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How to get more standing ovations

As featured in The Harmonizer.

There are no shortcuts—but these principles help you connect with audiences.

No checklist will guarantee a standing ovation, but if you are singing to your individual potential, ovations tend to come only when you move your audiences. Below are some tips on how to create more moving performances.

Delivery method. You can move your audience via many different mediums: unbelievable storytelling, crispness of movement, emotionally drenched lyrics, onomatopoetic singing, comedy, amazing sets, creative staging innovations, or many other approaches, or a mixture of multiple approaches. Discovering who we are will help in determining our delivery method.

Performance. I’ve heard it said many times, “sing from the heart.” This may not be enough. I’ve seen performers come off the stage thinking they had poured their hearts out, then he watches the DVD and discovers that he was the only person who knew that. Our goal is to make sure that we are connecting with our audience. So the next level is to “Sing to the heart.”

Shrink the stage. You need to feel like you are singing in your living room and the audience is as near as on the couch. I’m not talking about being unprofessional; just allow it to feel personal. Allow the audience to feel like they are right up on the stage with you. When you have your friends with you, you share a bit of yourself with them. Need an example? Watch Barbra Streisand sing “You Don’t Bring Me Flowers.” Everyone in the huge arena feels like they are sitting on the stage with her and it’s intimate. Astounding! She sings to the heart so well.

Take them on a ride. Throughout the performance, make sure there are ebbs and flows throughout the performance. Although you never let them off the hook by keeping everything engaging, we need to allow for something intimate and for something big. Excite, then relax our audience so there is room for more excitement. ‘Nuff said. Again, reference Barbra’s performance.

Should it look choreographed? Not unless that is part of your branding. Regardless, it should look effortless, and like you are being yourself. Being real and being genuine should be effortless. It’s being fake and plastic that takes effort and keeps you from connecting to your audiences—and in some ways shuts them out. You need to be yourself and our movements should carry the same intent across the ensemble.

Perform (not just sing or practice) in front of the people. Trying songs or sets in front of audiences will quickly make those songs so much better. You will experience what audiences like about your performances and how they’re likely to respond at the next performances; continue to build off from those successes. Singing in front of people is the best coaching you can get!

Every moment of a performance is important. It’s a common ailment. Many times we forget that audiences are still watching us even when we aren’t singing. Plan entrances, transitions and exits that support your brand (not just some random joke, unless it’s part of the brand) and then work those performance elements as though they are as important as the songs themselves. The best thing we can have the audience thinking is, “I didn’t have time to look away, and I didn’t want to look at anything else but them.” Additionally, sometimes the setup is the home run and then it’s just rounding the bases with the song. Accomplish this, and you’ve clearly defined your brand and capitalized on it.

The audience feels what you feel. Whatever you are feeling on stage, the audience will gift it back to you in greater amounts—positive or negative. Be sure about what you want gifted back.

The “they’ve already heard that” syndrome.
If you have signature songs, people may want to hear them again. Discover what songs or performance elements people enjoy and then give people what they want. For example, let’s say that Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr got together for a performance. What would we want to hear? Very likely, we’d like to hear songs from the 1964 Beatles. Why? Because even 50 years later, that would be their brand, and we want more of their brand. As you get more signature numbers, switch out other songs to create a “best of” set, and then you can add in others to add flavor, keeping things fresh and having audiences feeling like they are getting something new, too.

Designed trajectory. You usually want to end with your best stuff, so lead up to those elements throughout your time with them. People generally want to feel good and uplifted at the end of a performance. Leave them up, and they’re more likely to get up to share their appreciation with you.

Branding Your Quartet or Chorus

Who you are, or at least how the audience perceives you, is called your “brand.” Your brand helps you determine which approaches will work best for you simply because they will support your brand. The quartet Signature is a great example of discovering their brand. At the 2015 International Contest they were doing all the technical singing very well. However, in 2016, I felt they discovered they have a lead who can tell you about all the pain of life–who then takes you to church and gives you hope. Now, that’s a story that can connect with people. We all have struggles, and it’s comforting to know that others struggle with you and there’s hope. That kind of connection moves people.

Now, I’m not saying that you all should go out and start finding soulful songs to sing. That’s the very point. What works for one group may not work for the next group. For example, think about each of the following championship quartets. The Boston Common (1980), OC Times (2008), FRED (1999), Max Q (2007), Bluegrass Student Union (1978), Acoustix (1990), The Rural Route 4 (1986) and The Confederates (1956). It would seem unusual, sometimes even a little silly, for one group from this list to be singing songs from another group’s repertoire. Why? Because they have very strong and very different brands. Their repertoires are a reflection of years of branding choices.

Instead, whether you are a quartet or a full chorus, you should discover your brand, making decisions that support that brand. Question: Would you rather see a Neil Diamond impersonator who sings better than Neil Diamond, or would you rather see Neil Diamond? Being “like” someone else is nigh to the kiss of death, because even if you sing better than them, you are still not them.

Conversely, no one can be a better you than you. It comes down to discovering who you are as an individual singer, as a quartet, as an ensemble, or as a chorus. And off the table is “we sing well,” because you should already want to be singing to your potential.

What do you share with audiences beyond singing to your potential? You need to discern, discover and then share your brand. If you don’t know who you are, or who the audience thinks you are, then you have greatly reduced your chances of connecting with your audience. Who you are becomes the story you tell. This allows you to be authentic.


In short, give the audience what they want from the stage. Tell the audience who you are. Shrink the stage. Allow the audience to connect with you. Take them on a ride. Never let them off the hook. Feel what you want the audience to feel then sing to the heart. Allow for trajectory. Enjoy the moment. And bring them to their feet!

-Paul Ellinger, Chapter coach