Originally published as How To Talk About Your Work on ArtsHub
Musicians need to cultivate great public speaking skills to speak confidently about the value of their work on and off the stage.
Beyond the need to make a connection with our audience from the stage, increasingly performers are required to speak about themselves and the value of their work to collaborators and supporters. Good public speaking allows you to create compelling stories for any audience, and is a skill that can achieve a variety of career goals.
We often think of public speaking in narrow terms such as standing in front of a large audience or delivering a presentation but public speaking is about effective communication. Effective communication engages your listener, delivers a clear message and makes a persuasive call to action.
Musicians communicate complex emotions and ideas without the use of words in performance and just as we pay close attention to musical dynamics, phrasings and gestures, we can use the many nuances and colours of language to great effect. It’s a worthwhile investment of time and energy to experiment with finding an approach that fits your personality and strengths and that is appropriate and engaging to your audience.
Talking to an audience from the stage isn’t a new concept, but it might be a skill that you are keen to develop or improve. Communicating a sense of passion for the music you are performing through your introductions can make your performance more meaningful and engaging. Choose one of these three ideas to craft an introduction to your performance, it only takes a few well considered words to draw the attention of your audience so keep it brief and personal.
Make It Yours
Give a personal framing to the music they are about to hear by describing why you love playing the piece or something you find fascinating and compelling in the music. Describe the first time you heard or played this piece, or the circumstances under which you composed it.
Help Them Connect
Outline any interesting musical features in terms any audience member can understand. Think about demonstrating examples of what they will hear during the course of the piece as an entry point to your performance.
A great example is from Astrid Baumgartner’s blog where she writes about brainstorming ways to introduce a general classical music audience to Dvořák's American Quartet using an entry point.
Put It In Context
Explain programmatic issues or non-musical inspiration for the work. Put the work in context by describing the historical or social events of the period in which the piece was composed, or relate the work to other artistic movements of the period. Use an appropriate level of detail and include interesting anecdotes.
As well as speaking from the stage, making small talk is a valuable career skill for musicians. Small talk is a common segue into creating new and valuable relationships with potential supporters. It allows you to get a sense of each other while building a connection and smoothing the initial uneasiness of meeting for the first time. Despite seeming to have little purpose, the skill of making polite conversation will benefit you in the professional world.
Practice the art of small talk as this will give you a better feel for the rhythms and niceties. Starting with a firm handshake and maintaining eye contact will convey a sense of confidence. Opening the conversation with the word "you” makes it easy to find out about your conversation partner and create a genuine connection.
Good posture can improve your image, diction, delivery and can help ease anxiety. Standing up straight with your shoulders back and hands in front of you or at your sides means you are not fighting a losing war with gravity. Breathe deeply and experiment with different paces of speaking. You may find you feel more comfortable and are better understood when speaking slower.
Keep It Simple
Convey your ideas as simply as possible using clear language and simple, concise phrases. If you find it hard speaking off the cuff about yourself and your work, write down common points that you might use and have these on hand when practising small talk.
Speaking confidently about yourself and your work can allow you to take advantage of opportunities, build your network and achieve personal and professional goals.
Get Busy Now
1 Hour: Write a compelling story to introduce your favourite concerto.
30 Minutes: Teach a friend a non-musical skill that you have down pat, using only verbal instructions.
5 Minutes: Practice small talk every day.