Any stage act or performance will involve an audience. That’s the whole point of the act. Performers know this, and a lot of them react to the audience when they are on stage.
For example, in a dance routine, the dancers cannot move out of their formation to interact with the audience. However, the choreographer usually plans the dance to have certain ‘wow’ points that are most likely to get a reaction from the audience, or at least keep the audience engaged.
Still, wondering how the audience reacts on stage makes a lot of performers nervous. They cannot break the fourth wall to interact with the audience directly. And truth be told, the audience can react in totally unexpected ways – this includes total silence.
That’s where you, the emcee, come in. As the person with the ability to interact with the audience directly, it is your job to manage the audience for the entire event.
You control the audience, not the other way around
[5 minutes 46 seconds, if you average 3 words per second]
By now, if you live in Singapore, or have friends who are Singaporeans – you would have heard about the latest video controversy making its round on the internet.
I was asked by a local news paper, The New Paper to give my views on the video and the reasons for the reception it received.
Here’s my take on the misses and hits, and what we can learn from it.
1) Robotic “Personalities”
Go through the first 40 seconds of the video, and you’ll see bodies people largely standing still. Even for people who speak, their gestures and mannerisms appear largely controlled.
Having worked in front of the camera, I’m aware of the need to minimize distracting mannerisms.
Unfortunately, minimizing mannerisms in this case has swung to the other extreme, causing a number of people in the video to appear contrived and “emotionless”.
What really stood out for me, is how one person, apart from his/her voice, speaks and sounds almost the same as the other person – how’s that for personality and personalization?
What could’ve been better: Variation in tone, pace and hand gestures would’ve broken the seeming monotony of “robotic personalities”. They key is to present one’s personality and energy.
2) Synchronized Movement: An Irony of Preparation
This is probably a sad irony of preparation. Where an audience demands sincerity and connection with the people who may eventually be their leaders, synchronized gestures throughout the video (ie, at 0:26s) suggests a rehearsed attempt and hardly suggests that actions from the activists (pardon the pun) “came from the bottom of the heart”.
Even the following segment by the West Coast Region YP, an apparent attempt at presenting a united front – backfired, when the actions appeared overly orchestrated.
Tanjong Pagar Region YP (3:44) upped the ante with their segment with an even more uniformed recital of what they wanted to say and with their eyes all over the place except the camera.
What could’ve been better: Have close ups of individual activists from within the group, present shortened, specific segments. So everybody gets air time, but there’s less “group” coordination required for the recital.
It’s also perfectly fine to look at the camera to simulate eye contact with the audience.
By the way, having one’s eyes moving systematically, from left to right gives people the perception that you’re reading off a script/teleprompter and not speaking from the heart… so doing that is also highly discouraged.
It’s hard to convince people that you truly believe in and care for something, when the delivery appears to be devoid of emotion, scripted and prepared.
3) Language: Can you Connect with the Common Man?
I noted a couple of instances, when the words used by the presenters weren’t naturally relatable to or immediately understandable by the man on the street.
In short, we don’t use them as part of of our daily conversations.
Take for example the segment presented by Holland-Bukit Timah Region, where it was said, “We must continue to be responsive to the ever-changing social, political and economic environment, by distributing resources in a caring manner, and balancing market forces and government intervention for Singaporeans to better cope with living expenses.
That’s a lot of big words there.
Instead of that, how about, “We must continue to be sensitive to the needs of Singaporeans – by sharing with them the fruits of the country’s labour and help them with the costs and challenges of living.
(I don’t like the word “challenging” here… but hey, I came this at the top of my head and it’s still better than the original version, no?)
Then there are terms that even I find confusing… such as East Coast Region YP’s “Diversity in Social Mindset” – I understood the explanation that came after the term… but I did find myself scratching my head wondering why that can’t be replaced with the phrase “Having more members from more diverse backgrounds” (… other than doctors, lawyers, etc).
If only the other YP branches heeded the advice of Choa Chu Kang Region YP, who called for communication to be simple, concise and easy to understand…
Okay, now that I’m done with the misses… let’s consider the hits.
Content: Pretty sound there – there’re no surprises here. Every thing is spic and span and no controversy erupted over a message that could’ve been misconstrued etc. At least the PAP doesn’t have to be embarrassed by a message.
PartyDiscipline: Say what you like, the teams still pulled together to deliver a consistent message/direction is still commendable. Achieving that by itself is a feat, considering the massive machinery that is the PAP.
A for Effort and Putting Yourself Out There: Trying to be ‘natural’ and coordinated… you’ve got to say, the people tried and they’re really NOT actors!
