Performance Skills 102 – Specific training to increase your on-stage professionalism.
Catchy Title huh?
For some it could be intriguing and they are instantly hooked in, but for the most part I would predict that the title is confusing as the topic of on-stage professionalism is not usually talked about in the world of Children’s Ministry. In our preaching we focus a lot on content, our MC-ing being energetic and making our kids scream, and our performances either being funny or very heavy with the topic we want to teach on. It is not often you will get someone stand up and say “let’s get more professional”.
Now we are not talking about sub-contracting writers, hiring actors and a catering truck. Instead we are talking about working with what you have and taking what you do in your ministry, and sharpening your skills to make it more professional.
Today we are going to talk about something that affects the communicator – the preacher, the MC and the performer (especially on film). There is a phenomenon out there that can plague these people’s performances and most of the time they have no idea it is there. This is not something that makes the difference between a good or bad performance but it is the difference between a great and professional one. This phenomenon I have taken the liberty to call “The Glorified Um”.
When we were children and trying to communicate, a lot of the time we didn’t know what to say. So as we were talking there would be a lot of pauses and because we didn’t want to lose the attention of our audience we filled that pause with an “Um”.
“Mum… um…. can I ….. um…… can I….. um…… because i’m hungry…….. um…………… can I …… um…………have… um…a um…cookie……. um?”
As a child we believe that pauses are not good so we foolishly fill the spaces with that wonderful word “Um”. The word “Um” communicates that we are unsure of what to say next and/or we are not confident in what we just said. This habit is tolerated as a young child but as we grow it is often corrected by parents and teachers because they know that you will disadvantaged in areas of life, especially when it come to job interviews.
“Um…..I ….think…..um that …I….um….. I…..would ….um….be very good as um……….ummmmm…..a…um…..car salesman…um”.
Fast-forward to now and you are in Children’s Ministry and you are happy to report that your days of umming are now behind you. Or are they? Over my years of performing and being in ministry I have realised that the ‘um’ is not behind us but in fact it has evolved and it plagues our preaching, performing and MC-ing. The Glorified Um is in full force.
So what is the Glorified um?
The Glorified Um is a word or a phrase that you the presenter (the word presenter covers all aspects of preaching, performing and MC-ing) will use over and over again whilst presenting. This usually will not be in your script or notes but will come out when you are adlibbing or slightly deviating from what was rehearsed. This phrase or word will not just be in the presentation but stem out from the performers life and be heard in their everyday conversations. For example I once worked for a youth pastor who used to say at the end of many sentences “do you know what I mean?”
This is a classic example of The Glorified Um. Like an um it communicates that he does not know quite what to say next, he is not confident in what he just said and he is cheapening what he is saying by filling his presentation with a habitual saying. I can guarantee on his notes he did not write that phrase once, yet he said it over 10 times.
Now that must not be confused with The Confirming Phrase that is a specific phrase designed to give the audience a chance to confirm what they just heard. An extremely experienced preacher I know always says “Are you getting this?” The difference is that the second presenter deliberately chose to say this, whereas with the first it just came out without thinking. You can also tell because the first also slightly slurred the phrase and didn’t deliberately pronounce each word.
The Glorified Um is not just phrases at the end, it can be words at the start. Phrases such as: ‘It’s like’ or the word “but” are common examples of this. This can also be found in duel presenters when they start their sentence by acknowledging the other person with the same “it’s true” or “that’s right”. Finally it can even make our way into our writing and you can have a whole play or video with the whole cast using the same Glorified Ums as you do and you won’t even notice.
So what do we do to fix it? The cure is very simple but involves a lot of work and some help.
1. Recognise that a Glorified Um is a problem that is not a part of a professional presentation. I said before you can still be a great presenter with one but you will not reach that level of professionalism with it.
2. Find out if you have a Glorified Um. Look out for it, listen and watch old presentations you have done and look at the people you are leading because if you have it most likely they will have the same one. The best way is to ask a close and truthful friend to find out.
3. Fix your general conversation. A glorified Um is your normal speech creeping into your presentation. Get those close friends to pull you up on it constantly until you realise how often you are using it. This is where it gets frustrating but the effort is worth it.
If you have a platform to present to children on behalf of God then you have a privileged opportunity and I believe you are expected to work on your talents to increase them. If you do the hard yards you will put yourself a cut above and I look forward to seeing where it takes you.