3 simple ways to instantly connect deeper with your audience when you sing

While this should be true of any singer singing any style of music, Gospel/Christian singers really should be striving to connect with their audience on a much deeper, more personal level. I wrote an article  a while back about the word “perform” and how it’s often seen as a bad word in Gospel music. A big part of that has to do with the audience’s perceived lack of any real feeling or true ministry taking place when the singer is going forth. As I’ve touched on before, there are some very common things many singers do that causes this feeling of disconnect between the audience and the singer.

If you”ve chosen a great song with a powerful, relevant message, then most of your audience should feel at some point that you are delivering a word straight from God directly and specifically for them. Today we’ll discuss 3 things you can do to instantly start connecting deeper with your audience.

1. Open Your Eyes!

I actually wrote a 2-part blog on this subject a while back called “Why You Should Never Sing Entire Songs With Your Eyes Closed”. But the short version is this. Every song you sing is like a conversation with the audience. It’s like a mini-sermon or a direct message from God. Imagine then, if you heard that your friend was going through a terrible time and you wanted to encourage them. Would you look at the wall behind them or your feet or simply spend the whole conversation talking to them with your eyes closed? Or would you look right at them and deliver the words that God placed on your heart to give them?

That is why it’s important you look into the eyes of people in the audience when you sing. If your eyes are closed the entire time your audience feels disconnected personally. Even if they’re enjoying the performance they’re not likely to feel that deep personal sense of connection if they’re watching someone who seems to be in their own world, completely oblivious that they’re even in the room. While there will always be moments in the song you’ll close your eyes briefly, every singer should endeavor to make eye contact with members in the congregation while you sing. Keep your eyes moving from one person to the other. Move from one side to the other and front to back, briefly making eye contact with someone in each section as you sing a certain line or make a certain point lyrically. This makes the person you’re looking at feel like God is speaking directly to them through you.

2. Make your facial expressions match what you’re singing!

Facial expressions are seldom given much thought at all when we sing, but they are very important. Going back to the point I made earlier about how singing performances are like conversations with your audience, you can imagine how irritating and/or just plain weird it would be to be having a conversation with someone where their facial expressions are serious and stoic even though the subject matter is funny. Seems obvious when you relate it to having a regular speaking conversation. Yet quite often you see singers-Gospel singers especially- singing songs about joy or happiness but never smiling.

Make sure you really spend time with the lyrics of your song and understand the central message. Get in touch with the emotion that you feel when you read the lyrics in the verses, for example. Then make sure that when you sing them, your facial expressions show those emotions. This has a powerful effect on the audience when you combine it with eye to eye contact. Remember in order to connect deeper with the audience you have to draw them into a personal conversation with you. You can’t have a conversation about anything you have any feeling at all about without showing facial expressions that match what you’re feeling. The same should be true when you’re singing.

3. Use body language!

It’s quite common when you’re engaged in a conversation with someone to be animated. We all use head gestures, hands, body language and the like to help us visually express what we’re saying. Every singer should do the same thing during a performance. If you’re talking about going higher, or singing about Heaven, why not point towards the sky? If you’re singing about uncertainty or not knowing, shrug your shoulders. If you’re saying to the audience “He will”, then declare it by looking directly into someone’s eyes, pointing at them and emphatically nodding your head up and down. If you’re saying “I know for myself” then pat your chest and let your audience see that.

These are all very simple things we all do in every day conversation. Things that make face to face conversation such a powerful way of expressing a point. There are things you want to say to someone that you don’t want to say over the phone. Why? Because of the visual power of face-to-face conversation. It stands to reason then that taking these elements into your singing performances will draw your audience into your message and speak directly to them. And that’s when a song moves from a “performance” to ministry.

Image courtesy of Stuart MilesFreeDigitalPhotos.net

Why you should NEVER sing entire songs with your eyes closed (part 2)

Welcome Back!

So in part one I discussed the fact that singing with your eyes closed disconnects you from your audience and basically makes them an outsider looking in on your “private” conversation with God.

But let’s face it. Keeping your eyes open comes with it’s own challenges. I know I’m stating the obvious here, but one of the biggest “disadvantages” of singing with your eyes open is that you can SEE everybody. LOL! Yes, this is not always the greatest thing. Because the honest truth is, no matter how good or anointed a person is, there will be people in the audience that are just not with you. For whatever reason. They might not like the song. They may be distracted. Heck, sometimes it’s just good old-fashioned hatin’. It can be somewhat discouraging when you see that from up on stage.
The other challenge is where to look. I already said in part 1 that simply staring at one spot in the room or up at the ceiling isn’t any better than having your eyes closed. You’re just as disconnected from the audience that way as with your eyes closed.

