Public Speaking for Music Entrepreneurs: Overcome Your Fears by Using Emotional Intelligence

Speaking about music is a great audience engagement tool  since it is a way for musicians to share their passion and draw audiences into the wonders of classical music.   That is why I include a public speaking unit in my class at Yale. To quote one of my students, 

“The energy changes when you speak about a piece and then perform it.  The audience is more interested and you are personally more involved.”


Many musicians are self-conscious about speaking and dread having to speak to audiences.   My students tell me that one of the reasons they perform is to avoid speaking!  Yet public speaking is essential for the 21st Century musician and increasingly, musicians are being asked to speak to audiences.   


Public speaking is an exchange between the performer and the audience.  To be successful, not only do you need to be in control of yourself but you also have to figure out what your audience needs and then deliver a speech that will resonate with them.  What can help?


Your emotional intelligence.


Emotional intelligence is a behavioral model based on your ability to control your emotions (personal competence) and then understand the emotions of the people with whom you interact to form the appropriate response (social competence). 


This concept rose to prominence in 1995 when science writer Daniel Goleman published his work Emotional Intelligence and has been called  “ a revolutionary, paradigm-shattering idea” (Harvard Business Review) because it is strongly correlated with success.  As Goleman observed in his book, Working With Emotional Intelligence (1998)


“In a study of skills that distinguish star performers in every field from entry-level jobs to executive positions, the single most important factor was not IQ, advanced degrees, or technical experience, it was EQ [emotional intelligence].”  


Since EQ is closely correlated with success, let’s take a closer look and see how to raise your EQ and become a more effective public speaker.


1.  YOU 

Step one of developing high EQ is to gain awareness of your own feelings of fear and anxiety around public speaking and then learn how to control them.  

Start with some personal development tools which can help you to become more confident and project the best version of yourself while speaking.

Tap into your strengths!  Being aware of what you are good at can help you to focus your attention on developing those strengths and getting better at what you do naturally. 

Channel yourself at Flow, the elevated state of energy where you are at your best.  If you can remind yourself of what you are like in Flow, that too can help to overcome negative emotions and project the best, more authentic and confident version of yourself.

Another way to gain control over the feelings of fear and dread is to personalize your speech and share from your own experiences. One of the most inspiring talks I have seen is Sarah Kay’s TEd Talk, where a 23-year slam poet encourages you to speak about the things you know to be true, whatever your age and whatever your level of experience. By doing so, you are connecting to your passions and when you share from your heart, this can help you to feel in control over yourself.

Moreover, by remembering that audiences are there to learn and experience, not to judge you, this too can help you to overcome your fears.


2.  OTHERS a/k/a Your Audience


The second part of developing high EQ involves the way you interact with others.  That starts with an awareness of your what your audience needs and then providing information that is both interesting and inspirational.


What does your audience need? First, consider who is in the audience ad tailor your speech to meet their needs. Your speech will be different if your audience is a group of public school children, a university audience or a general classical music audience. 


Another helpful tip is to be of service to your audience since service can help to override fear.  By thinking about what the audience needs and how you can help them, not only can this help you to overcome your fears but it will also tell your audience that they matter.  This is a great way to establish a connection and it is a powerful example of using EQ to connect with and influence others.  


Share your personal experiences with your audience in light of what they want to know.  Audiences relate to personal challenges and how you overcame them so do not be afraid of showing them your human side.   And by all means share what you are passionate about because passion is infectious!


When you give a speech, there are a number of techniques that can help to forge a connection:


  •  Use a conversational tone so that you sound natural and relaxed. 
  •  In order to make people feel that you are speaking them individually, make eye contact with your audience members.  
  •  Depending on the space that you are in, walk around the room or even walk around the stage (with or without a microphone) to show your public that you are eager to speak to them. 
  •  Respect your audience

Even if they are not well versed in the classical music canon, the fact that they are in the room means that they want to experience this music.  So avoid talking down to your audience and show them that you care enough about them to draw you into your world

  •  Ask a provocative question

If you are performing for a group of people who do not know much about music, try a question like “Who here does not understand classical music?”  This helps audience members to overcome any shyness about their lack of understanding of the material and will make them feel that you care about them enough to share your own thoughts and passions.


So work on building your EQ around public speaking.  Just think of all the benefits to you and your audience by sharing your love of music with them!