set and keep the welcome’s, thank you’s, great to see you’s, and compliments to your audience coming, i.e., ‘you’ve been such a great audience’…..It never hurts to acknowledge the sound engineer and anyone else you is part of your show or who helps you.
Beyond that, there is no wrong or right, there is just what works and what feels true, and what doesn’t work and feels false. What’s effortless is often right so if you find that you’re struggling, you might be trying too hard to be a sage on the stage-check your motives. Are you trying to impress, people please, prove yourself? Let go of that ego stuff and come back to earth and to the music itself.
It can be fun to tell a story or ask a question or get some audience participation happening. You can be as creative as you want in your show but plan it.
You might feel turned off by the idea of something that ‘should’ be spontaneous and natural being planned, and I really get that, but think about it. Even improv has parameters and that’s what helps the actors feel free to follow their impulses, respond in the moment and be spontaneous. And they practice that all the time!
That’s all you’re doing. Setting up the game so that it’ll work best. There’s no reason to think that planning what you’ll say or do is cheating or unnatural or fake. It’s just like preparing your music. It’s about doing what you need to so that you can feel comfortable and confident to express yourself and have an awesome experience for yourself and provide that for your audience. Talking is part of your show, you may as well polish it up because it does influence people’s experience of you one way or another.
It might feel weird or silly initially to literally practice saying, ‘welcome everyone, this song is blah blah’, but you’ll get over it, especially when you see the results! So, know what you’re going to say and when at least loosely so you don’t find yourself nervously rambling on, forgetting the point or worse, apologizing.
That brings me to the most important thing-please please please, don’t say I’m sorry to your audience. (Unless it is part of a larger comedy bit or story) You have nothing, nothing, nothing to apologize for. Not for a second.
You have worked hard and invested so much of yourself in getting in front of them to share yourself. Don’t apologize. Not if your string breaks, not if you forgot lyrics or your voice cracks, not if you need a drink of water, not if your music goes flying off the stand and you need to start the song again, not for the price of the tickets, not for promoting your CD, not for anything. Be empowered and real and unapologetic.
When you apologize for stuff, it transmits this message to your audience that you’re afraid you’re unworthy. And you are worthy. End of story.
The only reason to apologize is if you are out of integrity or if circumstances beyond your control prevented you from delivering what you promised. For example, if they had to wait outside in the rain for a long time to get in and no one told them what was going on-apologize for that. Just like you would if your friend waited for you on a street corner and you were on the train with no service and couldn’t text. You’d apologize.
You might even want to make it up to them with a discounted merch, or whatever feels possible and right for you. You don’t HAVE to, it’s just nice. And these people take time out of their busy lives to come and support you, so being NICE is just….nice!
I work a lot and deeply with my singers about how to feel more comfortable and confident speaking. I consider it an integral part of preparing them for performance.And the attention to it really pays off when even the ones who think they don’t want to talk at all because it’s ‘fake’ or ‘scary’ or ‘annoying’, end up loving the connection they feel and getting the most laughs and saying the most profoundly moving things.
As with everything, it gets better with experience. You’ll do great, just don’t go out there cold. Prepare like you would for everything else you do on stage and for sure you will start to discover that you can really just be yourself and speak from your heart and enjoy the talking just as much as the singing.