I woke up motivated to get to grips with the all important question we need to answer: What do audiences want?
I grabbed a coffee and googled 80-year-old comedian with ukulele. Weird choice, right? The ukulele is hardly the instrument you imagine when thinking about what an audience wants. Yet I have performed at comedy nights with D’yan Forest, an 82-year-old woman, who steals the show with her ukulele and bawdy songs. I have also seen a Toastmaster friend repeatedly win over audiences using a ukulele as a prop. And I’ll never forget how he rocked a room of 250 Toastmasters from all over Europe with his ukulele speech to win the District 59 Humor contest.
My google search for D’yan Forest brought up – surprise, surprise- another ukulele player who naturally captured my attention: the 12- year-old Grace Vanderwaal whose overnight success began with her first performance on America’s Got Talent.
These three diverse examples of unexpected success prove that anything is possible, anything goes, as long as you satisfy the audience’s desire for 10 things. Audiences want:
- to be taken seriously
- to connect
- something to happen
The first three points come from Hugh Mackay’s book What Makes Us Tick? The 10 Desires That Drive Us. I learnt about the performance implications of Mackay’s ideas during an improvisation workshop called Beyond Creativity given in Paris last summer by Australian Nick Byrne. Through a series of bizarre, non-verbal and verbal activities we demonstated to ourselves that audiences react to drivers that performers use. Essentially audiences are led by these drivers to fill in the details in their own minds and give the show or speech their own meaning. Read that again as it offers a HUGE revelation.
The concept of drivers was the game changer for me and I expanded on Mackay’s ideas to make my speak the rainbow theory that colorful connections are possible using the drivers of emotions, energy, joy, hope, vision, depth, and soul. Need proof?
Watch Grace Vanderwaal’s first performance on America’s Got Talent and notice how the jury begins by asking her questions to know if she takes them seriously. Then notice how both jury and audience are waiting for something to happen. Enjoy her amazing performance and then watch it again analyzing how, from the moment she steps on stage, Grace connects with the audience by creating all the rainbow colors.
Here are some hints to help you see the rainbow better:
Emotions: Grace is trembling, voice trembling, and finishes with her hand over mouth to contain her emotions. In her song, there is a ton of emotional baggage in past tense lines like “You asked me why I cut my hair and changed myself completely” or “I went from bland and popular to joining a marching band.”
Energy – Appreciate the huge cheer when her music changes pace and she speeds up strumming at 2 minutes and energy floods her voice.
Joy: No brainer here. She is soooo happy to be there and radiates joy. Yellow slacks too!
Hope: Miracles can happen! This sentence gets a huge cheer and connects even before she sings. A jury member repeats this message afterwards TWICE. Final line offers hope which any audience member can identify with, “I’m trying to find my way..”
Vision: Her voice is clearly original and she announces her song is original too. Again the jury repeats her message that she is original after her performance.
Depth: Tiny story of powerful change. Begins with” I don’t know my name” and ends with “Now I know my name”. DEEP Message!
Soul: She slows down and lets the audience hear a big purple pause timed to perfection when singing, “I’m lost, trying to get found, in an ocean of people. ” The heart cry of one soul!
Be crazy enough to bring whatever you like to the stage: a ukulele, powerpoint slides, framed photo of an Icelandic pony (yes, I’ve seen that in comedy club and loved it) or just your story or message without any props. If you use these 10 drivers all audiences desire, you will connect colorfully.