Crafting a Great Speech to Engage Today’s Audiences: How Musicians Can Become Ambassadors for Music

1549258747 169d4610e7I am passionate about the importance of speaking to audiences about music because it is an opportunity to bring our audiences into our world and let them discover the transformative power of music. Over the past few weeks, I have been addressing this topic both with my students  at the Yale School of Music, as well as at a wonderful teaching artist workshop for singers sponsored by Opera America, together with composer and teaching artist Neil Ginsberg and soprano and music educator Erika Rauer. 

An effective speech can open up new worlds for our audiences by giving them an insight from the perspective of a trained artist on how he or she can embrace music and experience the change that only art can bring about. You become, in effect,  the ambassadors and the change agents for the field!

What can you say to open up your audiences to the transformative powers of music and hook them in?

Here are some guidelines on how to write a great speech.


Just as you would never perform without doing a warm-up in your practice room, so too must you warm up for writing a speech. There are 3 elements of your warm-up:

1. Who is in your audience?

The first step in crafting an effective speech is to know your audience:

  • What is their age?
  • What is their level of familiarity with music?
  • What might they be looking for from this performance?

In our class, the audiences range from sophisticated fellow musicians who want to be challenged and surprised by something new, to children at the New Haven public schools who do not know a lot about music but are learning to love it through instrument classes and band and chamber music classes, to seniors at community centers who are eager for a special experience to hard core music lovers at on-going concert series who want a high quality experience.

At the Opera America workshop, we had a lot of teachers whose principal audience members were wonderfully curious, impatient and open-minded children who were excited to learn about music

Just think how your speech will differ if you are speaking to children, to first-time music goers, to general audiences to seniors!

2. What is your passion for music or opera?

Next, tap into your own passion around music or opera. 

TED speakers when they are invited to give a TED talk, receive a set of guidelines engraved on a stone tablet, called the TED Commandmentswhich include the following:

Thou Shalt Reveal thy Curiosity and Thy Passion

And no wonder because passion is infectious!  Not only does it inspire you but it also gets your audience members excited. 

Here’s a great way to tap into that passion:

 Think back to the first time you experienced music and realized that your world was forever changed because you knew that you had to have music in your life.

Answers in my class and in the workshop included:

  • Hearing  her first Italian opera recording at age 8 because it expanded her perceptions of what the human voice was capable of (singer)
  • Falling in love with the sound of the oboe when listening to a recording of the  Poulenc oboe sonata at age 10 and vowing to replicate that beautiful sound on his own instrument (oboist)
  • Going to music school as a teenager and being rewarded for being creative, inquisitive and full of ideas, as opposed to regular school where you were told to be quiet and not talk so much (singer)
  • Attending a band concert in high school and being wowed by the percussion section because of the variety of sounds and the endless possibilities (percussionist)

And just think of how powerful it is to share with a group of 10-year olds that you were their age when you fell in love with the oboe!

Content of the Speech

Now you are ready to write your speech.

1. Introduce yourself by name.  

It is time for musicians to come out of hiding and show themselves to our audiences! Audiences are excited to come to concerts and you can enhance their experience by showing them that a live person-a/k/a you—wants to share his or her perspective on the music.  So start by introducing yourself by name.  This will help your audience members connect to you and then through you, to the music.

And in delivering your speech, be yourself and be confident by using my two favorite confidence booster, strengths and flow.

2. Draw in your audience 

Your goal in giving a speech is to transmit your passion and providing audience with information that will help them to enter the work.  Introduce one idea and plan on speaking for 2-3 minutes about the work. 

Your speech should have an arc with 3 parts: 

  • An enticing beginning, 
  • a development of the idea and 
  • a conclusion that leaves your audience with a call to action that inspires them to listen to the piece in a new way.

As a creative person, come up with an interesting, unusual opener that will grab the audience’s attention and introduce your idea.  Suggestions include:

  • Ask a provocative question 
  • Sing or play your instrument
  • Use props

The singers had no trouble with this.  Many of them entered the stage singing a melody from the work.  Yet others sang their instructions to the students. One participant had a prop-his lunch bag-and asked the audience what they thought was inside.  He told them that it contained magic, which was the perfect segue to an opera about a magic Russian folk tale.

3. Develop your speech with your personal insights or stories

Now that you have introduced your idea, you want to develop it with personal stories or insights.  Ted Commandment # 4 exhorts speakers as follows:

Thou Shalt Tell a Story

And no wonder because people love stories!   After all, opera tells a story and programmatic music often has a story to tell as well so you can introduce them to the art form by sharing your story.

A lot of musicians make the mistake of speaking to audiences about program notes.   People can read the notes.  Give them something that only you can say.  Otherwise you are losing an opportunity to draw your audience into your world and into the world of music.

4. Conclusion: Call to Action

A great speech is motivational.  You want to leave your audience with a call to action and prepare them to experience the change that music can bring about.

What do you want your audiences to do as a result of your speech?

You can point them to a specific passage that you especially love, or ask them to pay attention to the change in mood or invite them to savor the beauty of the work.  Use your imagination!

Here is a template for a speech about music:

1. My name is ______________and I am _______________________________. 

(your name and credentials)

2. My “hook”____________________________________________________.

(an opener that will grab the audience’s attention and introduce your idea) 

3. My personal insights on this work ____________________________________.

(the development of your idea with  personal stories, insights and examples to illustrate your point)

4. I invite you to/so please listen to/watch for______________________________.

(what I would like the audience to do).

Now that you know how to write a speech, enjoy the experience of transmitting your personal passion to audiences! 

© Astrid Baumgardner 2013