How to take command of a room

When you lead a choir rehearsal, you are asking for the attention of a group of people so that you can impart information. Maybe you’re lucky enough to be a natural born public speaker and you like nothing better than standing up in front of people and being the centre of attention, but most of us aren’t like that. Even if you’re confident of your musical skills, it can be hugely daunting to get up and speak with confidence and authority. So how do you take command of a room? Here are some helpful suggestions.

Preparation gives you confidence

You will feel better about engaging with a group and guiding a rehearsal (workshop, class, whatever) if you know your stuff. That takes preparation. If you haven’t prepared, you’re likely to feel less authoritative and more nervous. Those who know me well would probably scoff at my suggesting to anyone that they do their homework – I am one of the world’s leading procrastinators. I have always prepared for things at the last minute, and I imagine I always will. However, when I prepare thoroughly for rehearsals and workshops, albeit just in time, I enjoy them more and feel more in control. My time management is also tons better when I’m prepared.

Use your physical presence

You can get people’s attention by waving your arms and making a loud noise, but you can’t keep it that way. It might seem counter-intuitive, but stillness and composure are attractive because they project confidence and self-possession.

When you stand up in front of a group, whether it’s your regular choir or people you’ve never met before, take a moment to let the audience come to you. Yes, it’s scary, but once you get the hang of it, it’s a much more powerful way of getting and keeping attention, and it’s much less exhausting for you. You’ll also, crucially, avoid damaging your voice by raising it to talk over other people.

Oh, and don’t forget to smile. You’re happy to be there, right?

Accept that you’re going to make mistakes

Perfectionism and a terror of making mistakes are bound up with the need for approval. Often, we want to “get it right” because we want people to like what we do and, ultimately, to like us. When people fear public speaking or performing often the core fear is of being judged, condemned or mocked by the audience.

If you can get comfortable with the idea of making mistakes, shrugging them off and carrying on, you can become a much more confident and authoritative leader. And if you can separate your audience’s opinion of you with your own idea of your worth, you’re probably well on the way to being a content and happy person (definitely a work in progress for me!).

Remember that it’s not “us and them”

Unless you are a stand-up comedian facing a drunk and hostile crowd, it’s likely that whatever audience you’re addressing wants to like you and what you say. You don’t need to win them over, you just need to avoid losing them. Isn’t that a reassuring thought? If you have something of value to give to an audience that you respect, you’ll be just fine.

Comments on How to take command of a room

  1. Avatar Nancy says:

    Thank you for this timely article. The advice is universal. The hardest is being totally quiet but it is definitely the most successful. I have used this as a method for over 50 years. My new accompanist used to bang on the piano to get the chorus’ attention for the previous conductor. I am training her not to do that for me. Initially it takes a bit longer but the group will soon realize that I am waiting for them and it will not be needed as often.I presently direct 2 chime choirs and a retirement community chorus of 70-95+ year olds.

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      Hi Nancy,

      Thanks for your message. It sounds like you’re very experienced at staying silent as you get the attention of your singers. I think this serves as great proof to others that this technique works. I hope your new accompanist soon gets in the habit of letting you do this! I wish you all the best with your choirs.

  2. Avatar Stacy says:

    Great article – thank you!

    1. Christine Mulgrew Christine Mulgrew says:

      You’re very welcome Stacy.

  3. Thanks for the article! I’m a choir leader since two years, but studied the cello before that. All through my studies I’ve had horrible problems with stage fright. I’ve tried many things, read lots of books, and was occasionally helped a little bit by that. The Inner Game of Music by Barry Green, and The Art of Possibility by Benjamin Zander I would recommend. But ultimately, the only thing that has ever lastingly helped is simply performing as much as possible. By performing I mean simply playing or singing in front of 1 or 2 friends or family members, not having a big venue booked where hundreds of people bought tickets to hear you. Performances can be on the smallest possible scale, the only point is to do it as often as humanly possible for a certain stretch of time. It’s the only truly effective thing. The main effect for me was: it becomes easier, as you say, to shrug mistakes off and carry on. If you’re performing at least three times a week, you can’t keep recalling every little thing that happened. Sometimes it goes better, sometimes a little worse, and you start feeling ok about how you’re doing overall, over the course of a number of performances.

    1. Avatar Victoria Hopkins says:

      Hi Albert. That’s a really inspiring story. Thanks for sharing it.

    2. Avatar IbukunOluwa Shotubo says:

      I totally agree with You Albert!
      The only effective way to overcome stage or performance freight is by “DOING” as much as possible, and it gets better with time.

      Even when you read about it, you still have to practice whatever you read.. Right?

      Thanks for sharing Albert!

      And Thanks a lot Victoria for the website, great resource it is! Imma stick my head here and learn as much as I can!
      Thanks again!

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