What You Can Learn About Public Speaking from America’s Got Talent Auditions

Two weeks ago, I did something really exciting. I went to the America's Got Talent auditions. I wasn't auditioning myself. I have no talent whatsoever. My 12-year-old son was auditioning as a singer and you cannot even imagine how much you can learn about public speaking from America's Got Talent auditions. Stay tuned!

If you prefer audio only, you can listen to the full episode on my podcast below or on iTunes.

This was the first round of auditions, where you audition with literally thousands of other people, all doing different acts, in a huge convention center in one of America's largest cities.

We went to San Antonio, which is a drivable distance from Huston, and after literally seven hours of waiting, we were sent to a room where there were only about 10 or 15 people auditioning together in front of a producer.

Now, generally, you're not allowed in that room unless you're auditioning yourself, but because my son is a minor, I was allowed to go there with him. And oh boy, wasn't that fun! But let me tell you, I saw every mistake in public speaking made there in that little room in front of the producer.

Tip #1: Be prepared.

This is so basic I can't even believe I'm saying it, but there were so many people who did not prepare. They rehearsed their song, but they did not prepare for the actual act of auditioning.

There were a lot of things that I did for my son before we actually drove to San Antonio. I read all the rules, I knew exactly how long the piece is that he needs to sing, I knew that it was going to be acapella, without music, there were lots of little details.

And you won't believe how many people, honestly the majority of people, did not take the time—and we're talking about 5, 10 minutes—to read the rules and figure out exactly what they need to do.

When we apply this to public speaking, you have to be completely prepared. You need to know where you're speaking, and what kind of auditorium it's going to be. You need to know what equipment to prepare. What else do you need to know about the stage? What else do you need to know about the audience? You prepare and learn all the basic stuff so that when you walk on stage, you're ready. There are no surprises.

Tip #2: Do not improvise if you don't know what you're doing.

Go with what you know and with what you practiced.

There was this one lady in my son's group who walked in front of a producer and said, “I'm going to use the audience,”—meaning us—“I'm going to use the audience to help me sing the song.”

And I thought, oooh, that’s good she's engaging us, how wonderful, smart move. But then she asked us to clap. She gave us the rhythm and we started clapping. She wanted to sing with the rhythm without music but after a few seconds of us clapping, she looked at us and said, “Oh wait, wait, I think that's too fast, clap again.”

She made us redo our clapping, I swear, five times. Then she gave up because nothing was working. She didn't know the reason, she didn't know exactly what she was doing, and she didn't know why she was even asking us to clap.

And she said, “You know what, don't worry about it. I'm just going to sing and maybe you can clap along.”

What could have been a really great moment for her to shine and engage the audience, to show the producer that she's a real entertainer, who not only knows how to sing but knows how to get her audience engaged, what could have been that moment was a complete and total disaster.

So when you're on stage, or you are on live video, and you want to interact with your audience, you should think through what exactly you're going to say, and what exactly you're going to ask them to do. This is not the time for improvisation. This has to be thought through.

Audience interaction is extremely important, don't take me wrong, but unless it makes sense, it's structured, and it's prepared well, it will be completely useless, it will ruin your presentation, and it will make you look like a fool.

Tip #3: Have a backup plan in case technology doesn't work.

Here was what happened. There was a dancer in our group. He brought his music with him on some special player and then he couldn't hook up that player to the producer's speakers.

So I'm thinking to myself, well, he's going to pull out a flash drive and just use that or something else. He didn't have a backup plan. That player was all he brought. Oh my gosh, seriously, guys. If you know you need music, you bring a flash drive, you bring a CD, and you bring your computer, and you probably bring your iPhone, just in case.

This is what you do when you come to a presentation. If you know that you're going need a PowerPoint presentation, if you're going to need some slides, or even if you just need something to quickly show on your computer, you need to have millions of different backup plans in place.

And the ultimate backup plan: you're prepared to go without everything, if all else fails.

Tip #4: If you mess up, just keep going.

There was a teenager in our group who came to sing a song that she wrote herself. She walks in front of a producer, she starts singing, but she's so nervous that she forgets the words.

Then she fell completely into pieces. She starts shaking and trembling and she almost starts crying, and then she just sort of gives up and she goes back to her seat. Really? 

The producer, by the way, was the nicest lady ever and she would have let her go again, no problem whatsoever.

You mess up, you get up, and you go again. You make a mistake on stage, your audience is going to forgive you. It is not a big deal.

What you do if you make a mistake is, you laugh it off. Yes, you do, you get up, you laugh it off, and you continue going with even more energy than before.

So there you have it. Please keep your fingers crossed for my son to get to the next round of the America's Got Talent auditions. And, of course, he already has a backup plan. He is going to audition for The Voice next year when he turns 13.

And I will see you guys soon. Take care!

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