I almost called this article “Everything I Ever Needed to Know About Performance I Learned by Watching Taylor Swift,” except that I learned most of what I needed long before she came along. Still, you can’t help but marvel at her ascension. She’s one of the biggest pop stars around, heading toward a level of super-stardom that is almost incalculable.
I’m not a fan particularly, but what captures my interest is her unflagging determination always, always to offer a superior performance.
When Swift was 14 or 15, she and her parents apparently made the rounds of TV and recording studios in Hollywood and Nashville asking if she could do a live demo. As a rule, she was summarily dismissed. The take-home point is that at an early age she had already intended to be a star. Today, she’s simply living out her dream. That’s an excellent vision to hold for each meeting we plan and each speaker we retain.
Wailing away with conviction
I saw Taylor Swift for the first time on “Saturday Night Live” about six years ago. I caught her performance midway and was mesmerized. Here was a teenage girl, not with the world’s greatest vocals, wailing away on a song called “Forever and Always.” She had such conviction that I, and apparently millions of others, was captivated. Who was this young lady? How did “SNL” find out about her so early? What was the driving force behind her music?
These questions have been abundantly answered in the years since. In observing Swift’s professionalism, you have to marvel at her mastery of virtually all the techniques of effective performance. She does dozens of things exceedingly well. These 10 are worth contemplating for presenters of any stripe.
10 tips for presenters
- Swift’s stage presence is extraordinary. Wherever she is appearing, for whatever size audience, under whatever conditions, you feel as if she is totally comfortable.
- Her energy level is extraordinarily high and focused. You could say this about many singers, but if you watch Swift perform, you’ll notice that she uses all of herself, her height and weight, in her performance.
- Her movements are coordinated and appropriate to the song, the audience and the venue. Objectively, she does nothing out of the ordinary, but she moves about onstage in a way that keeps audiences riveted. She has obviously worked this out in advance and her preparation pays off.
- Her connection to the audience is amazing. Through gestures, eye contact and other stagecraft techniques, you sense that she’s totally there. Some performers let you watch. Some induce you to watch. With Swift, all you want to do is watch.
- She is a virtuoso pianist and instrumentalist, as well. This helps her performance even if she’s not playing any instrument. When she does use her guitar, she’s totally comfortable with it.
- She’s a student of performance. Recently asked to be a guest coach on TV’s “The Voice,” she astounded the regular coaches by instantly assessing their team members’ rehearsals and, within seconds, offering insightful suggestions that immediately improved performances. (Swift’s episodes are available on YouTube; start HERE.)
- She’s constantly evolving. If you take the word of critics and fans, each album she’s done has gotten better.
- She seems down to earth. During an interview on “The Jimmy Kimmel Show” she said album reviews do matter and that any artist who says they don’t is being dishonest. How she stays humble with that common-person touch probably can be attributed to her parents.
- It’s understood that she writes songs from personal experiences that have meaning for her and thus have meaning for her listeners.
- She lives in the here and now, with a focus on the future. Her decision to abandon country music for pop was done with the realization that she’d be in the business for the long haul, and that the pop music would enable her to grow in novel ways. Many performers — Bob Dylan and LeAnn Rimes among them — have fared less well when trying to do this. A success since 1989, Swift apparently has already leapfrogged that hurdle.
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