So what do you do??

I teach my students a very simple performance tip called the “Four Square” method. It’s a very easy to implement method of connecting with your audience in a genuine, effective way. It will also keep you from staring at one fixed spot in the room. It works like this:

As you stand in front of a room, mentally divide it into four large squares. As you sing, simply move your eyes from square to square, each time focusing just briefly on one person sitting in that area. Simply continue to do that throughout the song. Go to square one; look at the person in the front row. Move your eyes to square 2. Make eye contact with the person in the middle. And so on, you get the idea.

This keeps your eyes moving and keeps you connected with the audience in a much deeper way. More importantly though, it allows God to speak directly to people with the message in the song, through YOU.

So what about those people who aren’t looking very nice? Not enjoying you for whatever reason? There will always be some. That’s just reality. But the great thing is, unless you really need to come see me (smile) there will usually be a lot more people who ARE enjoying you and being blessed. As you continue to rotate through the four squares, simply keep coming back to those people who are being blessed. Clearly that’s who you’re there to sing to anyway.

 

Why you should NEVER sing entire songs with your eyes closed (part 1)

It’s a very common thing to see Gospel singers do their entire selection with their eyes closed. And honestly, most have very good reason for doing so.  After all, Gospel music is ministry. As such, many well-meaning singers simply want to completely lose themselves in the song and it’s meaning. Their thinking is if they close their eyes and focus completely on God and the message, God will use them to bless the audience. Some others though, close their eyes simply out of fear, nerves or stage fright.

Either way though, singing with your eyes closed the entire time is something every singer should avoid. Ironically the very reason many singers close their eyes is the most important reason they should STOP doing it. Have you ever been in a social setting with two or more people who are having this intense conversation and not involving or addressing you at all? It’s as if you’re not there!
Singing with your eyes closed has a similar effect on your audience. Even though every sincere Gospel singer wants to have a powerful, effective ministry that really speaks to people, closing your eyes cuts your audience out of that conversation and makes it a private conversation between just you and God. The audience, even though many may be enjoying the performance, is robbed of a much deeper connection with you because you’ve made them an outsider “looking in”.

But when you sing with your eyes open- and sorry guys, starring at the ceiling or the clock on the back wall doesn’t count either- I’m talking about making eye contact with members of the audience- people feel a much deeper spiritual connection with not only you but the message you’re portraying in the song. Imagine for a moment that you’re in the audience watching a performer sing. He’s great, and clearly fully invested emotionally and spiritually in the song he’s rendering. His eyes are closed the whole time. You hear him sing “sometimes you have to encourage yourself”, and you nod in agreement as you sway back in forth.

NOW: Imagine the same artist is doing the same song. He sounds great and the spirit is high. He’s engaging and looking at members of the audience as he sings. Just as he comes to the line “no matter how you feel, speak a Word and you will be healed”, his eyes make contact with yours and he points at you. This time tears begin to flow because you KNOW God is delivering a Word directly to you through this artist.

That’s the difference. When you engage with the audience while you’re singing, your message is much more powerful because you allow God to speak directly to them through you. And that’s the whole point of it all, isn’t it?

Now let me just clarify something really quickly. When I say you shouldn’t sing with your eyes closed, I mean just what I said above; that is, not for the entire song. There are moments in a song where it’s perfectly normal to close your eyes for a moment during a high energy or emotionally charged point in the message. Worship songs are also a bit of an exception to this rule of thumb. Typically when you’re singing a worship song it’s being done in an atmosphere or time of corporate worship. As such, most of the audience will also have their eyes closed…..in a perfect world. But we all know that’s not often the case even during worship songs.

Worship songs are different in that they’re really designed to set an atmosphere for worship and communion with God. It’s a lot like the background music at a really nice restaurant. Even so, while it’s maybe more acceptable to close your eyes longer or more often in a worship song, it’s still just as important to be sure to make eye contact with members of the audience from time to time.

Ok so we’ve established that it’s not a good idea to sing entire songs (or even most of a song) with your eyes closed. But singing with your eyes open comes with its own challenges. In part 2  I’m going to share a really neat performance tip you can use to make it easier to and highly effective.

See you then!

Image courtesy of “imagerymajestic”FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

5 things your praise team must do to win over your congregation

Praise teams are nothing new for many denominations, as they’ve been using praise teams for years. But for many of the African-American churches, having a praise team come forth instead of testimony service or morning devotion is very much a new thing. And like all new things, many newly formed praise teams are being met with a great deal of resistance from their congregations. Today I’ll share 5 of the most important things I think praise teams need to do in order to be successful at wining over their church congregation.

