March 7, 2008

Never lose focus



Last night we saw Rufus Wainwright in concert at small local theater. If you think his voice resonates on a CD, you should hear him live, solo, with just his piano or guitar as accompaniment. Absolutely gorgeous.

About halfway through the show, there was a snag. Sitting at the piano, he had just started a song, when he stopped. His microphone stand was drooping. The weight of the mic was causing the horizontally-positioned stand to sink slowly.

While a stagehand changed out the stand, Rufus entertained the audience with a brief rendition of "There's no business like show business" and some chatter.

He regained his focus and restarted the song, and within a minute had to stop again, as the second mic stand was starting to droop toward the piano keys. He made a joke about it, the stagehand came back out, and the stand was fixed.

For the third time, he started the song, and for the third time, had to stop in the middle. By now, I was feeling quite tense. What if none of the mic stands would work? Would a stagehand have to sit off to the side, holding it all night?

Again, Rufus made some jokes, one about playing a high school (actually it was a junior high school; the Marjorie Luke Theatre is a recently renovated community performing arts center which was originally built as part of the junior high in 1931 as a Works Progress Administration project, complete with ornate vaulted ceilings, wrought iron chandeliers and plaster cherubs -- and crappy mic stands.).

Finally, on the third try, the mic stand was fixed. For the next five minutes or so, I couldn't take my eyes off the stand, but the show continued with no more mishaps.

He never lost focus. The interrupted song was dramatic and emotional, and every time he had to restart, he got right back into the moment.

He never stopped entertaining, even when he wasn't singing. When things went awry, he improvised.

Every performer can teach us something about being better speakers. This is how the pros do it!

Photo by Joel Didriksen

2 comments. Please add yours! :

Terry said...

There is a lot that can be learned from the way Rufus dealt with the situation.

It's true that he never lost focus and was able to improvise, which can easily be applied in a business setting as well.

One thing I would add to this post is that Rufus was informal in his approach. This makes him seem more authentic and engaging to the audience than the stiff formality and rigid “professionalism” that he could have slipped into.

Taking yourself or your presentation too seriously can easily backfire. Instead, humor is a much better tool to connect with your audience. It sounds as Rufus has learned these lessons well.

Lisa Braithwaite said...

So true, Terry! He's a very authentic and engaging performer; he's a character, in fact. And when you're a character, you've got to embrace who you are and use it as a strength -- which he does!

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