What American Idol Can Teach Speakers (It’s Not What You Think)

by drjim on March 23, 2010

Even If You Don’t Care About The Singing, American Idol Has A Lot To Teach…

Even If You Don’t Care About The Singing, American Idol Has A Lot To Teach…

Why Should A Speaker Watch A Singing Show?

I’m pretty sure that by now everyone has at least heard about the TV show “American Idol”. It’s the most popular show on television right now and everyone seems to be talking and gossiping about it all the time. Outside of being a great source of entertainment, is it possible that this show just might be able to teach us a few things about how to become a better speaker…?

Sure They Can Sing, But So What?

I’ve known about American Idol since it first showed up something like nine years ago. However, I had not understood its value to a speaker until I visited Disney World the other week. At Disney’s Hollywood theme park, they have an attraction called, what else, “America Idol”. You sit in the audience and three amateur singers compete to win the audience’s vote.

It was the fact that the performers were such rank amateurs and that I got to see them up close and in person that finally drove home what I had been missing. Look, all three of the competitors were better singers than I am (that’s not really saying all that much), but I don’t think that it was their voice that determined who won.

None of the three young ladies that were performing on the day that I attended the show were all that good. I mean, they had nice voices and all that, but would they make it on to the TV show – probably not. In fact, I’d say that their voices and singing ability were all pretty much equal. So what set them apart from each other?

It turns out that their stage presence is what really set these three performers apart. The first young lady came out and sang. She did a very nice job, but she just stood there and belted out her tune. From an audience perspective, we all enjoyed it and assumed that the other two performers would do the same.

However, when the second performer came out, not only did she sing but she also moved around on the stage as she sang. The difference was quite startling – the audience really responded to her song. Finally the third performer came out and not only sang and moved around on the stage, but you could see in her body language that she was “feeling” the emotion in the song that she was singing.

I probably don’t have to tell you who won – the third singer. From a speaker point-of-view the difference between how the audience responded to the three different singers was amazing. It really drove home the understanding that any speech that we give is really a performance and that we need to use our whole body in order to really connect with our audience.

Why Simon Is So Popular

If that was all that I had learned at this show, then I would have felt that I had gotten more than my money’s worth for my $74 Disney ticket. However, this show had one more lesson to teach me.

On the TV show there are three judges that evaluate the contestants. One of these judges is Simon Cowell. He has become famous for being mean – if someone’s performance is not very good, then Simon won’t mince any words and will tell them that they are a terrible singer and that they should go home.

Millions of people watch the show just to hear what Simon is going to say next. They hate him for making people feel bad and cry, but they love him for being willing to speak his mind at the same time. At the Disney show they had a stand-in for Simon who spoke with an Australian accent (Simon speaks with a British accent) and he played the part very well – he insulted all three singers.

What caught my attention was just how important a part of the show the Simon figure was. It wouldn’t have been American Idol without him. The audience knew what he was going to say, but still there was an eager anticipation to hear him each time he spoke.

Watching all of this unfold I was struck with the realization that you don’t need to have your audience like you or even like what you are talking about. However, you do need to have a very clearly defined position.

If people know what you stand for then they’ll pay attention to you. They may be listening to get confirmation of their own beliefs or they may be listening in order to confirm that they think that you are wrong. It doesn’t matter – they are still listening to you!

What All Of This Means For You

We may never have an opportunity to appear on the TV show “American Idol” and bask in the glory of millions of adoring fans. However, that doesn’t mean that the show can’t make our lives better by teaching us a thing or two.

When the voices are roughly the same, the thing that sets performers apart is how they use their bodies to support the words that they are saying. Speakers need to learn to do the same thing. Simon Cowell and his sharp personality is a key part of the show’s success. Speakers who have a well-defined position will always be able to keep the attention of their audiences.

As speakers we can learn from all of the nervousness and embarrassment that the singers on this show have to go through (including having to be evaluated by Simon!). Applying what works for singers can help all of us to become better speakers.

Question For You: How would you feel speaking if you had a clearly defined position that your audience really disagreed with?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As speakers we have a tendency to focus on the things that scare us the most – forgetting our words, nervous body tics, etc. and we can often overlook the things that really count: making an impression on our audience. You can be a powerfully effective speaker who is sought after by many just by taking the time to carefully pick the words that you use…

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