Pro Tip #32: The art of banter (Oh crap, I have to talk?)

Written by Jason Harlow

The band is melting faces, the music sounds better than ever and the energy in the show is electric. You’ve got that amazing moment where you are like “this can’t be real; this is way too much fun and it sounds too good to be true!”. The song ends and the fans are screaming, clapping, and going crazy! Life is sooooo good! And just then, you realize, I got to say something to these people. You start to panic, you swallow deeply, oh crap, what do I say? The silence is now deafening and you let out a uhhh…. Uhhh… you start to sweat and turn red, you’ve got nothing. You yell “How yall doing tonight”.. but it’s during the day. You realize, oh my gosh, my talent is not enough to be an entertainer.

As a guy who was extremely shy growing up (yes, true statement), I am no stranger to the emotional nightmare of being put into a situation where all eyes and ears seemed to be focused on everything you say or do. If you are the guy or gal who is the “frontman” of a band, you’ll quickly realize that your vocal talent is maybe 50% of what makes a great entertainer and that public speaking and playing music are two completely different things.

In this article, we’re going to discuss some things to consider to prevent those moments of anxiety, hopelessness, and fear in speaking to the audience.  

The term most used for this type of dialog to the audience is called “banter” and pending your bands “brand”, it can be everything from the use of comedy to engaging in storytelling.

First and foremost, if you want to be good at anything, it requires practice and dedication. There is NO moment where “it will be good when I get in front of an audience”. Public speaking requires lots of practice and execution before you become comfortable. Until you are able to get a PhD in BS, don’t expect your improv skills to get you by all the time.

Solution: Consider scripting banter and practicing it.

Like Politicians, comedians, or even TV show hosts, they are not shooting from the hip, they have scripts or have memorized dialog. This is crucial to deliver a message that resonates with pin point precision to an audience.

When I took a speech class in college, the instructor alerted me to listen to the “umm’s”. Interestingly enough, you would be surprised if you record yourself in dialog because “umm’s” happens constantly. I remember “shooting from the hip” with a speech presentation on a guitar. I knew I was going to slay it because, hey, I know guitar…right?  Well, I did indeed get a standing ovation for my performance (likely because I actually played guitar more than speaking), however, I apparently said “umm” about 25 times and I never realized how much I say “umm” if I have to think. It’s something we all do and something I work hard not to do these days. Could you imagine if I was writing this article “shooting from the hip” or “improvised”, it would be like “you should… umm… umm… try and memorize what ummm you are gonna say”.

As a public speaker now, I still look back at my idiotic thoughts that magically things would just “come to me”. Point is, practice makes perfect and with experience, you’ll be able to read the crowd and nail the banter! But before then, consider scripting some things and doing lots of practice!

So, what does a scripted banter look like? What is some stuff I can talk about?

The examples below are just that. Examples. One thing for sure, they are intended to be delivered larger than life. Not just spoken. When reading these, awaken your inner rockstar and imagine being in front of a screaming audience.

The area / city / venue

Example: ALABAMA!  We’ve heard about the wild and crazy folks in (insert city) and at this venue (insert venue). It’s such a pleasure to be here to play some music for you. We’re going to have a great time tonight!

translation:

  • You made it personal to the area
  • You made the venue happy
  • You told them they are going to have a good time (yes, it’s ok to tell people what is about to happen)

The song / story telling

Example: Thank you very much!!  This next song is one of our personal favorites we all grew up listening to. This song inspired guitar players to think outside the box and taught singers how to be front man, formed by two brothers with the last name “van halen”, sing this next song with us, JUMP!

translation:

  • You let folks know you appreciate their energy
  • You told a story about it being personal to you
  • You set it up so folks were ready for the keyword “van halen”
  • You told the crown to sing along to create more energy

The band / members

Example: Thank you very much! We are “Band Name”, we’ve been doing this since “Year” and so happy to be here. We’ve traveled the nation but you guys are the best! I’d like to take this time to introduce the band. On drums, the baddest in the south, all the way from Atlanta Georgia, John Doe! (let them clap.. then go to the next)

translation:

  • You let folks know you appreciate their energy
  • You made it personal for the audience
  • You gave some background on the band
  • You encouraged your bandmates by giving them some extra love and dialog
  • You gave opportunity for others in the same location to cheer (use bigger cities for more response unless it’s a local gig)

The venue / staff / promotor / other bands

Example: Thank you so much, you folks are incredible! Before we go to the next song, let’s give it up to (insert band name), they were amazing! We would like to also thank (insert venue, promoter, staff) for such an amazing time.

Translation:

  • You let folks know you appreciate their energy
  • You promoted another band (built community)
  • You made it personal for the venue, promoter, and staff
  • You let the audience know you are having an amazing time

Your social links / how to connect

Example:  Thank you so much! We would love to connect with you! Pull out your phones and please like us at XYZ on facebook and instrgram or you can check out our website for our dates at XYZ. We appreciate your support in our musical journey!

translation:

  • You let folks know you appreciate their energy
  • You let them know you want to hear from them
  • You gave them instructions to connect (you would be surprised how many will do it on the spot)
  • You let them know their support directly supports your journey

Merch / Album

Example: This next song “ummm” is off our 2nd album titled “Public Speaking Nightmare” and is available on iTunes, Spotify, and all streaming services or you can pick up a copy at our merch booth right after the show where we would love to meet you and hang out.

translation:

  • You let folks know you have multiple albums
  • You let them know the song title and the album title
  • You let them know how to find it
  • You encouraged them to purchase on the spot
  • You encouraged them to come meet you (i.e. make a fan for life)

Those are just a handful of ideas you can consider but know that it takes work. You may want to tell a joke if the audience is in the mood or you might want to let them on a special secret about an upcoming song or something that makes the audience feel special.

You’ll want to remain calm and confident in your execution which comes from practice.. yes, practice this stuff in the car or in the shower.

Don’t be afraid to learn from others as well. Go out and see some shows and learn what works well and what doesn’t work so well.  If you’ve read any of my articles, I’m a fan of visiting the venue or location you are going to play to get a feel for the audience and environment. KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE! I’ve seen bands completely bomb because they thought the “comedy routine” works every time… not. When you find the magic thing that works, keep doing it. This is a long journey and it only gets better with practice and experience (surviving mistake)

The last bit of wisdom I’ll share is that when you are on stage, people perceive you differently. The person they may know to be shy is not the same person on stage. The person on stage is expected to be different. As an entertainer, it’s part of the job to be bigger than life and to exaggerate movement and action. Much like a wrestler doesn’t walk around town puffed up 24 hours a day, they play a role (yes, spolier, wrestling is an act of entertainment). If you are standing there expecting to look cool just because you have lights on you, think again. This is the entertainment business and people hear with their eyes. Don’t be afraid of the mirror, taking video of yourself, and rehearsing this stuff so it’s natural. In other words, practice like you play and you’ll be ready to slay the next crowd.

I hope some of these ideas can be put in use. As always, I’m open for comments, ideas, and your own war stories. Rock on.

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