1. Choose true Praise And Worship Songs.

A praise team’s job is somewhat different from say, the choir’s job. Praise and Worship is really, in a sense, a form of prayer set to music. The praise team’s main goal is to set an atmosphere that encourages and facilitates praising and worshiping God. As such, you should endeavor to choose songs where both the lyrical content and the musical arrangement encourages and helps the audience to sing along in praise and worship to God.
The best praise and worship songs are SIMPLE and repetitive. These kinds of songs are easy for your audience to learn, which encourages them to sing along and participate in the praise and worship.

Praise songs should be mid to up-tempo songs that have a positive vibe musically, and lyrically focus on praising and exalting God; “Oh give thanks/ Unto the Lord/ For He is good/ Yes He is good” , for example. This is a happy, up-tempo song that gets the audience clapping and singing along.

Worship songs are generally slower and talk more about relationship, closeness and what God means to us: “Into Your arms/ I’m drawing near again/ to dwell with You/ Is my only heart’s desire”

Try to choose songs based solely on their ability to encourage and facilitate praise and worship throughout the congregation. Avoid choosing songs because they’re popular or they’re everyone’s favorite. Often some songs are great but would work better for the choir or some other group rather than for praise and worship.

2. Rehearse And Perfect Your Songs To The Best Of Your Ability

It’s very important for praise teams to understand how critical it is that you serve in the highest level that you’re able to. Praise teams are an entirely different animal from the choir. Usually everyone on the praise team is singing in front of a microphone. The songs, although typically more simple than choir songs, are often written with an even greater focus on the harmony and over-all sound. Remember, we’re trying to set an atmosphere that encourages praise and facilitates worship. Imaging going to a romantic, dimly lit restaurant for an expensive dinner only to find them playing terrible music over the sound system. Even if the music was your favorite love songs, you simply couldn’t get in a romantic mood if it sounded bad.

As such, every performance for a praise team should be as good as you can make it. People often misunderstand the need or the importance of perfecting your songs and striving for excellence in your music ministry. I talk about that a great deal in my blog “why it’s better to sing in unison than to sing with bad harmony”. But the important thing to remember is that you want your praise team to simply be a vessel, or a conduit through which the Holy Spirit can flow musically. You don’t want anything you’re doing to be a distraction in that sense. It is absolutely more work, to be sure. But the work is well worth it, and if you do it your audience will respond.

3. Sing Your Songs Often

One big mistake praise teams make is to constantly be doing new material. Again, for choirs this is much more acceptable and even preferred on some level. But effective praise and worship needs audience engagement and participation. That can only happen if you’re singing your praise and worship songs often enough so the audience becomes familiar with them, learns the words and begins to sing along. This is another reason why the best Praise And Worship songs are simple, repetitivesongs.

A new praise team obviously has to go through a period of learning a lot of new material in order to build up a catalog. But in general I’d recommend the average praise team be working off a list of no more than about 10 songs that they rotate through and repeat often. Doing this helps your audience develop a relationship with the songs. They’re more likely to participate and sing along to songs they know and hear often rather than new songs they’re not familiar with.

4. Be Authentic. Praise And Worship God From Your Heart, Every Song

It is an absolute must that every member on a praise team is completely immersed emotionally and spiritually in every song. If it’s an up-tempo praise song, everyone should be moving and clapping and praising God while you sing, and doing it from a very real place. If it’s a worship song, lift your hands, close your eyes, sing from your heart. The audience can always tell when it isn’t real. But when it is real, it’s contagious. If you’re choosing the right songs and approaching the ministry prayerfully and with a sincere heart, this will happen automatically.

5. Be Patient With The Congregation

As we said at the beginning of the article, many churches are just recently making the switch to using a praise team. None of us like to see old, familiar things replaced. Especially when we didn’t see anything wrong with the old way. As such, it is quite likely that even if you’re doing everything above to the letter, you simply won’t get much involvement or participation from the audience for a while. You must see that as normal and to be expected.

Whatever you do, do NOT scold, reprimand, guilt or otherwise try to force your audience to participate in praise and worship. You will undoubtedly get frustrated as you go forth every Sunday giving your best while the audience looks on, almost defiantly sometimes. The worst thing you can do, however, is lash out or say negative things in your efforts to get them going.

Instead, continue to simply choose great songs, perfect them to the best of your ability, sing them often and be sincere and real every time you get up. Never sing for the audience, because if you do, you’ll always be tied emotionally to what they’re doing or not doing. Sing your songs to the glory and honor of God. Sing your worship to Him. Sing your praises to Him. He will in turn work through you to reach your audience. Before long they’ll start standing, singing along, praising and worshiping God together with you. Just be consistent, be patient, and be Positive!

Did you find this article helpful? Find it and 12 more like it in my new e-book Praise Team 101.