It would be great if the speakers could achieve the level of unconscious competency in the area of public speaking, communication and connecting with their audience.
Hey guys… just in case you’re wondering where you can learn that, I know of a coach who does a great job at helping people with that! *winks*
To be fair, I truly believe getting the different branches to send in a “proper” video for compilation is a mammoth task.
The PAP, known more for its discipline accuracy (think engineers and lawyers) and assuming the role of the ruling party would naturally place greater emphasis on the content of its message.
Still, try as they like, the call for people to focus on intention and the message is expected… but will very likely fall on deaf ears.
After all, people don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.
Therefore, although I believe that there exists real concern (and passion) hidden under the cloak of nervousness and unrefined performance, the art of communication and connecting with the audience is a skill the PAP needs to work on, if they wish to really soften the blow of their (hard) policies and move the audience into believing that they know what’s best.
Those of you residing in Singapore would probably know the story. It was a breathtaking two weeks of hustings with a local by-election in the electoral division of Hougang. For quite an extended period, the Opposition Workers Party seemed to be on its back foot as talks of party disunity, indiscipline and issues of integrity dominated the headlines.
Political observers, initially in unison in their analysis that despite it being the opposition’s stronghold, a number of voters could be swayed to support the ruling party, due in part of reasons why the by-election was called for in the first place. Yet, as allegations and issues surrounding the opposition party and its members surfaced, the ruling party seemed to jump on unto the bandwagon to amplify the issues in a bid to whip and collect political advantage.
Unsurprising I would say. It’s politics. It’s a game of one-upsmanship. Why let your opponents go, when you can use the opportunity to show the world, the audience – your voters – that your opponents are not up to the mark? That their quality, or or abilities are not up to par, or even their arguments and proposals are fundamentally flawed?
Unfortunately, what seemed to be a natural, political move, seems to have backfired, again, and the electorate returned the constituency to the opposition, margin of 62.09% to 37.91% of the total number of eligible votes.
Political commentators responded in their analysts, that the ruling PAP should’ve and could’ve narrowed down the margin… but the PAP’s constant harping on integrity issues and their attempts to pull down their opponents suggested that the ruling party “hadn’t learned their lesson” since the last General Elections.
Now I’m no political whiz, and my interest lies more in my country’s future than in political affiliations (i.e, I will vote for the best candidates available to me, after careful analysis of what they both stand for, and not necessarily along party lines).
However, based on my analysis as a speech coach and speaking strategist, it is my view that the old method of mudslinging at campaigns is over. Personality attacks simply do not work anymore, and whilst enough noise may still be generated from a sizable electorate in larger countries, the truth is that positive personalities… people who are likable are tend to draw crowds towards them and their ideas like moths to a flame.
The point in contention here isn’t just about content. You can give the best speech in the world… but nobody will buy it if they don’t trust you, and if they don’t trust you, they won’t like you, and if they don’t like you, they won’t buy you or buy from you.
Nobody cares about how much you know, until they know how much you care – John C. Maxwell
It’s not only a battle of minds, for minds, but also a battle for hearts.
It’s been an upward climb and an incredible journey, but we’ve been recognized as one of the country’s best! And we cannot have done it without you!
Our nomination and award came in as a surprise – it was not something we (my business partner and myself) were chasing, although we would be lying if we denied that we were secretly hoping for something in the like of the award to come along to raise our profile. It is essential, after all, that good ideas need to be transmitted, spread, communicated for anybody to do well – and we are glad that we’d caught the eye of the judging panel during their selection and awarding process, particularly in a competitive business environment in Singapore.
The milestone is a testament of the amount of hard work we’ve poured into, not only building the company as a training and coaching entity, but also as symbol that hard work does get rewarded – and communication is important.
What must also be highlighted also is, at the end of the day, that effective communication does not merely involve talking (the production of sounds) or language (words) – but a whole myriad of considerations involving psychology, body language and sociological considerations.
Sounds complicated, I know. What it means in a nutshell, is that we’ve got to understand and take into account, the different personalities that we speak to, their personal and cultural backgrounds, and also how ideas, information and emotions may be reflected through non-verbal cues.
Those, combined with an awareness of the situation and one’s ability to deliver an appropriate message all contribute towards one achieving success on stage.
Sound simple enough, I know. Easy to implement, no.
And that is one of the key reasons why we’re still in business – and doing one heck of a job empowering individuals like you in the area too.
So watch this space. For we’ll be coming back with more time-tested tips on what you can do to be come a better speaker soon!
And very importantly, thank you very much for the support!
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